What can I say about the life of Hugh Hefner other than he is to be considered one of the most influential and controversial figures of the Western Sexual Liberation movement of the last century. His founding of the men’s magazine Playboy, which prominently featured nude pictorials of women as their main content and selling point, was a huge factor in the acceptance of nudity and sexuality in the United States since the magazine began publication in the early 1950s.
But to limit the ideals and influences of Hugh Hefner to simply creating the Playboy Empire (as he would eventually call it) is underselling just how important to the Western Sexual Liberation movement he really was. Hugh Hefner proudly donated money to causes that defended the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, he donated money to the creation of anti-censorship study courses in colleges and universities across the United States, and he was a staunch supporter of same sex marriage in the United States stating that gay marriage was “a fight for all our rights. Without it, we will turn back the sexual revolution and return to an earlier, puritanical time.”
Aside from his contributions to causes close to the Western Sexual Liberation movement, he was also a philanthropist who donated generous sums of money to causes such as environmental protection and conservation causes, the study and advancement of medical technologies and practices (even once backing Jenny McCarthy’s controversial Generation Rescue), and supporting the Much Love Animal Rescue organization by holding numerous fund raising benefits in their honor. In fact, there is a species of rabbit named after him due in large part to his environmental conservation and animal rights protection financial support.
Yes, Hugh Hefner is the creator of Playboy – that will always be his biggest contribution to American Pop Culture and the Western Sexual Liberation movement; but to limit his legacy to simply the founder of arguably the world’s biggest and well-known men’s magazine is an understatement and downgrading of his importance and influence in society. Hell, even Playboy was much more than simply a men’s magazine that featured nude female pictorials.
The interviews with notable political and social figures, athletes and well-known pop culture figures, were huge highlights featured in the magazine. Authors such as Chuck Palahniuk, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Ian Fleming, Arthur C. Clark and numerous other writers had a number of short stories and other writing published within the pages of Playboy. And notable artists and cartoonist such as Ray Raymonde, Dean Yeagle, Olivia De Barnardinis, Harvey Kurtzman, and Jack Cole found success and fame through their works published in Playboy.
To say that I am a fan of what Hugh Hefner has created with Playboy is selling short how much I idolized the man. I have been a loyal reader and supporter of Playboy since I was 18 (at least legally) when my mother started my first yearly subscription to the magazine as birthday present for me the month I turned 18 in 1996. Obviously, I had been aware and reading Playboy since before I turned 18 as numerous members of my family had subscriptions to or bought the magazine for years before I turned 18 – my grandfather would even let me check out some of his vintage Playboy magazines every so often after I turned 13. But it was when I got my subscription that I began to appreciate the magazine just a bit more than I had before – as well as appreciating it more for more than just the naked pictorials.
When I had the chance to meet Hugh Hefner while I was working at Disneyland back in the late 1990s on a day that he visited the park with several of the Playboy Playmates, I wish I could have done more than simply shake his hand and say hello. There was so much I wanted to tell him but couldn’t because I was onstage in costume and he was flanked by several other Disney cast members who were his escorts around the park that day, but it was still a huge honor to have met the man even if it was for the briefest of moments.
Hugh Hefner passed away yesterday, September 27, 2017, at the age of 91 from natural causes, and I believe that the world has lost a true icon. He was more than just the creator of Playboy, he was a philanthropist and supporter of the arts as well as a huge figure in the defense of the First Amendment of the Constitution. He donated money to animal and environmental issues and helped authors and artists find a platform for their works. He may have also been a hugely controversial figure in American Pop Culture, but his positive contributions cannot be denied.
“Life is too short to be living someone else’s dream.”
Rest in Peace Hugh Hefner.
April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017