What A Party At The Playboy Mansion Was Really Like

When Hugh Hefner passed away in 2017, it was the end of an era. After launching the legendary magazine Playboy in 1953, Hefner became a controversial figure in American culture. On the one hand, he promoted a hedonistic lifestyle that objectified women. On the other, his magazine published serious writers and insightful interviews with a wide range of public figures and celebrities — and after Hefner purchased what would become known as the Playboy Mansion in 1971, the brand became linked with something else: Lavish parties.

For years a party at the Playboy Mansion was the stuff of legend, a symbol of the ultimate Playboy lifestyle. Most people could only imagine the swirl of celebrities, beautiful models, and luxury that such parties brought together, all of it symbolized by the image of a pipe-smoking Hefner lounging in pajamas and slippers as he oversaw the revel. Sadly, in 2016, as Hefner approached the end of his life, he sold the mansion to his neighbor, and it has been undergoing extensive renovation since 2020, marking the end of the Playboy Party era.

But what were those parties actually like? Did they live up to the hype? Now that there will never ever be another one, here's what a party at the Playboy Mansion was really like.

There was a weird mix of celebrities

A party at the Playboy Mansion was much more than a party. It was also a publicity event, a branding effort, and a coveted place to be seen. According to Rob Lowe in Esquire, one of the hardest invitations to get was Hefner's regular "movie nights," when he would screen a favorite film and invite a bunch of people over to join him. And one of the key elements of these parties was the eclectic mix of celebrities that attended.

For example, Lowe notes you would find A-list screenwriters like Buck Henry rubbing elbows with movie stars or star athletes like Magic Johnson. And Vice described the guest list at a party in 2000 celebrating the release of Limp Bizkit's album "Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water" as "bizarre." The celebrities invited included Courtney Love, Debbie Harry, Tony Bennett, Katrina Witt, and Paul Sorvino. And former Playboy Bunny Jenna Bentley noted to The New York Post that the guest list at a Playboy Mansion party was "wilder than you can imagine," noting one party where Tommy Lee from Mötley Crüe and Pamela Anderson made chit chat with Angelina Jolie and Dennis Rodman.

The only thing connecting these people is fame — they were all famous, but they were famous for different things and ran in very different circles. But they all came together to attend a party at the Playboy Mansion.

Things could get really wild

According to The New York Post and former Playboy Bunny Jenna Bentley, you'd be absolutely right to imagine a Playboy Mansion party as pretty wild. Bentley says the mish-mash of celebrities certainly got into the Playboy spirit at these parties, claiming, "I have seen a lot of celebrities have sex there."

There are plenty of stories of wild times at the mansion. According to The New York Times, parties there often meant guests mingling with exotic animals like flamingos and monkeys. The Hollywood Reporter's Bill Higgins recalls that the first party he attended there involved a performance by a troupe of French Ballerinas, but when the dancers arrived, they immediately took off their clothes and jumped into the pool — prompting everyone else to do the same. People reports that Jenny McCarthy confirmed the legendary grotto was often the site of large sexual gatherings at these parties, though she also notes it was "not sexy ... it's really gross."

Rob Lowe speculated in Esquire that one reason things could get so crazy at these classic parties is that most of them pre-dated the era when everyone had a camera on their phones, so there was less worry by celebrities that their horny behavior would be splashed all over the internet.

There was a dark side to it all

A combination of entitled celebrities, plenty of booze and drugs, and lots of dark, semi-private areas in a sprawling mansion could be a recipe for some truly terrible behavior.

According to The New York Times, an actress named Sharan Magnuson was assaulted at a party at the mansion in the 1980s. A man she had interacted with inside at the party "cornered" her near the grotto and attempted to force her into one of the nearby caves. She resisted, and he fled back into the house — and a moment later, security appeared to escort her off the grounds — and she found herself banned from future parties. People reports that this story is probably one of a depressingly long list. In fact, the mansion employed a "clean-up crew" that covered up anything scandalous. And People also notes that there's a long list of celebrities, including Bill Cosby, Jim Brown, and Roman Polanski, accused of awful behavior at these parties.

In another story reported by TMZ, a guest at a Super Bowl party at the mansion was reportedly dragged from his car and beaten by inebriated guests when there was a traffic jam in the parking garage — and Playboy security did "nothing" to prevent it.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

All the parties looked the same

While the idea of a party at the Playboy Mansion might seem initially exciting because of the celebrity guest lists, the opulent grounds, and the thrill of being associated with a bonafide cultural phenomenon, the fact is most of the parties held there weren't all that special. In fact, as noted by reporter Bill Higgins in The Hollywood Reporter, most of the parties held at the mansion looked exactly the same — with the same catering, the same staff, and the same decor.

