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Hugh Hefner: Playboy, revolutionary

Hugh Hefner ran an immensely successful and respectable brand for four decades till the dawn of the Internet

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Hugh Hefner: Playboy, revolutionary
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Growing up in a metro in the Eighties, the sights of a city packed in a chance encounter with a Playboy glossy, strategically placed beneath other magazines to afford a tantalising glimpse. Middle-class morality and prohibitive cover price only enhanced its appeal. The patriarch of the opulent Playboy mansion in America's Hollywood district, surrounded by playmates young enough to be his daughters or granddaughters, Hugh Hefner ran an immensely successful and respectable brand for four decades till the dawn of the Internet. The worldwide web-engendered pornography proved to be his nemesis, and by 2000, Hefner could see the sun set on his enterprise that had grown big enough to include cable and digital production, clothing and jewellery lines, and clubs, resorts and casinos.

When he passed away on Thursday at the age of 91, the Casanova, often photographed clad in silk robes and thronged by playmates, left behind a legacy that even heads of states aspire for. He was part-myth, part-reality — an image he carefully cultivated by marrying extravaganza with the causes of the day.

Hefner, who knew how to accelerate the pulse of mankind, was also a champion of the civil rights movement, LGBTQ rights, women's health and reproductive rights, and freedom of speech. His credo was informed by ideals of sexual freedom and racial integration that a rigid American society found difficult to accept. His proximity to Martin Luther King Jr, Mohammad Ali and Malcom X had raised the government's heckles, but Hefner knew he was too powerful to be singled out for censure.

Though Playboy peddled a high-end lifestyle — a dream that America, the land of milk and honey, symbolised — it also raised the bar for writing. Imagine the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Norman Mailer, Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut contributing for a magazine whose centrespread was to die for! Well, almost! Imagine the thrill of discovering Jack Kerouac in an old magazine, most of whose pages had been torn, but the story had survived unscathed.

In many ways, Hefner revolutionised the space he dominated, spawning a culture of clones that could never match the original's path-breaking success. For Playboy was both titillation and freedom song for repressed societies where sexual attraction suffocated to death in the closet of fear. That alone singled him out for adulation, long after the bunnies had gone to sleep in fairyland.

RIP, Hefner! It's time to party with the gods.

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