I Feel Sorry for Hugh Hefner. Here’s Why.

This Feb. 10, 2011, file photo shows Hugh Hefner at the 33rd Annual Playboy Jazz Festival Artist Line-Up announcement at The Playboy Mansion on in Beverly Hills, Calif.

By Sean McDowell Published on October 7, 2017

The death of Hugh Hefner has elicited quite a range of different responses. Some commentators praised his business acumen and others focused on his cultural influence. And yet others, such as Ross Douthat in the New York Times, used the opportunity to “Speak Ill of Hugh Hefner,” by mentioning how deeply his legacy is tied to divorce, consumerism, pornography, sexually transmitted diseases and the exploitation of women.

There is probably some truth in each of these (and especially the post by Douthat). Yet my response is different. Rather than focusing on the public face of Hefner, or his legacy, I have been thinking about him as a person. Like everyone else, he was a human being made in the image of God. Ultimately, he had the same needs and wants as any other human being. And yet when I consider the entirety of his life, I can’t help but see it as a tragedy. That’s right, the life of Hugh Hefner was tragic. And I feel sorry for him.

I deeply suspect that if Hefner had grown up in a home filled with love and warmth, and appropriate boundaries, his story might have been very different.

Love From His Father

I feel sorry that he never had a good relationship with his father. In an interview with Lee Strobel, on Strobel’s former show Faith Under Fire, Hefner described how he never had a close relationship with his dad. The lack of that close bond with his father, it seems, was one factor that drove him to a hedonistic lifestyle at the expense of other people.

And he has elsewhere described that his parents were strict Methodists. He once said,

My folks are Puritan. My folks are prohibitionists. There was no drinking in my home. No discussion of sex. And I think I saw the hurtful and hypocritical side of that from very early on.

As a result of not seeing or being taught how to have a balanced (and biblical) view of love and sex, he turned to Hollywood for his model. And the rest is history. No one knows for sure, but I deeply suspect that if he had grown up in a home filled with love and warmth, and appropriate boundaries, his story might have been very different. And a lot less people would have been hurt.

Love From a Woman

I also feel sorry for Hugh Hefner because he never truly knew the love of a woman. I am not implying that I feel sorry for single people. After all, John the Baptist, the prophet Jeremiah, and even Jesus were single. You can live a fully actualized and fulfilling life without sex (despite what Hefner said).

My point is that “Hef” thought he understood love and sex — but he was profoundly mistaken. He believed that he understood love, but could not have been more wrong. He settled for a counterfeit. Essentially, his philosophy was, “If it feels good, do it.” This is a hedonist philosophy that undermines true human flourishing.

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Years ago, Carl’s Jr. ran a commercial featuring Hef. Standing in his classic robe, he took a bite of a chicken burger, and then a bite of a beef burger. Then the camera focused on a blonde woman, a brunette and then a redhead. Finally, Hefner says, “I love them all. It just depends on what I’m in the mood for.” And then an announcer ends the commercial by saying, “Because some guys don’t like the same thing night after night.”

The implication is clear: Variety is the spice of life. According to Hef, those who follow the biblical pattern of sex, being faithful to one person of the opposite sex for life, are missing out on the “good life” (after all, he might claim, who wants the same kind of burger every night?).

The reality is that Hef is the one who missed out. He never experienced the unwavering love of a woman who cared for him because of his character rather than his power. He never experienced sex in a committed, loving and faithful relationship.

Hef never knew sex as it was designed to be experienced, even though he thought he did.

As my father and I lay out in the introduction to the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict, humans are designed to be sexually monogamous with one mate for life. The further humans deviate from this behavior, the more physical, emotional and relational problems they encounter. Hef never knew sex as it was designed to be experienced, even though he thought he did. And for that, I feel sorry for him.

Love From God

Hugh Hefner certainly influenced the world. And he will be remembered for a long time. But I just can’t shake the words of Jesus: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

I hope Hefner repented before his death. God’s grace is immeasurable, and He would have loved to see Hefner turn to him. But I find no reason to think he did. And for that, I feel sorry for him.



Sean McDowell, Ph.D., is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

Originally published at seanmcdowell.org. Reprinted with permission.

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  • NellieIrene

    I felt sorry for him when I learned that he had died as well. He did do damage to the culture, but ultimately, individuals make their own decision which road we take. No matter how bad the culture is. I hope he turned to the Lord at the end. All are alive. Even those who have left us through the death of their body. I hate the thought of anyone being separated from God for eternity.

  • Craig Roberts

    When Mr. Hefner arrives at his final destination, standing in front of Satan on a throne, the Devil will say, “Double H! Where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you for almost a century!” And HH will say, “Thanks for keeping my seat warm.”

    • Kelly B

      Amen – my first thought when I heard he died was that now he’ll have an eternity in hell to gnash his teeth in regret and torment for the demonic life he lived.

  • Dean Bruckner

    “And a lot less people would have been hurt.” Indeed.

    But if you want to focus on people as individuals (and follow grammar referring to countable vs non-countable quantities), it’s better as “A lot fewer people would have been hurt.”

  • Hmmm…

    The caliber of Christian thought and depth in this article is part of the rewarding reasons for coming to this site. Thank you.

  • M. Murphy

    I read that he and his first wife had decided to stay chaste until their marriage. At some point she cheated on him. They divorced. It was after this that he became the infamous playboy. He admitted in an interview that his wife’s infidelity devastated him. He’ll hath no fury like a man scorned.

  • ArthurMcGowan

    What does it profit a MAN to gain the whole world, yet forfeit HIS soul?

    Enough of the lesbonics! And this use of plural pronouns with singular subjects must be stamped out!

  • Charles Burge

    Several years ago I read an account from one of the women who was briefly a resident at his mansion. I want to avoid the lurid details, but what I read sounded absolutely pathetic. He may have experienced intercourse more than most people, but what he lacked was intimacy. That sounds like a stupid trade-off to me. I felt sorry for him too.

  • Hefner was just a dirty old man who liked MotheMAD. I feel sorry for all the lives the nasty old creature damaged. God isn’t going to look at all the excuses the vile thing had He is going to ask what did you do about the offering of my son I gave to you. Hefner spit on that offer.

Walking in God’s Wisdom: Psalm 5:8
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