Hugh Hefner, the iconic American entrepreneur and founder of Playboy magazine, has died at the age of 91.

Hefner passed away at his home, the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, on Wednesday (September 27th), the Playboy publication announced.

Cooper Hefner, his son and the current chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises, said in a statement yesterday: “My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom. He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history.”

Hugh HefnerHugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, has died aged 91

Hefner founded the notorious men’s lifestyle magazine in 1953, starting publishing it from his kitchen and selling seven million copies a month at Playboy’s peak. The first edition famously featured nude pictures of Marilyn Monroe, which had been taken four years previously for a calendar and which Hefner had bought for $200.

The magazine helped make nudity a respectable idea in mainstream publishing as well as sexual freedom, even though it emerged at a time when laws in America were very strict.

More: That didn’t last long! Playboy magazine is going back to naked models

While critics – and there were plenty – viewed Playboy as sleazy, Hefner always defended the publication as about being more than nudity. Indeed, it increasingly featured essays and articles penned by the likes of Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov and Margaret Atwood.

“I've never thought of Playboy quite frankly as a sex magazine,” Hefner told CNN in a 2002 interview. “I always thought of it as a lifestyle magazine in which sex was one important ingredient.”

Hefner personally faced obscenity charges in 1963 for the publication and distribution of Playboy, but the jury in the case was not able to reach a verdict.

In the 1980s, sales of Playboy began to decline amid competition from other publications pushing the envelope further. In 1985, Hefner took a back seat in the running of the publication after he suffered a stroke, and his daughter Christie took over the publication four years later, with Cooper Hefner then succeeding in 2014.

More: Hugh Hefner responds to claims made by Holly Madison in autobiography ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’ [archive]