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Hugh Hefner's Wife Needed "Deprogramming" After Leaving Playboy Mansion

Crystal Hefner was married to the magazine founder from 2012 until his death in 2017.

During Hugh Hefner's life, the Playboy Mansion projected an image of being exclusive, glamorous, and fun, including through the reality show The Girls Next Door, which focused on Hef's "girlfriends." But, in recent years, some people who lived and worked at the mansion have spoken out about what they say was behind the facade, claiming that Hef promoted a toxic environment. The Playboy magazine founder's wife Crystal Hefner is among those sharing disturbing accounts of what it was like to be attached to him and live the Playboy lifestyle.

In a new interview with the New York Post, Crystal opened up about her upcoming memoir, the strict rules she and Hugh's other partners were forced to follow, and why she had to be "deprogrammed" through therapy after he died. Read on to find out more.

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Crystal moved into the Playboy Mansion just days after she and Hugh met.

Karissa Shannon, Kristina Shannon, Hugh Hefner, and Crystal Harris at the AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards in 2009
s_bukley / Shutterstock

According to the New York Post, Crystal was a 21-year-old college student when a friend suggested she submit a photo to attend a Playboy Mansion party. "It's like, 'Oh, this is how the other half live,'" she remembered thinking once she was there.

She said that Hugh asked her to move in to the mansion with his other "girlfriends"—including 18-year-old twins Karissa and Kristina Shannon—only a few days after they met.

"It was very, very fast. I think he had a lot of experience with just moving people in right away," she said. "The 'I love yous' started pretty quick. I've learned all about love bombing since then." (According to the Cleveland Clinic, "Love bombing is a form of psychological and emotional abuse that involves a person going above and beyond for you in an effort to manipulate you into a relationship with them.")

Hugh and Crystal got married in 2012—she was 26 and he was 86—and they remained together until his death in 2017 at age 91.

She says he forbade her from doing many things.

Hugh Hefner and Crystal Harris at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2011
s_bukley / Shutterstock

Crystal told the New York Post that Hugh enforced rules in their marriage, including a 6 p.m. curfew for her. She also said he didn't allow her to travel.

"When Hef would go out, it would be to a club to go pick up women. So I think he assumed that, when I was going out, I was going to go do the same thing," she said. "Really, I just wanted to go to Disneyland or to the beach, or to anywhere." She added, "One time, I asked him to travel to Paris because I wanted to go Paris Disneyland … He said, 'No, go when I'm gone.'"

Additionally, Crystal felt that she was in competition with the other women at the Playboy Mansion, all of whom knew they "could easily be replaced."

She said of her late husband, "Hef loved the old movies where the women were just fainting and helpless, and they could do nothing without a man, and they asked a man for everything." She said she was "rewarded for being the helpless damsel."

She sought therapy after his death.

Crystal and Hugh Hefner at the 2013 Playboy of the Year luncheon
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Playboy

Crystal stayed with Hugh until his death and was by his side when he passed away. "Towards the end of his life, I felt like I couldn't leave him. I had to take care of him," she explained. "It was like, 'OK, he adores me and he needs me, and he leans on me for so many different reasons and I can't leave him.' So I was there till the very end."

Afterward, though, she realized that she didn't know what a healthy relationship was and learned she was in "arrested development" from living in a "bubble" for all of her twenties. Crystal explained to the New York Post that it took therapy and "deprogramming" to be able to move on.

"I'm realizing I can be who I am, and finding out [I'm] nothing like the lifestyle I was in," she said. "I don't even wear heels! Those little outfits we have to wear all the time—I'm like, ugh. I've literally thrown [away] everything … It's almost like PTSD for me. I can't even look at the stuff."

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She's writing a book about her experience.

Crystal Hefner at the Last Chance for Animals Anniversary Gala in 2019
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Crystal is writing a memoir about her time with Hugh titled Only Say Good Things that is set to be released in January 2024. The title comes from something he once said to her.

"It's called Only Say Good Things because I [had] a conversation with Hef and he let me know: 'Once I go, when I'm gone, please only say good things about me,'" the 37-year-old told the New York Post. "I kept that promise for the last five years. After going through a lot of therapy and healing, I realized that I needed to be honest about my time there. The book is about healing from a toxic environment."

She added of Hugh, "Hef was a narcissist and a misogynist … he was a very complicated human. But he also did a lot of good. He helped a lot of people and helped stand up for things. At the same time, he also hurt people in ways that he didn't realize."

She lives a different life today.

Crystal Henfer at the "(My) Truth: The Rape of 2 Coreys" premiere in 2020
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Crystal shared that she is learning to have healthy friendships and romantic relationships and has been traveling. She's still the president of Hugh's foundation and has been working on archiving his possessions. She claimed that, through this, she discovered photos of naked women that one of his exes believes he kept as blackmail.

In the 2022 A&E special Secrets of Playboy, Hugh's ex Holly Madison said that she felt she couldn't leave the Playboy Mansion for fear that nude photos of her would be released.

"When you would go out with Hef, he's taking all kinds of naked pictures of these women when we're wasted out of our minds," she said. "And he would print out like eight copies for him and all the women, you pass them around. It was just gross."

Crystal said she destroyed the photos. "I just thought about if I were the women in these photos, what would I want to have done with them? So I made sure to rip them all up. They're all shredded and thrown away," she explained.

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Other women have shared similar accounts of living with Hugh.

Holly Madison and Hugh Hefner at the AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Al Pacino in 2007
Tinseltown / Shutterstock

Much of what Madison had revealed about her relationship with Hefner matches up with Crystal's claims.

"I started to feel like I was in love with him in a very like, looking back on it, I feel like it was a very Stockholm syndrome type of thing, where I just felt like I identified with him and he was complimenting me so much in the beginning," Madison told Call Her Daddy in 2021. "And I just started to, in my mind, blame all the other problems on the other women. Like, 'Oh, this is a miserable situation, but if these other women weren't here, it wouldn't be like that.'"

As reported by Us Weekly, other women who lived at the mansion have said that they had a curfew, weren't allowed to bring other men around, and had to collect an allowance from Hugh to have spending money.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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