As odd as it may seem, it’s hard to imagine the world without Hugh Hefner. Regardless of any apprehension you may have about the brand he’s created, you can never question the strength of Playboy and what it has meant to western culture. And with his 90th birthday passing this weekend, we dig into the icon’s life, and find out how Hugh Hefner earned his $50.0 million net worth and his impact on North American culture.
The New Reality
It’s only fitting that on Hugh Hefner’s birthday we look back at the empire he has created. Looking at his $50.0 million net worth is a bit misleading. The Playboy founder was worth as much as $200.0 million back in 2011, but he lost 80% of the shares in his own company due to a leveraged buyout by Icon Acquisition Holdings and Rizvi Traverse.
What also contributed to the buyout was the reality that Playboy magazine just wasn’t doing well. The Internet era pretty much killed any need for a magazine of that sort, and Hefner’s brand was suffering quarterly losses. The buyout was to remove the company from public status and transform it back into a private enterprise.
The deal gave Hefner only a 37% stake in the company, with 60% going to Rizvi Traverse. According to the terms of his 2011 contract, Hefner makes about $1.0 million each year and still holds all editorial and creative control for the magazine and overall brand. He also gets to remain in the Playboy mansion, which ironically went up for sale at the beginning of this year for a reported $200.0 million.
Building of a Legacy
Hefner first started Playboy back in 1953. Millennials may be shocked to hear this now, but sex was not a topic discussed very openly back in those days. The risk Hefner took in crafting Playboy was huge and unprecedented and one that proved both his boldness and his foresight.
Maybe not so surprising is that Hefner was a psychology graduate. His learned insight into human psychology made him realize that he had to do more than just put pictures of naked women inside the pages of his magazine for it to sell. He needed depth, and so that’s what he developed.
And a little luck didn’t hurt either. In its very first issue, Playboy was able to showcase Hollywood starlet Marilyn Monroe. The mix of popularity and controversy surrounding Marilyn was probably the perfect match for the image Hefner was trying to create for his new magazine. And having her on the cover sent Playboy off and running, selling 50,000 copies of its first issue.
More than Magazines
Playboy would be sure to cover other celebrities, giving in-depth interviews with some of the most influential stars of the time. Hefner himself said of the magazine’s early success that “it offered an alternative” for young people. He says that the idea of publicly discussing sex for anything besides procreation was “radical” back in the ‘50s and ‘60s when Playboy was getting started.
|Assets||$36,800,000 in stocks and bonds|
|Other (including rental property and assets)||$500,000|
|Current Net Worth||$50.0 million|
He admits to not even knowing if the magazine would make it past its second year; however, subscriptions actually increased from one million in the first year to seven million in the the next. By the ‘60s, Playboy was a well-established multimillion-dollar brand selling a million magazines a month. It also expanded to casinos and other ventures such as hotel resorts. Not bad considering Hefner started the magazine with only $8,000. of investor money, $2,000 of which came from his mother and brother.
Playboy also stretched its empire to include private VIP clubs. These clubs were hosted by waitresses called Playboy Bunnies who wore the iconic ears the brand is now famous for. The clubs reflected the lifestyle Hugh wanted to portray, which was rich men surrounded by young beautiful women.
By the ‘70s, the magazine was at its peak, selling seven million copies each month and seeing a $12.0 million profit. This is around the time Hefner would make one of his most important purchases, the famed Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.
Competition would eventually force Hugh Hefner to downsize Playboy’s operations. But it remained a major pop culture platform, attracting the likes of Madonna, models Cindy Crawford and Kate Moss, and actress Drew Barrymore.
As we mentioned earlier, a lot has changed with Playboy. In an age where sex is no longer risqué, the magazine has gone through some tough times. The most drastic change came with new Content Officer Cory Jones announcing that there will be no more nudity in Playboy. Last month’s issue was the first to show a covered model.
But with Hefner turning 90, there’s little for him to regret. He himself and others often call him the luckiest man in the world for the life he’s been able to carve out for himself and for the brand he’s been able to etch into the minds of so many over the decades. So, in his honor we give virtual cheers to the good health of Hugh Hefner and for more successful years of Playboy.