The Terminal Playboy

When he died on September 27 at the age of 91, Hugh Hefner was no playboy.  He was an old man trapped in what amounted to a factory, surrounded by silicone, plastic, and hydrogen compounds.  Playboy’s circulation had peaked 45 years earlier with its November 1972 issue.  Even before then, Hef’s magazine had long ceded its place as the imagemaker of the Sexual Revolution.  Its commercial zenith was also a sign that Playboy had gone mainstream—not because its revolution had succeeded but because it wasn’t so revolutionary at all by the standards of the Manson era.  Playboy published its share of “New Journalism” and middlebrow fiction, some of it quite good on its own terms.  But Hefner’s playboy image, a tasteless man’s idea of class, was already as dated as a daguerrotype.  The real revolution in sex had been pharmaceutical, not pictorial.

If Hef had somehow held onto his youth, he would still have been a fossil.  But of course, he didn’t: He lived to be a septuagenarian, octogenarian, and finally nonagenarian doddering around in a museum-piece 1950’s smoking jacket.  He was a ruin of a man, a nasty Peter Pan who couldn’t grow up to enjoy adult pleasures, as opposed to adolescent ones.  A woman who worked for Hef’s magazine a decade ago reports that what passed for sybaritic delicacies...

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