Hugh Hefner, 91, hedonist creator of Playboy magazine

As much as anyone, Hugh Hefner turned the world on to sex. As the visionary editor who created Playboy magazine out of sheer will and his own fevered dreams, he introduced nudity and sexuality to the cultural mainstream of America and the world.

For decades, the ageless Mr. Hefner embodied the "Playboy lifestyle" as the pajama-clad sybarite who worked from his bed, threw lavish parties and inhabited the Playboy Mansion with an ever-changing bevy of well-toned young beauties.

Hugh Hefner

He died Wednesday at the age of 91. His death was confirmed by Playboy in a news release.

From the first issue of Playboy in 1953, which featured a photograph of a nude Marilyn Monroe lounging on a red sheet, Mr. Hefner sought to overturn what he considered the puritanical moral code of Middle America.

The magazine's in-depth interviews with leading figures from politics, sports and entertainment - including Muhammad Ali, Fidel Castro and Steve Jobs - often made news. One of the magazines's most newsworthy revelations came in 1976, when presidential nominee Jimmy Carter admitted in a Playboy interview, "I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times."

Although he took offense at anyone who called him a pornographer, noting that Playboy seldom, if ever, depicted overt sexual acts, Mr. Hefner relished denunciations from religious groups and self-appointed protectors of morality.

Still, he was caught off guard by the outrage of feminists who found his magazine's depictions of women degrading. Feminist writer Gloria Steinem briefly worked at a Playboy Club in New York City to gather background for an undercover article in 1963.

Hugh Marston Hefner was born April 9, 1926, in Chicago. His father was an accountant, his mother a teacher, and he grew up in what he called a conservative household of "rigid Protestant fundamentalist ethics."

After serving in the Army during World War II, Mr. Hefner graduated in 1949 from the University of Illinois, where he majored in psychology.

While working in the personnel office of a box manufacturer and as an advertising copywriter for a department store, he tried without success to become a cartoonist. He later worked in promotions for Esquire magazine and held other publishing jobs while developing the idea for Playboy.

With $600 of his own savings and investments from friends and family - including his parents - Mr. Hefner wrote most of the first issue of the magazine himself. He purchased the rights to the nude photographs of Monroe, originally shot in 1949 for a calendar.

After his divorce from his first wife, Mr. Hefner often said he would never marry again. He had a long relationship in the 1970s and 1980s with onetime Playmate Barbi Benton.

In 1989, when he was 63, he married 26-year-old Playmate of the Year Kimberley Conrad. They had two sons, Marston Hefner and Cooper Hefner. The couple separated in 1998 and divorced in 2010. On New Year's Eve 2012, Mr. Hefner married another onetime Playmate, Crystal Harris. He was 86 at the time; she was 26.

In addition to his wife and sons, Mr. Hefner's survivors include two children from his first marriage, Christie Hefner and David Hefner.