You may have heard of the Centerfold Curse before. It’s been around for a while and has supposedly affected many well-known women. The curse started because it seems that the women who pose for Playboy‘s centerfolds often met tragic and untimely deaths, at least more than the average woman. Is there any truth to it? Well, that depends on what you’re asking. Is there a curse? Maybe. They do say that beauty is a curse, and we all know that beauty is highly valued and exploited in Hollywood. It’s possible that many of these women fall victim to a lifestyle that takes them on a shortcut to death. Plus, there are some commonalities between the deaths. So sure. If that fits your definition of a curse then there could really be one. But let’s actually delve into the details. By taking a look at the specifics of the deaths of the youngest playmates, the numbers, the causes and their respective ages, maybe we can shed some light on the Centerfold Curse.
There have been no less than 20 Playmates who have graced the centerfold and have died before the age of 50. That works out to about 2.85% of the approximately 700 centerfold models in Playboy‘s rich history. Some very rough math suggests that about 0.7% of Americans tend to die between the ages of 20 and 50, which would make Playboy’s rates an increase of about 400% over the average. While that jump may seem dramatic, it may not actually be all that crazy because of the relatively small sample size, but it’s something of note regardless. It is somewhat interesting, however, to consider that the vast majority have died in similar ways; drug overdoses, car accidents, murder or suicides, or some combination of those. We can assume that this is due to a life of fame, love, drugs and rock and roll, but who can really say for sure? Is this bad luck? Perhaps it might be more accurate to compare these numbers to the number of deaths of all celebrities under the age of 50. That might give us a more telling number, but, for now, let’s take a look at 15 of those Playmates who perished when they were too young. We’ll start with an obvious one, then go by age of death– the oldest to the youngest. Here is the centerfold curse: 15 Playboy Playmates who were affected by the hex.
16. Anna Nicole Smith – 39-Years Old
Anna Nicole Smith was one of the most famous Playmates to ever pose for Playboy. She was named “Playmate of the Month” in May, 1992, though she did appear on the cover earlier in that year in March. While Smith would enjoy a successful modeling career and some acting here and there, it was her shocking marriage to the 89-year-old oil tycoon, Howard Marshall, that gained her some major notoriety. One year after their marriage, Marshall died, leaving behind a mind-blowing $1.6 billion estate, to which Smith was willed half. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with Marshall’s family, and there was a lengthy court battle that would extend long after Smith’s death in 2007, the result of accidental drug overdose. There were reports that Smith struggled with prescription drugs and even had a mild personality disorder, plus she had great difficulty coping with her son’s death the year prior. Smith was 39-years old when she died.
15. Eve Meyer – 48-Years Old
In 1977, news spread like wildfire about a terrible airplane wreck, what would be called the worst airplane disaster in history—as it still remains today. Now called the Tenerife Airport Disaster, two Boeing 747s collided on an airport runway on the island of Tenerife, killing an astounding 583 people. On board and included in the death toll was the “Playmate of the Month” for June 1955, Eve Meyer. Meyer, who was 48 at the time, had become known as an actress in her years after Playboy, appearing in several exploitation films of that era. She was flying in from New York when her plane collided with one that was taking off.
14. Star Stowe – 40-Years Old
Named Playboy’s “Playmate of the Month” for February, 1977, Star Stowe was another beautiful model to die before her 50th birthday. Stowe, who has some side fame for having been linked romantically with Gene Simmons of Kiss, became an exotic dancer after her time with Playboy. Later she would find work as a prostitute in Southeast Florida. It was there that she would meet her untimely death in 1997 at the hands of a suspected serial killer. Around that time, several prostitutes were found dead from strangulation. Their bodies were then dumped afterward. Stowe was found in this very way, strangled and dumped in March, three days before her 41st birthday.
13. Jennifer Lyn Jackson – 40-Years Old
When Playmate Jennifer Lyn Jackson was found dead in her bed of a heroin overdose in 2010, it had been 21 years since she was the centerfold model for Playboy. In 1989, Jackson was named “Playmate of the Month” for April and she was a favorite of many, even named one of the finalists of top Playmates for the 35th Anniversary edition of the magazine. But her life would begin to unravel in her late 30s. In 2007, she was arrested on charges of driving under the influence, theft and possession. She would be ordered to receive drug and alcohol counseling and was placed on probation for three years. It would be three years later that Jackson, at the age of 40, would die.
