Hugh Hefner began his career in publishing as a writer for Esquire, but he would find international fame as the founder of the most iconic lads’ mag in the world - Playboy. Marilyn Monroe graced the first ever edition of the magazine which would go on to become as much a part of American culture as the actress herself.
Over his lifetime, Hefner amassed a fortune from his Playboy empire, but spent almost as much on his grand living expenses, alimony payments, and entertainment at the Playboy Mansion. When he died, Hefner left his family a considerable inheritance, though his fortune had been eroded by decades of high living and falling business revenue.
Secrets of Playboy, a documentary which landed on All4 this week, explores claims of abuse suffered by women at the mansion, and how Hefner worked to silence whistleblowers. The 12 part series lifts the lid on how women were really treated in the Playboy world.
What was Hugh Hefner’s net worth?
Hugh Hefner’s net worth at the time of his death in 2017, whilst considerably more than the average TV writer earns, is not as impressive as you might imagine for a media mogul who founded one of the most popular magazines in America.
Hefner had to take out a loan to start Playboy magazine back in 1953, but the first edition sold 50,000 copies and continued to run in print until 2020, when the magazine moved fully online.
During the height of Playboy’s success in the mid 1990s, Hefner was estimated to be worth around $200 million - but as digital technology took over, Playboy was slow to adapt and the company’s stock value dropped by 80% in the first decade of the 21st century.
In 2011, Hefner sold Playboy Enterprises, which also owned the Playboy Mansion, to a private equity firm in return for a $1 million salary and the right to stay at the mansion for the rest of his life. When Hefner died, he was estimated to have a net worth of around $50 million, nothing to be sniffed at, but not in the same league as modern social media moguls like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.
Hefner’s estate was divided between his four children who sold its shares for roughly $35 million. This was split with Crystal Hefner, his third wife, who was 31 years old at the time of his death (Hefner was 91 when he died).
What happened to the Playboy Mansion?
Hefner didn’t actually own the Playboy Mansion, though he did live there from 1974 until his death - he paid an annual fee for rent and entertainment. The 29-room Los Angeles mansion was bought by Playboy for $1.1 million in 1971, and in 1996 Hefner bought a smaller mansion next door for his separated wife and their children.
The mansion was famous for being the setting to lavish parties featuring Hefner, Playboy bunnies, and celebrities including Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Eminem. Playboy Enterprises put the mansion up for sale in 2016, asking for $200 million and stipulating that Hefner must be allowed to rent the mansion for the remainder of his life.
Daren Metropoulos, co-owner of Hostess Brands, bought the mansion for $100 million. He had previously bought the smaller next door mansion for $18 million and plans to join them together. Metropoulos entered a permanent protection covenant with the city of Los Angeles which protects the mansion from demolition by him and any future owners - though he can still make renovations to the building.
In 2018, scenes from the Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood were shot at the mansion - it is the first and to date only movie to have been filmed there since the sale. Metropoulos was credited as an associate producer on the film.
There were reports in 2020 that looters had stripped furnishings from the building in the wake of Hefner’s death, taking sex toys and even used sheets as souvenirs. It is understood that major renovation work is currently underway at the mansion.
Metropoulos said: "I’m extremely passionate about its architecture and look forward to this momentous opportunity to transform one of the finest estates in the country. As Mr. Hefner was aware, I plan to meticulously refurbish the property with the highest quality and standards in mind."
How much is Playboy worth today?
Playboy Enterprises, now known as PLBY Group, mostly operates as an intellectual property licensing business, feeding off the popularity of the Playboy brand. In 2020 Playboy went public again, and was listed on the stock market. At this time the company was valued at $381 million but with $142 million of debt. Over the last year, the company’s share price has dropped 90% from $38.60 to $3.50 - it has a market cap of $160 million.
All episodes of Secrets of Playboy are available to watch now on All4