‘He took so much Viagra it made him deaf’: playboy bunny Crystal Hefner, 37, describes the hell of living with her late husband, Hugh, as he imposed 6pm curfews so she’d stay home and share soup with him
- If Crystal Hefner ever gets her doctorate she plans to revert to her maiden name
If Crystal Hefner ever gets her doctorate in psychology, she plans to revert to her maiden name and become Dr Crystal Harris PhD. ‘If I get that, it’s over. Bye,’ she says of the Hefner name and Playmate identity which still define her six years after she was widowed by the death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.
In time she hopes to marry again and have a family, having frozen her eggs to increase her chances of motherhood with a man who is not 60 years her senior.
The breast implants and peroxide blonde hair which made her a Playboy centrefold (Miss December 2009) and the legendary magazine’s cover girl (she was billed as ‘America’s Princess’ on the front of the July 2011 edition) have already been consigned to history.
‘That chest was too big,’ says the 37-year-old, grimacing at the memory. ‘I looked like a blow-up sex doll from China. My implants were just props, they felt like I was wearing a costume.’
If Crystal Hefner (pictured with Hugh Hefner) ever gets her doctorate in psychology, she plans to revert to her maiden name and become Dr Crystal Harris PhD
Today, Crystal is more likely to be found barefoot and make-up free on the beach outside her small home in Hawaii. When she travels – something she was banned from doing by the man she calls ‘Hef’ – it’s with hand luggage only. Gone are the minuscule party dresses and the racy lingerie, though she has kept one Bunny girl outfit for old times’ sake.
Now, in her final bid to break free from the decade she spent in the Playboy Mansion, five years as Hefner’s girlfriend and five years as his wife, she has written an explosive memoir chronicling the last years of the Lothario who died just a month before the #MeToo movement encircled the globe.
‘You can’t fault his timing,’ she says. ‘He dipped out right on time. Hef’s lifespan of 91 years, it ended on the cusp of #MeToo. Coincidence? I think not.’
The book is called Only Say Good Things. This is what Hefner asked Crystal to do after he’d died – but it’s not a request she can fulfil. ‘I was so ‘Team Hef’,’ she says, ‘and I still am to a certain degree.’ But she knows her forthcoming memoir will depict the Playboy boss as a misogynist, a narcissist and a co-dependent, controlling presence in her life.
Her husband, whom she met when she was 21 and he was 81, dictated precisely what shade of nail polish she should wear (pink, pale and sheer, never matte) and gently tapped her on the head when her roots were showing.
When he was in residence, he issued a 6pm curfew ensuring his young wife was home to share his dinner (always chicken soup with cream cheese and crackers) and watch his favourite movies. Then, after dark, she was expected to participate in the group sex for which Hefner was famous.
‘It was embarrassing. I don’t know the most people there’d been in our bedroom at one time but – a lot. Pretty bad. We were like, ‘Oh, now it’s your turn.’ Nobody really wanted to be there but I think in Hef’s mind, he still thought he was in his 40s, and those nights, the people, the mansion, solidified that idea. He felt, ‘I’ve still got it.’ ‘
There were also the famous ‘Sunday Fundays’ when 200 young women would descend on the Playboy mansion. Its octogenarian owner took so much Viagra that it made him lose his hearing on one side (a recognised side effect of the drug). ‘Hef always said he’d rather be deaf and still able to have sex. Weird,’ says Crystal.
Crystal was a psychology graduate living in San Diego when she applied for tickets to one of Hefner’s Halloween parties in the hope of rubbing shoulders with his celebrity guests
Their own age-gap love life fascinated people. ‘Everyone had questions. Mostly anatomical,’ she remembers. Now, however she’s willing to tell the truth, which is that even their first night together wasn’t a sizzler. ‘Unremarkable,’ is her brutal verdict. ‘Whatever you would like, whatever you would think, or however you would want a night to go, well, it wasn’t that.’
Crystal has heard all there is to say about gold-digging and young women marrying rich old men. ‘The hardest part of trying to have a relationship with Hef was that it was judged so much. Rightfully so.
‘If that was my daughter now – it wouldn’t happen. All I can say is that if you come from a happy, perfect, loving childhood, you don’t usually end up with someone who was already 60 years old by the time you are born.
‘The other day I found a picture of me with him at the very beginning. It’s just so sad. It [she means the image of herself] looks like a baby. I look back and I feel sorry for that girl. There was going to be this Wizard Of Oz moment where the fantasy fades, you draw back the curtain and see the reality of it. But he who has the money makes the rules, right?’
She gracefully brushes off questions about how Hefner provided for her long-term future, although she is clearly comfortably off. This is despite signing what she calls ‘an ironclad pre-nup’, which was so unfavourable the first solicitor she took it to refused to take the job. Hefner’s will was not made public but he reportedly divided his estate between his four children from two earlier marriages and left bequests to a university and charities.
