The world is today in mourning for pioneering feminist and humanitarian Hugh Hefner, who has died at his home in California just hours after his tireless campaigning in Saudi Arabia helped to secure a landmark victory for women’s rights.
Hefner, who is credited with single-handedly turning around the media portrayal of women with his ground-breaking publishing empire, passed away peacefully at home surrounded by loved ones.
Hefner’s diplomatic negotiations were instrumental in the recent ruling in Saudi Arabia allowing women to drive, in just one of the oversees projects that filled his time right up until recent ill-health overtook him.
Germaine Greer was one of the many feminist voices queuing up to give their thanks for the tireless efforts Hefner had made to empower women.
“Hugh was a humanitarian and animal rights activist”, Greer told the Herald whilst choking back tears, “but first and foremost he was a feminist.
“Nobody did more than Hugh to promote women’s rights in the home, in the workplace and at the negotiating table.
Hugh was famous for using his fortune to do good, he was famous for his love of the poor, but most of all Hugh will be remembered for his love of women.”
Hefner dedicated his life to providing a safe haven for women escaping domestic violence, eventually creating a purpose-built mansion to house all of the women under one roof.
As well as vulnerable women, the mansion was famous for the hundreds of white rabbits, rescued from cosmetics-testing laboratories, which were allowed to roam free around the house and grounds. As well as giving a loving home to the animals, Hefner’s view was that they worked as ‘pet therapy’, helping traumatised women to love again, and this is where they got their ‘Bunny’ nickname and famous logo.
His single-minded focus on the women’s wellbeing meant that he even neglected his own needs, often wandering around in a disheveled dressing gown, while ensuring none of his charges ever wanted for anything.
Hefner parties were legendary; tales abound of the excess of generosity, food and good cheer for everyone. Hefner would reportedly spend the days leading up to Christmas scouring local homeless shelters for vulnerable women so that no one would have to be alone at that special time of year.
Every morning in the mansion women were invited to join in conferences and group-work, on subjects ranging from self esteem and body image to consent issues and self-confidence. Attendance was entirely voluntary but Hefner radiated such magnetic charisma that every woman in the mansion wanted to be in his company.
It is reported that women often begged to be allowed to sleep next to Hefner, just to feel the warmth of the kindness that radiated from him; but he always shied away from anything which could cause scandal.
Even as Hefner approached his 92nd year, the women around him at the mansion were never older than 25 or 26.
This was because Hefner understood the importance of making space for other young vulnerable women to enter into the warm embrace of a loving family; and also because older ‘Bunny Graduates’ were keen to get out into the community to spread the evangelical word of Hefner love.
Early indications are that, far from a lavish funeral, the billionaire’s last wish is to be buried in a simple cardboard coffin in the grounds of his mansion, while a single white dove is released over the heads of the thousands of women he has helped. His fortune is due to be split between a number of women’s empowerment charities, and of course put in trust to ensure his work can continue.
“What can I say?”, laughed Germaine Greer, shaking her head and wiping away a tear. “That’s just typical Hugh, always putting the needs of others before any personal desires of his own.
“He will be greatly missed – but we can’t hold on to a star like him forever. He’s with his own kind, where he belongs at last.
“He’s with the angels now.”