Hugh Hefner: Why the Founder of Playboy Had a Shockingly Low Net Worth At the Time of His Death

Hugh Hefner, the iconic founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine, died two years ago today at the age of 91 (learn why people were upset with Jimmy Kimmel after Hefner’s death). Ahead, we’re examining how “Hef,” as he was also known, built the Playboy brand and why he died with a shockingly low net worth. 

At the age of 27 in 1953, Hefner started Playboy — the magazine known for nude photo spreads of women wearing bunny ears — with $8,000 he procured in loans as he once told Fortune.

His mother and brother contributed the two biggest loans at $1,000 each while his father, an accountant who believed magazines were a bad investment, declined to offer anything in the way of financial backing, according to Money.

Hugh Hefner
Hugh Hefner | John Heller/WireImage

With that small amount of money, Hefner built an empire and cemented himself (and the Playboy bunny) as a pop culture icon along with his signature satin robes. By the 1960s, Hef had made a sizable fortune. His first issue, which he put together on his kitchen table, didn’t even have a date on it because Hefner wasn’t sure there’d be a second one. 

How much money did Hugh Hefner have when he died? 

At one time, Hefner owned stock in Playboy equaling $250 million. But when he died in 2017, his net worth totaled approximately $45 million with Fortune estimating his actual net worth to be much lower, closer to $26 million or even as low as $15 million. 

He didn’t own any real estate 

According to Fortune, Hefner didn’t have any physical assets or properties to his name in 2017. A year before he died, he sold the iconic Playboy Mansion for $100 million to his next-door neighbor (learn more surprising facts about the Playboy Mansion).  But here’s where it gets a little confusing. Hefner didn’t pocket any of the millions made from the sale because at that time he didn’t even own the Playboy Mansion. 

Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion.
Hugh Hefner at his Playboy Mansion | Paul Harris / Contributor

In 2011, Hefner basically became a glorified employee of Playboy Enterprises, the company he created when a private equity firm (in partnership with him) bought the company and made it private.

He didn’t put it up money for the sale and simply gave his stocks to the equity firm on a few conditions. The first being that he’d get a salary of $1 million a year. And secondly, that he’d be allowed to live at the Playboy Mansion for practically nothing — $100 a year — until his death. 

Hefner didn’t have royalties to the Playboy brand

In the same sale, Hef didn’t retain the rights to the Playboy brand, his own name, signature, or his likeness. 

Hugh Hefner with Playboy Bunnies in 1966.
Hugh Hefner with Playboy Bunnies in 1966. | Ted West/Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

That means he didn’t make any money off royalties from sales of anything having to do with the iconic bunny logo. 

He spent a lot of money on living expenses

One way or another, Hefner spent a lot of the money he made from Playboy. According to court documents obtained by TMZ when he went through a divorce in 2009, he had assets worth $43 million not including Playboy stock.

At that time, records showed he had been spending $46,000 a month on food, entertainment, and health care and another $20,000 on alimony. Then there’s the $54,000 he spent to maintain the Playboy Mansion. 

Hefner’s final resting place is next to another pop culture icon, Marilyn Monroe, who was the first woman featured in Playboy magazine, at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, Calif.