Hugh Hefner the founder of Playboy magazine, has died aged 91.

LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 16: Hugh Hefner (C) poses with Playboy Bunnies Playmate of the Year 2013 Raquel Pomplun (2nd L) and Miss December 2009 Crystal Hefner (2nd R) at Playboy’s 60th Anniversary special event on January 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Playboy)

Hefner, who founded the sexually explicit men’s lifestyle magazine in 1953, died at his home, the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, the publication announced.

Cooper Hefner, Hefner’s son and the chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises, said in a statement:

“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. He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history.”

However, others described Hefner as a lecherous pornographer who launched has magazine with a naked centerfold of Marilyn Monroe, taken years earlier and bought for $500. The Playboy mansion also saw a pyjama-clad Hefner attended to by a posse of women clad in bunny ears, all of whom were expected to be sexually available.

The magazine and Hefner’s lifestyle often provoked criticism, from feminists and conservatives alike. Also in 1963, Hefner was arrested on obscenity charges after publishing nude photos of Jayne Mansfield but the charges were dropped after the jury failed to reach a verdict.

In 1949 he married his first wife, Mildred Williams, with whom he had two children. They divorced in 1959, and Hefner shifted to a more ostentatious lifestyle, buying an enormous house in Chicago. He lived there and then at a second Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, wearing silk pyjamas and talking openly about his promiscuity. He claimed to have had sex with 1,000 women. Many of the magazine’s centrefold models stayed at the mansion while they were working for the publication.

Hefner was married three times and is survived by his wife, Crystal, a former Playmate, and four grown children: Christie, who served as chief executive of Playboy Enterprises for more than 20 years, David, Marston and Cooper.

Asked what he was most proud of in 1992, Hefner told the New York Times: “That I changed attitudes toward sex. That nice people can live together now. That I decontaminated the notion of premarital sex. That gives me great satisfaction.”

Hefner closed the Playboy clubs in 1988, declaring them “too tame for the times”, although he returned to the business in a limited way in Las Vegas in 2006.

In 2015 Playboy announced it would no longer publish pictures of fully nude women because such images were “passé” in the internet age, but they returned in 2017.

“Today we’re taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are,” Hefner said.

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