12. Marilyn Monroe – 36-Years Old
In 1953, Playboy Magazine released its first ever issue and included Marilyn Monroe on the cover and on the centerfold. For this first issue, Monroe was called the “Sweetheart of the Month,” a title that would change to “Playmate of the Month” for the next issue, making Monroe the one and only “Sweetheart.” Monroe battled with substance abuse and depression throughout much of the later stages of her career, but, in 1962, when she was found dead of a barbiturate overdose, the world was shocked. It wouldn’t be until much later that people would begin to connect Monroe to the so-called “Centerfold Curse,” but the details of her death and her young age of 36 make her a fitting member of the fateful club.
11. Tiffany Sloan – 35 Years Old
Tiffany Sloan was named the “Playmate of the Month” in October, 1992, and she received some fame from the magazine exposure. After the centerfold, Sloan got into acting, earning a small part in Married… With Children. Though the acting career never worked out for her, Sloan would return to do several different shoots with Playboy throughout her life. In 2006, after an unsuccessful solo business venture, Sloan moved to Las Vegas and started stripping, something she had done earlier in her life. This life change also involved some drug abuse, which ended up leading to her death in 2008, the result of an (apparent) intentional overdose at the age of 35.
10. Jayne Mansfield – 34-Years Old
Outside of Marilyn Monroe and possibly Pamela Anderson, Jayne Mansfield is the most popular and well-known Playmate there ever was. Named “Playmate of the Month” in February, 1955, Mansfield became a regular in the magazine for several years after that. In the 1963 film, Promises, Promises! Mansfield played the first nude starring role in a major Hollywood film. She was often compared to Marilyn Monroe and was sought out for many different exploitation-type films during her run of popularity. In 1967, Mansfield, two other adults and two of Jayne’s children were driving to New Orleans when their car ran into the back of a tractor-trailer, killing the three adults in the front seat of the vehicle. There were widespread rumors of her death, reports that Mansfield was decapitated, but they were all false. News of the accident was so influential that truck trailers were equipped with an underride guard to help prevent such accidents from happening again. These guards were commonly called, Mansfield bars. She was 34-years old at the time of her death.
9. Katie May – 34-Years Old
In today’s Internet age, the Playboy centerfold is becoming less and less relevant. Stars are using different social media to attract attention, and there was one Playboy model, Katie May, who was ahead of the curve in this respect. May started to make a name for herself on Instagram and Snapchat with her sexy and revealing photos. Her Instagram account, which had over 1.9 million followers, was shut down in late 2015 because of the scandalous photos, but that’s when Playboy came knocking. Sadly, just days after the shoot, May passed away from a stroke that was caused by a blocked carotid artery. The 34-year old had a fall during an earlier photoshoot that may have been the starting point. While she was never a “Playmate of the Month,” there was a good chance that’s where her career was heading.
8. Linne Nanette Ahlstrand – 30-Years Old
“Playmate of the Month” for July, 1958, Linne Nanette Ahlstrand was an actress and a model that died tragically at the age of 30 from cancer. Known for being one of the shortest Playmates at the time, at 5’2″, Ahlstrand acted in a few films, such as a bit part in Beast from Haunted Cave and a much more substantial role in Living Venus. Ahlstrand would be best know for her recurring role on the TV show Highway Patrol in 1958, but her shortened life would stop her from becoming more of a household name.
7. Paige Young – 30-Years Old
Though the details of Paige Young’s death are a little mixed up, it seems that, unlike many sources, Young killed herself by shooting herself in the head and not overdosing on barbiturates as per some reports. Young was 30-years old when she died and was only six years removed from her centerfold issue of Playboy that premiered in November of 1968. Young’s name has become more of a hot button these days with the allegations of the Bill Cosby sexual abuse scandal. Young and Cosby were romantically linked in the early 70s and, Young’s reason for suicide has been connected to her mistreatment by Hollywood bigwigs, Hugh Hefner and Cosby included. There isn’t much hard evidence connecting the two, but several of Young’s friends have spoken at length about their strange relationship, and Cosby was known to frequent the Playboy mansion during that time.
