“I’m falling apart,” she wrote in a 299-word farewell in which she thanked Hefner for numerous things, including “making the world a better place. A freeer and sexier place.”
A visionary editor who for decades threw lavish parties at his home, the Playboy Mansion, Hefner lived a glamorous Hollywood life, sharing time and photo ops with a diverse cast of celebrities, civil rights leaders and journalists.
The memories, condolences and even some jokes that people shared after Hefner’s death reflect the complicated legacy of the founder of Playboy magazine, who died at 91.
Actress Jenny McCarthy tweeted her 1994 Playboy cover and thanked Hefner for “changing so many people’s lives, esp. mine.”
Other former cover stars and Playmates, from Cindy Crawford to Donna D’Errico, offered tributes — and gratitude.
Rest In Peace, dear Hef. I always considered my #playboy cover to be a defining moment in my career, and I'm so grateful to him for being present for so many of my early burlesque shows. I'll never forget the night I came off stage and he offered me my first cover and pictorial. It was genuinely life-changing. I'll always treasure my memories of seeing Hef and his bunnies in the audience at my shows, of movies at the mansion, and of our swing dance nights. It's truly the end of an era. #hughhefner #hef
As The Washington Post’s Matt Schudel wrote: “From the first issue of Playboy in 1953, which featured a photograph of a nude Marilyn Monroe lounging on a red sheet, Mr. Hefner sought to overturn what he considered the puritanical moral code of Middle America.
“His magazine was shocking at the time, but it quickly found a large and receptive audience and was a principal force behind the sexual revolution of the 1960s.”
While the magazine helped launch some women’s entertainment careers, it also outraged feminists who found his magazine’s depictions of women degrading.
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson noted that the magazine editor was a “strong supporter of the civil rights movement,” a part of Hefner’s legacy that others also wanted to highlight.
In 1961, Hefner bought back Playboy club franchises that refused to admit African American members.
“We are outspoken foes of segregation [and] we are actively involved in the fight to see the end of all racial inequalities in our time,” he wrote.
Actor Rob Lowe reminisced about their “great conversations.”
I had a number of great conversations and with Hugh Hefner. Was such an interesting man. True legend. What an end of an era!— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) September 28, 2017
As an editor, Hefner commissioned articles by celebrated writers, including Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin and Joyce Carol Oates.
As Schudel wrote for The Post: “Mr. Hefner brought nudity out from under the counter, but he was more than the emperor of a land with no clothes. From the beginning, he had literary aspirations for Playboy, hiring top writers to give his magazine cultural credibility. It became a running joke that the cognoscenti read Playboy ‘for the articles’ and demurely averted their eyes from the pages depicting bare-breasted women.”
RIP Hef. Even though I only read Playboy for the articles. HA!— Jason Perlow (@jperlow) September 28, 2017
Musician Belinda Carlisle remembered a “sweet kind man,” while Gene Simmons of KISS praised the “entrepreneur and innovator” who built a media empire from $600 of his own savings and investments from friends and family.
To Paris Hilton, Hefner was a “legend” and friend with whom she shared incredible memories.
Former SNL cast member Taran Killam looked back at a Halloween party at the Playboy Mansion with the “best haunted maze,” while actor Patton Oswalt poked some fun.
As per his wishes, Hugh Hefner’s body will be left in a fort in the woods for other kids to find & pass around.— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) September 28, 2017
An aging Hef had become something of a self-caricature, strolling the grounds of the Playboy Mansion in silk pajamas, accompanied by a troupe of women who never seemed to turn 30.
Porn star Ron Jeremy chimed in with memories of more than two decades of parties.
Others drew attention to Hefner’s work in support of the First Amendment.
RIP to Hugh Hefner, the original defender of the first amendment and boobs.— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) September 28, 2017
With the praise also came criticism.
Wait, is it possible Hugh Hefner did good AND bad things? But... But... *robot head explodes, humans escape from robot hot tub*— Joss Whedon (@joss) September 28, 2017
Matt Schudel and J. Freedom du Lac contributed to this report, which has been updated.