On Wednesday, Sept. 27, Hugh Hefner died of natural causes in his Playboy Mansion at the age of 91. As the founder of one of the most controversial and revolutionary magazines, Hefner died with a reputation that is still debated.
Hefner’s well-known progressive views were often vocalized through his brand. Playboy magazine, which issued its first issue in 1953, had a powerful influence on the public’s increasing openness in discussing personal and societal sexual desires. People were generally less afraid to admit their statuses as sexual beings because of the sexual boldness of the magazine. Hefner was also a strong advocate for Civil Rights; the desegregated Playboy Clubs he opened in the 1960s were among the first clubs to hire black comics.
Amid the centerfolds and teasing nude photographs of women were rather serious articles that famously focused on controversial hot topics of the time, such as an interview series with Malcolm X. In addition to covering contentious topics, Playboy included articles from radical writers, feminist Margaret Atwood included.
Despite the Playboy’s incredibly forward messages for its time, the magazine remained exclusively geared toward a male audience. Women twisted themselves into unnatural positions and seductive poses, many of which made them appear objectified and sexually submissive to men. The magazine ended fully nude photographs in 2015 only to reintroduce them earlier this year.
In her memoir, former Playmate Holly Madison depicts the Playboy Mansion she lived in for many years as a place where women compared their bodies to that of the other Bunnies, egged on by Hefner. Hefner himself bragged often about sleeping with upwards of a thousand women. In life, he prided himself in his no-strings-attached lifestyle; it is a wonder he did not die much earlier of an STD.
Hugh Hefner entered the world of entertainment and journalism and flipped it on its head. Never before had sex been so widely and overtly talked about by the nation’s youth. Hefner was a champion of free speech in his youth; he spoke most loudly, however, not through his own words, but through the promiscuous photographs of the pages of his magazine. Their message is left to the subscriber to determine.