One big reason for that was the fact that a lot of the parties held at the mansion, especially in later years, were actually corporate events that rented the place. According to The New York Times, by the 21st century, Playboy's business wasn't doing so well, and the mansion was rented out "nonstop" for corporate parties in order to pay the bills. Things got so bad that the Los Angeles Times reports Hugh Hefner's neighbors began complaining that instead of throwing private parties on his personal property, Hefner was running an illegal commercial party business out of his home, which prompted an investigation by Los Angeles officials. They concluded that the mansion was still being used primarily as a residence and brought no charges, but Hef's neighbors virulently disagreed.

Hugh Hefner curated the guest list personally

Despite the Playboy aura of outdated sexual politics, parties at the Playboy Mansion were usually hot tickets. The combination of old-school cool, celebrity attendance, and the possibility of craziness meant that being invited to a party at Hugh Hefner's house was something a lot of people aspired to. One reason for this was exclusivity: Hugh Hefner understood that people always want what they cannot have.

When it came to an official party at the Playboy Mansion — not just a corporate event where the grounds were rented out — the key to getting on the exclusive guest list was Hefner himself. As Rob Lowe reported in Esquire, invitations to the famous movie nights at the mansion came from Hefner directly. You couldn't buy a ticket or work your connections — Hefner had to want you there, and he was usually there to greet you and thank you for coming.

According to ESPN, even when Hefner didn't plan to attend a party, he still oversaw the guest list and decided, personally, who would come. According to Reuters, one of the only exceptions involved a rare promotion in 2010 that awarded "golden tickets" to 10 people, allowing them to attend Playboy's classic "Midsummer Night's Dream Party," held every August. This was one of the first times the guest list at the party wasn't entirely curated by Hefner himself.

The crowds were older than you think

One thing to understand about the Playboy Mansion was that it wasn't just a party venue — it was where Hugh Hefner actually lived. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, when neighbors complained about the number of wild parties being held there, accusing Hefner of running a commercial party business there, authorities investigated and concluded that the mansion was primarily his residence.

So if you're thinking that every party held at the mansion was nothing but celebrities and Playmates, think again — a lot of the guests were Hefner's personal friends. That means a lot of the names on the guest lists were older men you've never heard of. When Rob Lowe was invited to his first party at the Playboy Mansion, he was 19 years old. He wrote in Esquire that the other attendees were much older than he was — by three or four decades in some cases. And according to former Playmate Izabella St. James in her book "Bunny Tales," some of the parties at the mansion were attended more by Hefner's "older friends" than "hot, fun people."

In fact, Yahoo! reports that former Playmate Lisa Guerrero would grab snacks and sneak out of movie night before "the old men came out to hit on the girls." So if you found yourself at a party at the Playboy Mansion, you might want to reign in your expectations.

People got seriously ill

If you got a coveted invitation to a party at the Playboy Mansion, you would probably expect to return home after the party with a crop of incredible memories, and maybe some new friendships. But you might also get something you didn't bargain for: Sick as a dog.

According to Fast Company, after Hefner's death, the state of the mansion could best be described as "kind of run down." This wasn't a sudden downturn in maintenance, either — The New York Times notes that a decade earlier, the place was kind of filthy, with a reporter noting the aviary "stacked thick with white bird excrement" and discovering a mattress of some kind "rotting in an alcove" of the infamous grotto. And The Hollywood Reporter notes that a chain used to leash one of Hefner's pet chimpanzees to a tree was still dangling there years after the animal had passed away — obviously, health codes and upkeep weren't a priority at the mansion.

This had some inevitable consequences. ABC News reports that in 2011, hundreds of people who attended a party at the Playboy Mansion fell ill with Legionnaire's disease, experiencing chills, fever, and muscle aches a day or two after the soiree. According to The Guardian, the Los Angeles health department eventually traced the outbreak to a hot tub infected with bacteria, and Vogue notes the outbreak was eventually traced to the grotto where people are rumored to have had illicit liaisons.

The parties took place in a time capsule

If you were invited to the Playboy Mansion for a party back in the day, your enjoyment might depend on how much you like your grandparents' house. According to News.com.au, former Playmate Carla Howe described the mansion as "an old people's home," noting that Hefner routinely refused to update or change anything.

As a result, Town and Country reports that the Playboy Mansion and the grounds hadn't changed much — if at all — since Hefner bought the place in 1971. When a Vice reporter attended an event there in 2013, he noted how "crappy" everything was, pointing out that despite being tiled in marble, the bathroom he used was "less nice than my bathroom at home." He also described the rest of the place as "totally impersonal McMansion-type stuff," which isn't exactly the kind of opulent look you might expect. Even if the place was done up in 1970s style, you would at least expect it to be super nice and expensive stuff.

