How Hugh Hefner started with $600 and created the $110 million Playboy empire

Hugh Hefner, iconic founder of Playboy, has died at age 91

"Playboy" founder Hugh Hefner died Wednesday at age 91. The media mogul created a multimillion-dollar empire focused on an affluent, sexually liberated lifestyle.

Hefner was working as a cartoonist for Esquire magazine in 1952. When he was turned down for a $5 raise, he quit his job at the publication and ventured out on his own.

In 1953, Hefner founded Playboy magazine using $600 of his own money and several thousand more he borrowed, including $1,000 from his devoutly religious mother. She wrote the check after her husband had said no — "not because she believed in the venture," Hefner told E! in 2006, "but because she believed in her son."

That loan made her a millionaire.

Source: Playboy

The first issue of "Playboy," published in December of that year, featured forgotten, early-career nude photos of Marilyn Monroe and sold over 50,000 copies. By 1958, the magazine's annual profit was $4 million and "Hef" had skyrocketed to fame.

The magazine's monthly circulation peaked at 7 million issues in 1971. By that time, nearly one-quarter of all American college men were buying or subscribing every month, according to the New Yorker. But by the 1980s the franchise was struggling.

Hefner's public profile surged once again in the early 2000s with the release of his reality television show on E! The program, titled "The Girls Next Door," depicted the lives of his three blonde girlfriends at the Playboy Mansion and ran from 2005 to 2010.

Last year, that mansion, dubbed the ultimate bachelor pad, sold for $100 million, half of Hefner's original asking price of $200 million. It was still the most expensive home ever sold in Los Angeles, and the icon was allowed to live there until his passing.

In recent years, the magazine has struggled due to competition from the wide availability of free online pornography, which Hefner helped make mainstream.

Playboy now makes most of its money from licensing the bunny brand for a variety of products including liquor, clothing, fragrances, jewelry and bath products, The New York Times reports.

At the time of his death, Hefner's global brand had an estimated net worth of at least $110 million, according to market research firm Wealth-X.

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