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Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner has died, Playboy Enterprises confirmed in a press release Wednesday night. He was 91. The organization said Hefner died of natural causes at his home while surrounded by friends and family.
Hefner's son Cooper, the chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises, said in the company 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. 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."
The entertainment icon was born Hugh Marston Hefner on April 9, 1926. He founded Playboy magazine in 1953, taking $8,000 in borrowed money to develop the publication and eventually building it into an iconic media empire, The Hollywood Reporter wrote on Wednesday.
Playboy's buxom models were the objects of millions of men's fantasies as Hefner challenged what he derided as America's "Puritanical" attitudes toward sex.
For decades, he was the pipe-smoking, silk-pajama-wearing center of a constant fantasy party at Playboy mansions in Chicago and then in Los Angeles.
Hefner was sometimes characterized as an oversexed Peter Pan as he kept a harem of young blondes that numbered as many as seven at his legendary Playboy Mansion. This was chronicled in "The Girls Next Door," a TV reality show that aired from 2005 through 2010.
"I'm never going to grow up," Hefner said in a CNN interview when he was 82. "Staying young is what it is all about for me. Holding on to the boy and long ago I decided that age really didn't matter and as long as the ladies ... feel the same way, that's fine with me."
Hefner's next-door neighbor Daren Metropoulos bought the Playboy Mansion in August 2016 for $100 million. Hefner reportedly agreed to the sale on the condition that Metropoulos would allow him to live out the rest of his days there.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.