Aside from the look of the place, it was also a monument to deferred maintenance and virtually crumbling from disrepair. According to The Real Deal, a contractor hired to deal with its aging bathrooms described the mansion as being "in horrible disrepair" and smelling of urine. When new owner Daren Metropoulos began drawing up plans to renovate, it quickly became obvious the place needed a gut renovation costing $1.6 million, according to TMZ — so far.

There was no dress code

If you don't know anything else about parties at the Playboy Mansion, you probably know that if Hugh Hefner showed up, he would be wearing his typical uniform: Pajamas and a robe. According to actor Rob Lowe, Hefner did, in fact, wander around parties at the Playboy Mansion in his pajamas. The image of Hefner in his PJs is so burned-in to the collective pop culture you might imagine that these parties had something of a dress code. In fact, the opposite was true.

As reported by Vice, the vibe at your typical Playboy Mansion party was pretty casual — people who had access tended to show up dressed very casually — T-shirts and jeans, with maybe some slightly elevated club wear here and there. And Lowe described a lot of the men at the party he attended being dressed "like doctors" or "managers."

There was at least one strict exception to this: The annual Midsummer Night's Dream party. According to the Financial Times, this party always came with a strict admonition to wear "lingerie or less." Piers Morgan noted that when he was invited in 2007, the invite specified "pajamas or lingerie," which at least gave him one more option to explore.

People came for free drugs — and food

While some folks flocked to the Playboy Mansion parties for the celebrities and the beautiful women — or just to be seen — a lot of people went to these epic parties for the same reason people go to parties everywhere: Liquor, drugs, and food.

As noted by actor Rob Lowe in Esquire, the bars at these events were open — meaning you could have as many drinks as you liked. This isn't surprising, as alcohol has been used to get people into a party mood for centuries. Slightly more surprising is the prevalence of harder, more illegal substances at these parties. According to Vice, these included the usual suspects — "stimulants, ecstasy, mushrooms, and weed." The New York Post reports that former Playmate Jenna Bentley described platters of "party favors" going around at the parties, in fact. And Complex reports that drug use was top-down at these parties — although Hefner often denied being involved in any sort of illegal drugs, former Playmate Sondra Theodore (pictured) confirmed that he encouraged the use of quaaludes.

You might assume getting those women to the party was easy enough, but the truth is many aspiring actresses and models attended out of desperation. As noted by The New York Times, actress Sharan Magnuson confirmed that many young women attended the parties for a free meal, saying, "I was the proverbial starving actress back then."

They went on all night — and longer

Even today, the phrase "party at the Playboy Mansion" evokes hedonistic images of debauchery, people racing about in their underwear, and all-night craziness. And you'd be absolutely right. While The New York Post notes that the Playmates had a strict 9 PM curfew most nights, this wasn't enforced on party nights, leading to some craziness. Bring together a bunch of rich celebrities, connected industry folks, and scantily-clad models, and things are likely to get out of hand.

As reported by author Kathryn Leigh Scott in her book "The Bunny Years," classic parties at the Playboy Mansion often went on until the wee hours of the night, with some guests not arriving until after 3 AM when their work ended. Hefner often supplied breakfast to his guests who were still there the next morning, in fact.

By the 21st century, however, things had changed somewhat. While the parties were still wild affairs filled with famous people, the overall vibe had calmed down. According to Vice, a party held at the mansion in 2000 in honor of Limp Bizkit's new record release ended around 2:30 in the morning — not exactly early, but not exactly a legendary rager, either. But don't cry for the guests — they all went out to the clubs and kept the party going.

Security was incredibly tight

The Playboy Mansion was a symbol of a corporate empire and a legendary party venue — but it was also a private residence where Hugh Hefner and the current group of Playmates lived. So it shouldn't be too surprising that your typical party at the mansion was staffed with a lot of security.

According to US Weekly, Hefner liked to hire ex-cops to work security at the mansion and the parties thrown there — including retired detectives, who brought years of high-level policing experience to the job. According to former Playmate Izabella St. James in her book "Bunny Tales," all that security was necessary to keep party crashers out. The mansion's security staff often had to work hand-in-hand with local police to stop the people who tried to scale the walls to sneak in. That cooperation was another reason hiring ex-cops was a good idea.

Guests were wise to remember that the security guards were there to protect Hugh Hefner's interests and the Playboy brand — not them. TMZ reports that when a guest at a mansion party was suspected of having an illegitimate wristband, security attempted to conduct a "citizen's arrest" before calling the cops — and then beat the guest "to a pulp" when he tried to escape.