Hugh Hefner: Playboy founder dies aged 91

Credit: PA

Tributes have been paid to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner following his death at the age of 91.

The tycoon, who brought sex and nudity into the mainstream, died "peacefully" and "surrounded by loved ones" at his famous Playboy Mansion.

Playboy posted on Twitter a black and white photo of its creator, who was known for his lavish parties, with his quote "Life is too short to be living somebody else's dream".

Reality TV star Kendra Wilkinson, who was 18 when she first moved into the Playboy Mansion with a then 78-year-old Hefner, paid tribute to her ex-boyfriend, calling him "an angel" in her life.

"Hef changed my life. He made me the person I am today. I couldn't be more thankful for our friendship and our time together. I will miss him so much but he will be in my heart forever," she said in a statement to People.

Singer and actress Nancy Sinatra, who posed for Playboy in her 50s, paid tribute to the publishing mogul as "one of the nicest men I've ever known", adding: "Godspeed, Hugh Hefner."

Hefner's son Cooper Hefner, 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 will be greatly missed by many, including his wife Crystal, my sister Christie and my brothers David and Marston and all of us at Playboy Enterprises."

It took just minutes from the announcement of Hugh Hefner's death for fans to line up outside the gates of his iconic Playboy Mansion in the Los Angeles hills.

News crews also lined the discreet avenue leading up to the 22-room mansion in Charing Cross Road, Holmby Hills, where Hefner died at the age of 91.

Hugh Hefner with Playboy playmates during the 52nd Cannes Film Festival. Credit: AP Photo/Laurent Rebours, File

Singer and actress Nancy Sinatra paid tribute to him as "one of the nicest men I've ever known", adding: "Godspeed, Hugh Hefner."

Actor Rob Lowe tweeted: "I had a number of great conversations and with Hugh Hefner. Was such an interesting man. True legend. What an end of an era!"

In 1953 he created Playboy magazine, starting the publication from his kitchen table.

It went on to become the biggest-selling men's magazine in the world, and continues to be published in more than 20 countries to this day.

Hefner himself went on to become a political activist and philanthropist, advocating political and sexual freedom.

Waitresses in the Playboy Club in Christmas 2016. Credit: AP

But Hefner's attitude towards women divided opinion.

Catherine Mayer, co-founder of the Women's Equality Party, wrote: "His version of sexual liberation of course was a con... The only freedom was for men to exploit and commodify women.

He subverted "the struggle for equality into a male fantasy of the ever-ready female", she said.

Hefner once said that he "invented" an "adolescent dream" of a "perfect" adult life for himself.

Born on April 9 1926, Hefner was the son of two teachers who held firm political beliefs.

After working for a number of years in the magazine publishing industry - following a brief stint in the Army - Hefner became convinced that there was a market for an upscale men's magazine.

He took out a loan - putting up his furniture as collateral - and borrowed money from family and friends to publish the very first issue of Playboy in December 1953.

He wrote that the magazine and its content would appeal to men aged 18 to 80.

The first edition featured a centrefold image of Marilyn Monroe, originally shot for her 1949 nude calendar - an image which came to symbolise the early days of the magazine.

Hefner's creation was an instant sensation, selling more than 50,000 copies.

At the flagship Playboy Club, in Chicago, circa 1960. Credit: AP

Playboy soon became famed for its bow-tie-wearing bunny girls, which have included Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and supermodel Kate Moss over the years.

Hefner himself was thrust into the limelight and his extravagant lifestyle soon became synonymous with the Playboy brand.

He married three times.

Hefner was also vocal about his progressive views, hosting a TV series, Playboy's Penthouse, which paved the way as the first televised programme to feature mixed groups of African American and white performers and audience members together.

When the US Post Office refused to deliver Playboy to subscribers through the mail, he fought all the way to the Supreme Court, winning a landmark decision considered a victory for free speech, while he was also an advocate for same-sex marriage.

Pictured with Playboy bunnies at the Playboy Club in LA in 1986. Credit: AP

In 2015, Playboy announced it was to stop publishing pictures of naked women, saying easy access to such images online means they are "passe".Cory Jones, chief content officer at the time, told the New York Times the move away from total nudity was the right one.

"You're now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it's just passe at this juncture," he said.

He added: "Don't get me wrong. Twelve-year-old me is very disappointed in current me. But it's the right thing to do."

Kate Moss (2014) and Pamela Anderson (2016) on the Playboy cover. Credit: Playboy

However, earlier this year, the ban on the nudity that made the magazine famous was lifted.

Playboy celebrated the reversal on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #NakedIsNormal.

Cooper Hefner wrote on Twitter: "Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn't a problem. Today we're taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are."

A 1965 Playboy cover and Jenny McCarthy on a 2005 cover. Credit: Playboy

Despite its ups and downs over the years, Playboy Enterprises says Hefner's creation now reaches more people than ever before in its 64-year history.

Hefner is survived by his wife Crystal and his four children - Christie, David, Marston and Cooper.