Crystal Hefner is on a path to healing. After 10 years living in the infamous Playboy Mansion, the former wife of Hugh Hefner — they were wed in 2012 until his death of natural causes in 2017 — is making a fresh start. She’s relocated from L.A. to Hawaii, where she’s renovated a home on the Big Island. She also has a memoir due out in 2024, Only Say Good Things: Surviving Playboy and Finding Myself, that will be sure to send shock waves through Hollywood. As Hefner tells Us exclusively, speaking via Zoom from her idyllic Hawaii house, “No one is safe.”
Hefner was just 21 when she met Hugh at a Halloween party at the mansion. Days later, he asked the Arizona native to move in with him and his other girlfriends, 18-year-old twins Karissa and Kristina Shannon. “Going in, I was a deer in the headlights. It was like I just got the golden ticket for the Willy Wonka [factory],” notes Hefner, 37. But eventually, she adds, “it all started crumbling down.”
Over the last several years, dozens of women have come forward with horror stories of their time at the Playboy Mansion. Multiple models and former girlfriends accused Hugh and his circle of friends of sexual assault, claimed the magazine mogul was a master manipulator and described life at the mansion as a prison, complete with dating rules and a strictly enforced curfew.
Hefner was still living there when Holly Madison’s scathing 2015 memoir, Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny, was released. “I remember getting the E-book so I could type my name and just see what was said about me,” she laughs. “And [Holly] said something minor in there about how, like, I ripped some stickers off a mirror. But I remember the mansion being upset about it. It was when women had less of a voice.”
For Hefner, it was only after she began seeing a therapist following Hugh’s death that she could start to unravel the trauma she’d endured. “Therapy really helped,” says Hefner. “You start backtracking and [noticing] different behaviors. I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s gaslighting. That’s narcissism.’ It took years for me to understand what I went through, understand myself and also understand Hef and why he did certain things. You know, there’s a story behind everything.”
As she delved into her past, Hefner says she began the process of “deprogramming.” At the mansion, “Your value is what you look like,” she notes. “I was rewarded for being codependent and feeling like I was nothing without Hef and had no value of my own. You’re rewarded for not having a life of your own outside of the person,” she continues. “I’ve learned a lot about self-worth, self-love, advocating for yourself and healthy relationships.”
Hefner’s also relearning how to have female friendships. “The women at the mansion were very catty. You could give someone $10,000 to not be my friend anymore, and they would take the money,” she shares, noting that out of the “thousands” of girls she met there, she’s stayed in touch with “maybe five.” While several of them, including Girls Next Door stars Holly, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson. have openly discussed their time at the mansion, Hefner says she has a different perspective. “I wasn’t one of three girlfriends on a show. We were married; I was there with Hugh until he died.”
For Hefner, the writing process was cathartic. “When I read the first manuscript, I just burst out crying in the beginning paragraph because I felt like I finally have a voice, and this is it,” she shares, adding that the hardest chapters to write were those on sex and death. “Everyone assumes [I was] some dumb young girl who became part of [Hugh’s] girlfriend entourage, and, you know, ‘She’s an idiot.’ But now I have a pretty clear understanding of what I went through and what went on, and it’ll be apparent in the book.”
Although Hefner notes this isn’t a salacious tell-all, readers are in for some heavy bombshells. “There are hard stories and people that have hurt me, and they’re in there,” says Hefner, noting that although the names of numerous women and celebrities have been changed, she’s not letting anyone off the hook. “The stories are very detailed, and there are things that have never been spoken about before.”
Ultimately, she hopes her memoir will help other women. “I wish I had this book when I was 21 before going into the mansion,” Hefner says, adding that she believes her late husband would appreciate her sharing her perspective. “I hope that being such an advocate for freedom of speech, that [Hugh] would be an advocate for me telling my story. Women’s voices are getting louder, and that’s really important.”
These days, the licensed realtor is busy flipping houses in Hawaii and L.A. (where she still owns a home) and venturing into the NFT space with First Ape Wives Club, a digital membership pass to a world of travel amenities, including booking upgrades and hotel bonuses. It’s a far cry from her life just six years ago. “I needed a change. I look at photos of when I was at the mansion, and it feels like I was wearing a costume,” admits Hefner, who had her breast implants removed in 2016. She’s dipped her toe into the dating waters since Hugh’s passing and says she wants to get married — “I’m definitely a romantic” — and have kids someday. “I get to spend time here in Hawaii and travel and hang out with people who have my best interests at heart,” adds Hefner. “Life is good.”
Reporting by Andrea Simpson
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