Why Playboy Founder Hugh Hefner’s Net Worth Was Shockingly Low at the Time of His Death

Hugh Hefner, the iconic Playboy founder, died on Sept. 17, 2017, at age 91. But despite his long life and position atop the renowned brand, Hugh Hefner’s net worth was astoundingly low when he died. Here are the details.

What is Playboy, and how did it start?

Hugh Hefner net worth: Playboy founder Hugh Hefner poses in a dark-red robe on a throne on Nov. 17, 2005
Hugh Hefner on Nov. 17, 2005, in Los Angeles | Dan Tuffs/Getty Images

At the age of 27 in 1953, Hugh Hefner started Playboy magazine in Chicago with $8,000 in loans, he once told Fortune. His mother and brother contributed the two biggest loans of $1,000 each, while his father, an accountant who believed magazines were a lousy investment, declined to provide financial backing, Money reported.

With that modest funding (about $83,500 in today’s dollars), Hefner built an empire and cemented himself, his signature satin robes, and the Playboy Bunnies as pop culture icons. By the 1960s, Hefner 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 he wasn’t sure there’d be a second one. 

So, what is Playboy? It’s a men’s lifestyle magazine that began in print and is now online. It’s famous for publishing nude photos of women (often wearing bunny ears) and other sexual material presented in a rather tasteful way. The word “playboy” refers to a usually wealthy man who enjoys leisurely pursuits and casual sex.

Recently, A&E debuted the 10-part docuseries Secrets of Playboy, in which former Playboy Bunnies reveal behind-the-scenes details about life with Hef in the Playboy Mansion.

Hugh Hefner’s net worth at the time of his death

At one time, he owned stock in Playboy equaling $250 million. But how much was Hugh Hefner worth when he died? 

Upon his death from cardiac arrest in 2017, Hugh Hefner’s net worth totaled approximately $45 million. However, Fortune estimated his actual net worth to be much lower — around $26 million or even as low as $15 million. Why?

The Playboy founder 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. But here’s where it gets a little confusing. Hefner didn’t pocket any of the millions made from the sale because, at the time, he didn’t even own the Playboy Mansion. 

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 up money for the sale and gave his stocks to the equity firm on a few conditions. The first was he’d get a salary of $1 million a year. And second, he’d be allowed to live at the Playboy Mansion for practically nothing — $100 a year — until his death. 

Hefner didn’t collect royalties on the Playboy brand

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

That means the Playboy founder didn’t make any money off royalties from sales of anything related to 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 during his 2009 divorce, he had assets worth $43 million, not including Playboy stock.

At the time, records showed he had been spending $46,000 a month on food, entertainment, and healthcare 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, the first woman featured in Playboy magazine, at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in LA. 

RELATED: Hugh Hefner’s Ex-Girlfriends Open Up About the Mansion’s Dirty Secret of ‘Hard Drug Use’ — Quaaludes Were ‘Used for Sex’