His widow is not ashamed of the financial and emotional choices she made when she was a vulnerable 21-year-old and refuses to regret her time in the mansion.
‘When your family is broken you feel like you don’t really belong anywhere. You depend on the kindness of others and you make yourself small to try to fit in. You have no power. Then I met Hef. He lived how the other half lives. You feel, ‘Wow, I could belong here too.’ At first, the Playboy Mansion felt like a sanctuary. It wasn’t. But then you either abide by it or you leave, and I didn’t feel like I had anywhere else to go or that I could make anything of myself.’
Although Crystal was born in the US, her parents were British and she spent her early years living above the family’s pub in West Bromwich in the Midlands. She still loves British sweets and snacks, a hangover from her childhood. ‘Cadbury chocolate, prawn cocktail crisps, Twiglets, Ribena and sherbet Dip Dabs.’
They settled in the States so her father, a successful singer who opened shows for stars such as Sammy Davis Jr and Johnny Cash, could pursue his career. But he died of cancer when she was just 12, leaving her mother to scratch a precarious, cash-in-hand living.
The Playboy Mansion is the home of Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner
Crystal was a psychology graduate living in San Diego when she applied for tickets to one of Hefner’s Halloween parties in the hope of rubbing shoulders with his celebrity guests.
Attendees at the epic annual event over the years have included Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Bieber, Buzz Aldrin and Donald Trump, as well as female stars such as Rihanna, Pamela Anderson and Kim Kardashian.
Crystal was astonished when she received an invitation and even more so when she caught Hefner’s eye in the crowd. She became his lover that night.
‘It was immediate, right away, it’s what was expected,’ she shrugs. She was invited to move in, taking up permanent residence alongside his 18-year-old twin Playmates.
Today, it’s a lifestyle that sounds as stale and unpalatable as the mansion’s interior decor. ‘The outside reminded me of a country home in the Cotswolds with five acres and a wishing well, but the inside, that had last been decorated in the 1970s and then Hef had hit the pause button,’ Crystal laughs.
She quickly learned she had to fight for her place in the hierarchy of Hefner’s affections. ‘Being picked or not picked, it was devastating for us girls, but a game to him,’ she says. She would claim the top slot, becoming his third wife on New Year’s Eve 2012.
‘Looking back, I think I had a kind of Stockholm syndrome,’ she says of a marriage which began when he gave her a box containing a 3.5-carat diamond engagement ring, saying ‘I hope it fits’. ‘There was part of me that always thought if this was real love, there wouldn’t be other women in the bedroom. I reconciled myself to it by trying to believe that Hef loved me as best he knew how.’
As a Playmate, she abandoned any idea of a career in psychology. ‘I thought, “I have enough of my own problems, I don’t know if I can help other people.”‘ Now she’s widowed, she’s returning to her original studies. She is also co-founder and ambassador for First Ape Wives Club, which offers digital access passes and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for the kind of luxury travel usually enjoyed by the super-rich and celebrities. (The NFTs can stand in for tickets, hotel bookings and experiences.)
That’s why she’s in London. She’s here on business, about to embark on a European tour and simultaneously adding to the 37 countries she has visited now that her husband can no longer make her stay at home. ‘Working makes me feel more human, accomplished, part of the world again,’ she says. ‘Before this, being part of the Playboy empire, making Hef look good, that was my job.’
Interestingly, Hefner’s image is still part of her portfolio of work. Crystal is president of the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation, which supports freedom of speech in the US, and has oversight of the Hefner archives, the 3,000 scrapbooks in which he saved every detail of his extraordinary life story. Quite what a more socially conscious younger generation will make of his Playboy empire and his impact and influence on the 20th Century remains to be seen.
Today, Crystal is more likely to be found barefoot and make-up free on the beach outside her small home in Hawaii
To her credit, she stayed with her husband until the very end of his life, guarding his privacy as his health failed so the world would not see him frail and using a walker. When he died of natural causes aged 91 six years ago, she was at his bedside. Afterwards, she was so shocked she didn’t leave the mansion for a fortnight. ‘Hef had been so old for so long it was like he was immortal,’ she says.
She has spent the years since building a more ordinary life and writing her book. As for the next chapter of her love life: ‘I’m having a hard time with relationships. I need to catch up to my age.
‘The worst thing is that people were always inviting me to meet someone, a man, and then he’d be way older. I feel like everyone was trying to pass me around to the next 80-year-old. It’s awful,’ she says with something between a giggle and a groan, not quite the merry widow yet.
In Crystal’s book Only Say Good Things: Surviving Playboy And Finding Myself is available for pre-order at onlysaygoodthings.com. First Ape Wives Club is at fawc.house.
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