Sunday, July 11

THE HUFF OF HEF: REQUIEM FOR A REPROBATE

Incipient mortality is not an awareness I would immediately ascribe to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Yet, on the printed page, there it is.

He seems timeless: Forever gazing through the opaque glow of a Highball at a pool adorned with naked centrefolds.

In a word-averse, but suprisingly intimate, autobiography, Hefner's Little Black Book, the pajama-clad Don of Debauchery waxes as his body, and legacy, wanes.

At the end of his book, Hef tells a story of the Grim Reaper coming to his mansion, only to be seduced by drinks, pools, food, and women: "With so much life, death wasn't welcome."

Hefner is an interesting artifact of Americana. A clear iconoclast 40 years ago; today, the man is simply a self-exiled cultural pioneer.

Hef always was self-exiled. He rarely left the Playboy Mansion. He still doesn't.

Last week, I spoke with Hefner from California about his thoughts and experiences.

And while it's easy to take a shot at the old war horse, there is a dignity, sensitivity, reflectiveness, and a refinement about him. Not a stilted refinement of consumerism, instead a refinement born of understanding.

"Don't cut off ex-girlfriends if you can help it," says Hef. "Otherwise, you cut yourself off from a part of yourself."

More wisdom: "Always wear your heart on your sleeve ... women remember kindness and recognition more than money."

A complex man, there are contradictions: In marriage, Hef was entirely conventional. He says he never cheated. (Maybe that is unconventional.)

In interviewing Hef for the second time, I don't doubt his sincerity regarding romantic idealism. Nor do I doubt his ability to dream big and contest conventional boundaries--and self-limitation.

Perhaps that will be Hefner's heftiest legacy.