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Hugh Hefner, Playboy Founder And Cultural Icon, Dead At 91

A pop culture mainstay, Hefner defined the 'Playboy' brand for decades

Hugh M. Hefner, the man who founded Playboy magazine and helped fortify it as a brand to be emulated via his own highly visible lifestyle over many decades, has died, Playboy Enterprises announced late Thursday (September 27). He was 91.

Hefner created Playboy magazine in 1953, which became a symbol of the burgeoning sexual revolution in America in the mid-20th century. Throughout the decades that followed, Hefner was a staple of pop culture, appearing as himself in films like The House Bunny, on television shows like The Simpsons, and in music videos like Weezer's "Beverly Hills."

But his constant appearances on E!'s unscripted show The Girls Next Door, which he co-created in 2005, helped make Hefner a mainstay of reality TV — a feat, considering the changing pop culture landscape of the medium — into his 80s. At its onset, the show followed Hefner and his three girlfriends, Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson, as they lived together at the iconic Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills. The show spawned four spin-offs, though Madison later wrote a tell-all book which detailed the manipulation that went on behind the scenes.

The mansion itself was a longtime headquarters of lavish partying for A-listers and became synonymous with a decidedly modern joie de vivre.

In the 2010s, Hefner's cultural visibility decreased, though he kept up operations at the magazine. He gave his son Cooper creative control of Playboy in 2016, a year after its controversial decision to stop publishing nude photos, which it later reversed. In April, the Amazon documentary series American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story, based on his life, premiered, and IMDb lists several more upcoming projects of which he's credited as executive producer.

Tributes from friends, former Playmates, and fans rolled in via social media as soon as the news broke and continued into the morning on Thursday.