“Hef changed my life,” the Playboy model, 32, tells Us Weekly in a statement. “He made me the person I am today. I couldn’t be more thankful for our friendship and our time together. I will miss him so much but he will be in my heart forever.”
Last year, Wilkinson posted a sweet post to Hefner on his 91st birthday. “Happy birthday Hef!!” she wrote at the time. “Thank you for EVERYTHING. People might not understand you but that’s because they’ve never had the chance to know you like I do. I’ll celebrate you forever!!!”
Wilkinson starred in the reality series The Girls Next Door alongside Hefner, Holly Madison and Bridget Marquardt. The show ran for six seasons from 2005 to 2010.
As previously reported, Hefner’s son Cooper released a statement about his death on Wednesday. “My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom,” Cooper, 26, said. “He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history. He will be greatly missed by many, including his wife Crystal, my sister Christie and my brothers David and Marston, and all of us at Playboy Enterprises.”
Hef founded Playboy in Chicago in 1953. He is also survived by his wife, Crystal Harris, sons Marston, 27, and David, 62, and daughter Christie, 64.