Hugh Hefner, the magazine mogul who brought sex to the newsstands in the 1950s and went on to embody the archetypal male fantasy, has passed away at the age of 91.
According to a statement issued by his publicist, Hefner passed peacefully at his famous Holmby Hills mansion Wednesday evening.
"Hugh M. Hefner, the American icon who in 1953 introduced the world to Playboy magazine and built the company into one of the most recognizable American global brands in history, peacefully passed away today from natural causes at his home, The Playboy Mansion, surrounded by loved ones," Playboy confirmed in a statement to E! News.
"He was 91 years old."
Known to friends and worshippers alike as simply "Hef," Hefner revolutionized magazine publishing by boldly pushing the envelope in terms of permissible content more than 60 years ago.
In 1953, Hefner quit his job as a copywriter at Esquire to launch Playboy with a modest $8,000.
Thanks in part to its highly publicized nude photos of Marilyn Monroe, the first issue sold over 50,000 copies and helped create one of the world’s most-universally recognized brands.
While Playboy may always conjure thoughts of nude centerfolds and the glorification of high-class debauchery, Hefner never wavered in his commitment to publishing high-minded content alongside the more risque material.
An interview with Martin Luther King Jr., a beloved piece by gonzo legend Hunter S. Thompson, and the article that became the inspiration for the Academy-Award winning film The Hurt Locker are just a handful of the magazine’s many journalistic high points.
Literary luminaries such as Vladimir Nabokov, Saul Bellow and Margaret Atwood have all contributed to Playboy, often in response to a personal request from Hefner.
But of course, it was the Playmates of the Month and famous centerfolds that enabled Hefner to break sales and circulation records around the world.
Madonna, Kate Moss, Sharon Stone, Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardashian, Drew Barrymore, and Pamela Anderson have all graced the magazine’s pages in various states of undress.
Though many have wondered how much of Hefner’s public image was a facade, and how much of his legendary lifestyle was authentic, those who knew Hef best claimed that he balanced the life of a jet-setting lothario with that of a conscientious businessman and loving father, in much the same way that his magazine juxtaposed intellect with sex.
"Could I be in a better place and happier than I am today?" Hefner said in a 2011 interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
"I don’t think so. In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined a sweeter life."
Hefner is survived by wife Crystal Harris and his four children from previous marriages.
Our thoughts go out to the Hefner family during this difficult time.