Publishing icon Hugh Hefner has died of natural causes at the age of 91, his son has confirmed.
Hefner, who founded men’s magazine Playboy and built a media empire around its masthead, passed away on Wednesday (US time) at his famous home, the Playboy Mansion, in Los Angeles.
“Hugh M Hefner, the American icon who in 1953 introduced the world to Playboy magazine and built the company into one of the most recognisable American global brands in history, peacefully passed away today from natural causes surrounded by loved ones,” a representative for Hefner told People magazine.
“My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom,” his son Cooper Hefner said in a statement.
The magazine’s website is carrying a tribute to the late mogul, with an image of a young Hefner smoking a pipe along with his quote: “Life is too short to be living someone else’s dream.”
Born to strict Methodist parents in Chicago, Hugh Marston Hefner served two years in the Army during World War II and then worked at Esquire as a copywriter.
In 1953, he cobbled together $US8000 ($A10,200) to publish the first issue of Playboy, featuring an old nude photo of Marilyn Monroe. It sold more than 50,000 copies.
“From the very beginning … what made Playboy so popular was not simply the naked ladies,” said Hefner.
“I suggested that sex was not the enemy, that violence was the enemy, that nice girls like sex.”
Alongside women including Madonna, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell who stripped off, Hefner ran celebrity interviews, pieces by Hunter S. Thompson and short fiction by Vladimir Nabokov, Saul Bellow and Margaret Atwood.
“‘Reading it for the articles,’ was a thing,” E! Entertainment wrote today.
Famous for his at-home outfit of silk pyjamas and smoking jacket, Hefner (known by the nickname ‘Hef’) bought the legendary Playboy Mansion, complete with grotto, in Los Angeles in 1971.
The scene of a famous annual Playboy Halloween party, the Mansion was sold in June for $US100 million ($A127 million) to a neighbour with the stipulation that Hefner was able to stay there for the rest of his life, according to People.
While he created the persona of a ladies’ man, Hefner had two children with first wife Mildred Williams before they split in 1959. He then stayed legally a bachelor for the next 40 years.
During that time, he had multiple girlfriends, including three-time cover girl Barbi Benton. “I told him I never dated a man over 24,” the model and singer told People in 1980.
“He told me he never dated anyone older than that either.”
Asked in 2013 by Esquire magazine how many women he had been with over the years, Hefner estimated, “Over a thousand, I’m sure”.
“There were chunks of my life when I was married, and when I was married I never cheated. But I made up for it when I wasn’t married. You have to keep your hand in.”
In 1989 he wed Playmate of the Year Kimberley Conrad and had two sons with her, but according to E! , before they divorced in 2010, they had an “open relationship for years.”
When Hefner starred on The Girls Next Door, he moved girlfriends Kendra Wilkinson, Bridget Marquardt and Holly Madison into the Mansion. He married Crystal Harris in 2012, but had reportedly been in poor health for some time and rarely left the Mansion.
He is survived by Crystal, 31, his sons David, 62, Marston, 27, and Cooper, 26, and his daughter, Christie, 64.