Q & A: Hugh Hefner

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His trademark is one of the most recognizable in the world, his pajama parties infamous. Now Hugh Hefner, 80, is basking in the glow of his No.1-rated reality show Girls Next Door on E! as he prepares to launch the first Playboy Club in 25 years. He took a moment from his work (and play) to chat with TIME's Clayton Neuman about relationships, growing up Puritan, and (what else?) sex.

TIME: Tell me about the club that's opening this week at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

Hefner: Well, it is the return of the bunnies. It is the first club/casino since the early 1980s, and it comes at a time in which the Playboy brand is very hot again. I think the clubs were popular against all odds for a quarter of a century, and the whole nightclub phenomenon ran its course. When the 1980s turned conservative politically and sexually with Reagan in the White House and the arrival of AIDS, I think there was a backlash to the social-sexual change that took place in the latter part of the '60s and the '70s. So I think it was a more conservative time. I think in the last half-dozen years the brand itself, both in America and globally, has become very hot again — I think there's a fascination with things retro that didn't exist 10 or 15 years ago.

TIME: You recently told the Australian press how much you wanted Nicole Kidman to be in Playboy.

Hefner: [laughs]. That was them. Every time I do an interview somebody says, "Who would you most like to have in the magazine?" And then they insert it for me. But of course I would like to see her in the magazine. I would like anybody in the magazine that our readers would most like to see. I think it's a remarkable thing over the years — it's been 50-plus years now for the magazine — the number of major sex celebrities who have both appeared in the magazine or become sex celebrities through the magazine. It is a great satisfaction to me to have had such an influence, and from my perspective a positive influence, on changing social-sexual values. It's what makes life worthwhile. I'm a lucky cat, I know it.

TIME: What has surprised you most about the way Playboy has evolved over the past 50 years?

Hefner: What happened, and I couldn't have imagined it, but in the last half-dozen years, the brand has become on a global level hugely popular with women as well as men. I think what you're getting now is an entire generation of young women in a post-feminist era in which the Playboy brand back in the 1970s was perceived in some quarters as chauvinist, is now viewed as a form of empowerment for young women, which was unthinkable for me 20 years ago. Needless to say I think that is wonderful because I always from the very beginning felt that the sexual revolution was for everybody and that women were the major beneficiaries of it because women traditionally were kept in a sexual bondage by our historical attitudes.

TIME: Speaking of historical attitudes, weren't you raised Puritan?

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