6. Claudia Jennings – 29-Years Old
Like some other Playmates, Claudia Jennings worked as a receptionist for Playboy before earning the title of “Playmate of the Month” in November, 1969. The following year, Jennings would become 1970’s “Playmate of the Year” as well. After this brush with fame, Jennings would get into the film industry, typically showing up in the exploitation films of the era, such as ‘Gator Bait and Truck Stop Women. Jennings would also get bit parts in several TV shows like The Brady Bunch. Then, in 1979, just shy of her 30th birthday, Jennings fell asleep at the wheel while driving and crashed, dying in the accident.
5. Elisa Bridges – 28-Years Old
The death of Elisa Bridges is one of the more mysterious ones on this list. Playboy described the death as “due to natural causes,” which is correct if you believe that acute intoxication by the combined effects of heroin and methamphetamine are natural. The “Playmate of the Month” for December, 1994 was found dead in one of Hugh Hefner’s friend’s, Edward Nahem’s guest rooms. She was found in bed by Nahem, who called police to his house. What police found was a bit confusing, but nothing was made of it. There were some scrapes and bruises on her skin, but nothing that would suggest a major struggle. The most interesting thing found was a cup in the trash bin; the cup had an unidentified powdery substance in it (what the powder was exactly was never disclosed in the police report for some reason). There were no drugs or alcohol in the room, which was odd considering she overdosed. Nahem claims that he had not seen Bridges since the night before, which is also interesting since she must have got drugs from somewhere. The model was 28-years old when she died and there was no further investigation afterward. Curiouser and curiouser.
4. Tonya Crews – 28-Years Old
Named Playmate of the Month in March of 1961, Tonya Crews, an American with Choctaw heritage, was 23-years old when she graced Playboy magazine’s centerfold. Not much is known about Crew’s lifestyle after her rise to modeling fame, but she was sadly killed in an automobile accident in 1966, five years after she posed for Playboy. It’s difficult to say what these automobile accidents signify for this list, if anything. We can play detective and wonder if drugs or alcohol had anything to do with these crashes, but there would be nothing gained from pure conjecture. For now, all we can draw from this is that vehicle safety was not what it is today, and even today the roads can be a dangerous place.
3. Willy Rey – 23-Years Old
Willy Rey was named “Playmate of the Month” in February, 1971, two years before she was found dead of a barbiturate overdose at the age of 23. Rey was a Canadian, born in the Netherlands, and quickly became one of the most iconic Playmates in her short time with Playboy. When Playboy first released their stock certificates in 1971, it was Rey’s nude image that appeared at the top of the certificate, a huge honor for Rey. At the time, the Playboy brand was growing very quickly, and this nude certificate image caused a major controversy at the time, helping to boost Rey’s stock in the process. Many of Rey’s friends and family spoke about her growing depression in the time leading up to her death, claiming that her overdose was almost certainly intentional. Rey had goals of becoming an actress but would never really get the chance to try it out before her depression got the best of her.
2. Carol Willis – 22-Years Old
At the age of 20, Texas-born Carol Willis, who was also part Cherokee, got a job with Playboy answering phones and working reception. Then, in July 1970, a 21-year old Willis was given the opportunity as “Playmate of the Month” and thus began her modeling career with Playboy. Unfortunately, this relationship would be a short one. Not even one year later, Willis was killed in an automobile accident in Laguna Beach. She was only 22-years old at the time, the second youngest Playmate to die.
1. Dorothy Stratten – 20-Years Old
Dorothy Stratten was a Canadian Playmate who was named “Playmate of the Month” in August, 1979. The blonde beauty dabbled in acting and had began to form a career for herself when tragedy struck. One year after posing for Playboy‘s centerfold, Stratten was murdered by her estranged husband, Paul Snider, when she was only 20-years old. The two met at the home that they once shared to iron out their divorce details when, as the investigation revealed, Snider shot her, defiled her dead body and then shot himself. When they were found, both bodies were nude and deceased on the bed. Because of the details of the death and Stratten’s young age, news of this murder was a hot topic for quite a while and caused some attention to be brought on the life of a Playboy Playmate.