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'Playboy' founder, sex revolution leader dies

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LOS ANGELES—Hugh Hefner turned silk pyjamas into a work uniform, women into centerfolds, and sexual desire into a worldwide multimedia empire that spanned several generations of American life.

With “Playboy,” he helped slip sex out of the confines of plain brown wrappers and into mainstream conversation.

In 1953, a time when states legally could ban contraceptives and the word “pregnant" was not allowed on "I Love Lucy," Hefner published the first issue of Playboy, featuring naked photos of Marilyn Monroe and an editorial promise of "humour, sophistication, and spice.”

The Great Depression and World War II were over and Playboy soon became forbidden fruit for teens and a bible for men with time and money, primed for the magazine's prescribed evenings of dimmed lights, hard drinks, soft jazz, deep thoughts, and deeper desires.

Within a year, circulation neared 200,000. Within five years, it had topped one million.

Hefner, the pipe-smoking embodiment of the lifestyle he touted, died at his home of natural causes last night, Playboy said in a statement.

He was 91.

Hefner and Playboy were brand names worldwide. Asked by The New York Times in 1992 of what he was proudest, Hefner responded: "That I changed attitudes toward sex.

“That nice people can live together now," he added. ”That I decontaminated the notion of premarital sex.

“That gives me great satisfaction.”

By the 1970s, Playboy magazine had more than seven million readers and had inspired raunchier imitations such as Penthouse and Hustler.

Competition and the Internet reduced circulation to less than three million by the 21st century, and the number of issues published annually was cut from 12 to 11.

In 2015, Playboy ceased publishing images of naked women, citing the proliferation of nudity on the Internet, but restored its traditional nudity earlier this year.

Hefner was an ongoing advertisement for his own product—the pipe-smoking, silk pajama-wearing centre of an A-list, X-rated party.

By his own account, Hefner had sex with more than a thousand women, including many pictured in his magazine.

One of rock 'n' roll's most decadent tours, the Rolling Stones shows of 1972, featured a stop at the Hefner mansion.

Throughout the 1960s, Hefner left Chicago only a few times. In the early 1970s, he bought the second mansion in Los Angeles, flying between his homes on a private DC-9 dubbed “The Big Bunny,” which boasted a giant Playboy bunny emblazoned on the tail.

Hefner was host of a television show, “Playboy After Dark,” and in 1960 opened a string of clubs around the world where waitresses wore revealing costumes with bunny ears and fluffy white bunny tails.

In the 21st century, he was back on television in a cable reality show, “The Girls Next Door,” with three live-in girlfriends in the Los Angeles Playboy mansion.

Network television briefly embraced Hefner's empire in 2011 with the NBC drama “The Playboy Club,” which failed to lure viewers and was cancelled after three episodes.

Censorship of the magazine was inevitable. Playboy has been banned in China, India, Saudi Arabia, and Ireland.

In the 1950s, Hefner successfully sued to prevent the U.S. Postal Service from denying him second-class mailing status. 7-Eleven stores for years did not sell the magazine.

Stores that did offer Playboy made sure to stock it on a higher shelf.

He wasn't only condemned by conservatives. Many feminist and regarded him as a glorified pornographer who degraded and objectified women with impunity.

Women were warned from the first issue: “If you're somebody's sister, wife, or mother-in-law," the magazine declared, "and picked us up by mistake, please pass us along to the man in your life and get back to Ladies Home Companion.”

Playboy proved a scourge—and a temptation. Drew Barrymore, Farrah Fawcett, and Linda Evans are among those who have posed for the magazine.

Several bunnies became celebrities, too, including singer Deborah Harry and model Lauren Hutton, both of whom had fond memories of their time with Playboy.

Other bunnies had traumatic experiences, with several alleging they had been raped by Hefner's close friend, Bill Cosby, who faced dozens of such allegations in recent years.

One bunny turned out to be a journalist: feminist Gloria Steinem got hired in the early 1960s and turned her brief employment into an article for Show magazine that described the clubs as pleasure havens for men only.

The bunnies, Steinem wrote, tended to be poorly-educated, overworked, and underpaid.

Steinem regarded the magazine and clubs not as erotic but “pornographic.”

“I think Hefner himself wants to go down in history as a person of sophistication and glamour. But the last person I would want to go down in history as is Hugh Hefner,” Steinem later said.

“Women are the major beneficiaries of getting rid of the hypocritical old notions about sex,” Hefner responded.

Hefner added he was a strong advocate of First Amendment, civil and reproductive rights, and that the magazine contained far more than centerfolds.

Playboy serialized Ray Bradbury's “Fahrenheit 451” and later published fiction by John Updike, Doris Lessing, and Vladimir Nabokov.

Playboy also specialized in long and candid interviews, from Fidel Castro and Frank Sinatra to Marlon Brando and then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, who confided that he had “committed adultery” in his heart.

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