Hugh Hefner created Playboy magazine in Chicago, back in 1953. Its first issue, which featured centrefold Marilyn Monroe who was then relatively unknown, sold out in weeks. By 1974, over one-quarter of college-aged men in America subscribed to the monthly magazine and its continued success was undeniable. The brand has gone on to become one of the most recognizable names in the world, but due to its provocative nature and the lifestyle it is said to promote, it is regularly shrouded in controversy and criticism.
Playboy Magazine stood out from other publications of its time thanks to the fearless manner in which it tackled topics most of the public thought to be taboo, especially discussed in print. The topics, like sex and sexuality, along the liberal stance Playboy took on them, and the nude pictures it features, have secured Playboy’s largely contentious reputation.
The Playboy Playmates and the Playboy Mansion have become as infamous as the magazine itself. The Playmates are those women featured in the centrefold of the magazine, and are named “Playmate of the Month.” It’s a title that comes with many perks – financial and otherwise. Hugh Hefner insists, “Once a Playmate, always a Playmate,” although most Playmates are generally only Playmate of the Month just once. Many of these Playmates live in and party at Hefner’s Beverly Hills home, aptly named the “Playboy Mansion.” In 2011, the home was valued at $54 million. Wildly extravagant parties and escapades involving Playmates, celebrities, and high rollers are a regular occasion at the mansion.
As lavish as the parties and the mansion are, it isn’t always glitz and glamor when it comes to the lives of the Playboy Playmates. Many Playmates have shared their struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, and other dangerous behaviors, with the rest of the world. Some of these Playmates eventually succumb to their habits and lose their lives at a tragically young age. Others have lost their lives to horrific automobile accidents, or to domestic violence. No matter the cause, these ten Playmates were gone far too soon.
10. Debbie Boostrom
Debbie Boostrom was the August 1981 Playboy Playmate of the Month. Her centrefold shoot was shot by photographer Mario Casilli before Boostrom moved to Kansas and got married. After her time at Playboy, she went on to design jewelry, act in infomercials, and have two children. On July 29, 2008, she was found dead in her Florida apartment and was thought to have died at least two weeks before she was found. The cause of death was ruled a suicide by gunshot. Boostrom was 53.
9. Tonya Crews
Oklahoma born Tonya Crews was the Playmate of the Month in March of 1961. Crews was born in 1938 and she also worked as a dance teacher and a secretary. Crews was one of Playboy’s only centerfold’s of Native American heritage, and she raised German Shepherds as a hobby. Sadly, in 1966 Crews was killed in a car accident. She was just 28 years old.
8. Eve Meyer
Although she was the Playmate of the Month in August of 1955, Eve Meyer was also a film producer (The Valley of the Dolls, 1970) and an actress. In 1977, she was aboard Pan Am flight 1736 from New York when it collided with a flight taking off on the Spanish island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. A total of 583 people, including Meyer, were killed in the collision, making it the most deadly aviation disaster in history. Meyer was only 46.
7. Claudia Jennings
Claudia Jennings was not only the Playmate of the Month in November 1969, but she was also named the Playmate of the Year 1970. Born in 1949 with the name Mary Eileen Chesterton, she appeared in several movies after her time with Playboy, including The Brady Bunch (1973). In 1979 Jennings died in a car accident on the Pacific Coast Highway when she was just 29.
6. Dorothy Stratten
Canadian-born Dorothy Stratten was hired to work at a fast-food restaurant when she was 17. The man who hired her, Paul Snider, was nine years her elder, and they soon began a relationship. Snider convinced Stratten she would make a great Playboy model so he sent a collection of nude photos of Stratten to Hefner. Hefner liked what he saw and before long, Stratten was living and working in the Playboy Mansion. As Stratten’s star continually rose, Snider became incredibly jealous of her fame and her relationship with Hefner. Still, Stratten and Snider married in 1979, the same year Stratten was the Playmate of the Month for August. Stratten and Snider soon became estranged when Snider uncovered Stratten’s affair with director Peter Bogdanovich. When Snider and Stratten met at their former apartment to discuss their impending divorce, Snider shot and killed Stratten before turning the gun on himself. Stratten was only 20 years old. Hugh Hefner named her the Playmate of the Year 1980, and her story was portrayed in two major motion pictures.
