Hugh Hefner, the iconic founder, Editor-in-Chief, and Chief Creative Officer of Playboy — and one time U.S. Army veteran — is dead at 91.
His military service is a testament to the mentality of vets from the Greatest Generation. Despite an IQ 0f 152, he still opted to join the U.S. Army right out of high school in 1944, a time when victory in Europe wasn't necessarily assured.
Basic Trainee Hugh Hefner. That sounds really weird to say aloud.
But Hef never made it to Europe. Instead, he was an infantry clerk stationed in Oregon and then Virginia. While he did learn the basics of using the M1 Garand and tossing grenades, he never had to do it on the battlefield. He spent the war drawing cartoons for Army-run newspapers.
He left the military in 1946, honorably discharged and destined for greater things — notably supplying reading material for U.S. troops (and everyone else) for every American war since 1953.
Veteran, then ship's captain. Any ship.
"I came out [of the Army] like a lot of other fellas believing that somehow we had, we had fought in a war, the last really moral war and that we would celebrate that in some form," Hefner once said in an interview. "I expected something comparable [to the Jazz Age] after world war two and we didn't get that, all we got was a lot of conformity and conservatism."
Luckily Hef could spare Playboy bunny Jo Collins for the the 173rd Airborne in Vietnam, 1966.
Hefner left the Army to encounter the Cold War as a civilian and he didn't like what it was doing to American society. He blamed things like Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee as a sign of repression in the U.S.
A soldier in Vietnam reads Playboy in the late 1960s.
"When I was in college at the university of Illinois the skirt lengths dropped instead of going up as they had during the roaring twenties and I knew that was a very bad sign," Hefner said. "It is symbolic and reflective of a very repressive time."
In Hef's mind, sexual repression and dictatorship went hand-in-hand, and he opted to do his part. His work helped fuel the sexual revolution of the 1960s — and fight an element of feminism he sees as a "puritan," "prohibitionist," and "anti-sexual." Hefner funded challenges to state regulations that outlawed birth control and he sponsored the court case that would become Roe v. Wade.
A sailor reading Playboy in the 1950s.
"One of the great ironies in our society is that we celebrate freedom and then limit the parts of life where we should be most free," he told Esquire in 2015.
In that same Esquire interview — at age 76 — he said of his death: "My house is pretty much in order. When it comes, it comes." But he also said, "I wake up every day and go to bed every night knowing I'm the luckiest guy on the fucking planet."