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Playboy Magazine Founder Hugh Hefner Dies Aged 91

Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner, February 10, 2011

Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, died Wednesday aged 91, according to a statement from the publication.

Hefner died of natural causes at home, the statement said. He was "surrounded by loved ones" at the time of his death, it said.

Playboy magazine also confirmed Hefner's death on Twitter.

Hefner founded the men's magazine in Chicago in a deeply-conservative America in 1953 with just $600 of his own money and 8,000 dollars more in loans.

Despite his hedonistic lifestyle, Hefner was also a champion of serious issues like integration, mixed-race love and free speech

The first issue featured Hollywood superstar Marilyn Monroe on the cover. It also contained an unprecedented mix of airbrushed nudes and interesting articles.

The magazine's frank and open attitude to sex set it apart and made it a cultural phenomenon.

Despite his hedonistic lifestyle, Hefner was also a champion of serious issues like integration, mixed-race love and free speech.

The magazine and the company were very successful in their heyday, with 22 Playboy clubs in the United States in the 1960s and several in foreign countries.

By the 1970s, the magazine with its combination of centerfolds, tips for how to deal with the opposite sex as well as insightful interviews and articles on current events, had a circulation of around 7 million.

Established authors like Saul Bellow, Woody Allen, PG Wodehouse, Kingsley Amis, Roald Dahl, Norman Mailer, John Updike and James Mitchener all wrote for the magazine.

Playboy serialized Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" science-fiction classic, and later published fiction by Doris Lessing and Vladimir Nabokov.

The magazine also specialized in long and candid interviews, from Fidel Castro and Frank Sinatra to Marlon Brando and then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter.

Hefner and his publication were also the target of harsh criticism from feminist activists.

Feminist Gloria Steinem who got hired as an entertainer, or "bunny," at one of the Playboy clubs in the early 1960s, turned her brief employment into an article for Show magazine that described the Playboy 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."

Hefner explained the magazine's success as follows on the 50th anniversary of its founding: "It's a lifestyle magazine. But we were there at the beginning, making the case for personal sexual freedom. And I think that we now live in a Playboy world."

Eventually the magazine was eclipsed by changing mores and technological advances, which Hefner himself had helped kick off.

After the fall of Communism, Playboy opened local versions of the magazine in Eastern European countries, including Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania.

In the Internet era, by 2015, circulation dropped to just 800,000 and the magazine announced it would no longer feature naked women -- a decision it later reversed.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, and