5. Star Stowe
Star Stowe was born Ellen Louise Stowe in Little Rock, AK in 1956. When she was just 20, she was the Playboy Playmate of the Month in February 1977. Though she once dated rocker Gene Simmons, she later married Peter Maligo with whom she had one son. After Stowe divorced Maligo, she moved to Fort Lauderdale to pursue exotic dancing. Sadly, she eventually fell into prostitution and drug abuse. In 1997 her body was found strangled and dumped in an area that several other prostitutes were found in the same way. This led authorities to believe her death was the result of a serial killer, but to this day the case has not been solved. Stowe died just three days before her 41st birthday.
4. Elisa Bridges
Elisa Bridges had an extensive career with Playboy. During 1994-2000, she not only appeared in several productions of Playboy Home Video, she was also the Video Playmate of the Month September 1996, and the Playmate of the Month December 1994. At just 28-years-old she was found dead in the home of one of Hugh Hefner’s close friends, Edward Nahem, on February 7, 2002. Nahem stated he found her that way in a bed in his home. Although Playboy posted on their website that Bridges died of “natural causes,” the coroner ruled her death was the result of “acute intoxication by the combined effects of heroin, methamphetamine, meperidine and alprazolam” and it was accidental.
3. Jayne Mansfield
Jayne Mansfield was one of the early Playboy Playmates, and remains one of the most well-known. She was born in 1933, and had a career in music, TV, and film, along with her work for Playboy as a centrefold in February 1955. Jayne Mansfield was married three times, and had five children. Mansfield’s daughter, Mariska Hargitay has gone on to be quite successful herself, as she currently stars on Law & Order: SVU. In 1967, Mansfield was in Mississippi for an appearance. As she traveled in a Buick with her lover Sam Brody, their driver, and three of her children, they struck the back of a tractor-trailor. All three adults in the front, including Mansfield, were killed. The children, who were in the backseat, all survived with minor injuries. Mansfield was only 34 when she passed away, but her legacy lives on.
2. Anna Nicole Smith
The woman we now know as Anna Nicole Smith was born in Houston, Texas with the name Vickie Lynn Hogan on November 28, 1967. Throughout her life, Smith made quite a name for herself as not only a prominent Playmate, but also television actress and party girl. Smith was the subject of a lot of negative attention when she married oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26. Marshall died a year later and Smith was engaged in legal battles over his inheritance for years. Smith was married three times in her life, and had one son, Daniel (1986-2006), and one daughter, Dannielynn (2006). Smith’s behavior became increasingly erratic and she often made public appearances where she appeared incredibly intoxicated. On February 8, 2007 Smith was found dead in her hotel room in Hollywood, Florida when she was just 39. Her death was ruled a result of acute combined drug intoxication.
1. Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe has become one of the most iconic figures – literally – in history since she first rose to fame in the 1950s. She was born in Los Angeles in 1926 with the name Norma Jeane Mortenson, but in 1950 she legally changed her name to Marilyn Monroe. She was featured on the cover of the first ever Playboy magazine in December 1953. At this time, what we now know as the Playmate of the Month was called the Sweetheart of the Month.
Although the media characterized her as ditzy, there is record of her making several statements that were reflective of her deeper wisdom. Monroe had a series of dramatic relationships, unsuccessful films, and harsh reviews which caused her great distress in the 1960s. She became increasingly dependent on alcohol and prescription medication which had a horrible impact on her health. She was admitted to a psychiatric clinic and underwent two surgeries in 1961, and those who worked with her claimed she became increasingly difficult to work with, and that performing caused her great anxiety. Ultimately, Monroe lost her battle to her demons and on August 5, 1962 when her psychiatrist called the LAPD and reported that he had found her dead in her Brentwood home. The coroner ruled her death was caused by “acute barbiturate poisoning” and that it was a “possible suicide.” To this day, there are several conspiracy theories regarding the circumstances of her death. Monroe was interred in a crypt in Hollywood, and her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is one of the most popular for tourists to visit.
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