In terms of cultural influence, Hugh Hefner became to some adults what Walt Disney is to many kids.
In 1953 Hefner launched Playboy magazine. Based in Chicago (later Los Angeles), it offered cosmopolitan pleasures even as America fell prey to a kind of conformity.
As with any groundbreaking enterprise, the story of Playboy begins with the joy of the raw. Then come the plateaus of success.
By 1970, Playboy had become an essential read, tackling substantive political analysis; founding a renowned jazz festival; publishing premier writers such as Alex Haley, James Jones, Ian Fleming and Ray Bradbury; introducing into the lexicon concepts like playmate and centerfold.
The mix of high culture and titillation made for some interesting moments. The 1959 television program "Playboy's Penthouse" is one of the oddest shows in TV history, with sexuality juxtaposed against a guest appearance by Carl Sandburg.
In his later years, Hefner again confronted the need to re-imagine the Playboy brand to keep up with the times — much as he did when he embraced jazz and television.
Eventually, he reinvented himself again through the popular cable program "The Girls Next Door," which portrays the publisher living happily in his Holmby Hills mansion with three blond girlfriends.
He's become an institution, as established and iconic as the American Dream itself.