Scandals That Rocked The Playboy Mansion

This article contains descriptions of sexual assault and sexual exploitation, with references to mental health issues, drug misuse, domestic violence, and suicide.

If walls could talk, then the infamous Playboy Mansion would never bore us with its bunny tales of decades past. The controversial enterprise has been a sensationalized household name since its founding in 1953. With the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Cindy Crawford, and Kim Kardashian landing the cover, Playboy unapologetically became famous for selling sex as no one else could. We've seen scantily clad young women in stockings and bunny ears adorn the arms of the late Hugh Hefner, landing themselves comfortable lifestyles as Playmates and weaving themselves into the polyamorous lifestyle of Playboy's founding father.

What's even more shocking than the sexed-up pages of its magazine, are the scandals and secrets that took place inside the Playboy Mansion. Playboy was more than just a brand, it was a lifestyle, and only those with enough prestige made it inside the Gotham gates. Although Hefner passed away in 2017, his reputation lives on, albeit tainted by various allegations of sexual assault against him. We're peeling back the layers on all the scandals that have rocked the Playboy Mansion over the years.

The Death of Dorothy Stratten

The Playboy Mansion has seen its fair share of scandals, but no scandal was as tragic as the death of Dorothy Stratten. The playmate was at the height of her career at 20 years old when she was murdered by her estranged husband, Paul Snider. She was the first Canadian to be named Playboy's Playmate of the year, and she was gaining notoriety as an actress — landing roles in feature films like "They All Laughed" alongside Audrey Hepburn.

But her fast track to fame incited a rage inside Snider, whose jealousy over his wife turned lethal. As Stratten's marriage unraveled, she began having an affair with her "They All Laughed" director, Peter Bogdanovich. However, as the filmmaker told Vulture in 2019, their tryst ultimately wasn't what motivated Snider to kill his wife and then himself. "He knew about that affair for a long time. He never did anything about it," Bogdanovich stated. "The murder was caused because Hefner banned him from the Mansion." In fact, the director claimed that Stratten's husband snapped after Hefner raped her — a claim the Playboy mogul had long denied, according to Vulture. 

In Teresa Carpenter's 1980 Pulitzer-prize-winning article, "The Death of a Playmate" (via The Stacks Reader), Hefner furthermore argued that he didn't contribute to Stratten's end whatsoever. "A very sick guy saw his meal ticket and his connection to power ... slipping away. And it was that that made him kill her," he said. 

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).

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Rigid rules for bunny tenants

How luxurious is life at the Playboy Mansion? Well, according to former playmate, Izabella St James, it's about as enticing as picking poodle poop off the carpet. St. James' memoir, "Bunny Tales" (via Daily Mail) suggested there were some less than chic conditions of being a bunny. "Every Friday morning we had to go to Hef's room, wait while he picked up all the dog poo off the carpet — and then ask for our allowance," she wrote.

According to Hugh Hefner's former girlfriend, Holly Madison, that allowance was strictly managed by the brand mogul. In the podcast "Power: Hugh Hefner," the Playboy star recalled how the money was restricted just for clothes. If Hefner discovered the playmates spending frivolously, their paychecks were reduced as punishment. "So there was this weird balancing act of trying to make it look like I had so much to show for that money, but save a little bit away so I could live if I decided to leave at a moment's notice," Madison said.

In a world of lavish parties filled with celebrities and scantily-clad women, those who had the key to the gates of bunny-hood also had to adhere to strict no-nonsense rules. Former Playboy playmate Jenna Bentley told Daily Mail that the Playboy Mansion maintained a strict 9 p.m. curfew that had playmates sleeping on the lawn if they didn't make it in time. And forget boyfriends, as the Montana native recalled, "Even meeting boys was an immediate kick-out."

Drug-filled orgys were the norm

Obviously, one can easily imagine how wild the parties at the Playboy Mansion must have gotten. But no one could have predicted the number of allegations that would be made by former playmates about the drug-filled, sex-crazed ongoings. For starters, Holly Madison recalled to Buzzfeed that everyone understood that sex with Hugh Hefner was part of an unspoken deal for living rent-free at the Mansion — even if none of the women were into it or wanted to ever admit to it. Meanwhile, Kendra Wilkinson, who lived there at the same time as Madison, wrote in her 2011 memoir, "Sliding Into Home," that nights with the Playboy founder could be rough. She wrote, "I had to be very drunk or smoke lots of weed to survive."

In the A&E docu-series, "Secrets of Playboy," various former playmates claimed that drug use was encouraged at the Mansion, and they were regularly expected to perform in orgies. One, Sondra Theodore, claimed that group sex was required five nights a week. The silk-adorned father of Playboy had needs, and if you weren't in — you were out. "You couldn't satisfy him. He wanted more and more and more," she explained (via Daily Mail). Lisa Loving Barrett, Hefner's assistant for 12 years, suggested that cocaine was so widely available that one of Hefner's poodles became addicted, licking it off the floors. Meanwhile, she suggested that he used quaaludes to get his way with women, nicknaming the sedative drug "leg-spreaders" (via Daily Mail).

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).

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Bill Cosby, Hugh Hefner, and the dead playmate

Sadly, the pressures of Playboy mounted in tragedy for another playmate. Per Daily Mail, Paige Young was 30 when she died of suicide after experiencing years of alleged abuse at the Playboy Mansion. The model's body was found on top of an American flag in her West Hollywood apartment — a sensationalized image apparently constructed to make people pay attention to her story. Distressingly, Young's neighbor, Melanie Myers, recalled that the late star had decorated her walls with floor-to-ceiling photos of Hugh Hefner. "There were news clippings, magazine articles, everything you could think of. Written across it was something like, 'Hugh Hefner is the devil,'" she recalled. 

Cops read part of her suicide note out to Myers, which apparently detailed some of the abuse she'd endured. "The whole thing was about her anger towards the men who she believed had chewed her up and spat her out," she said. "... that's how she felt and she couldn't go on." Daily Mail also revealed that much of the anger Young had was directed at the man once known as "America's Dad," Bill Cosby. "Paige died because of celebrities like ... Bill Cosby, 100%," Myers added. 

In the docu-series, "Secrets of Playboy" (via People). Hefner's former bodyguard, Jim Ellis, recalled the laissez-faire attitude towards sex at the Playboy Mansion. "There was rampant sexual exploitation. Bill Cosby was up there three to four times a week — he wasn't there to eat lunch," he said. Tragically, Young's shocking suicide went largely underreported.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

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).

Hugh Hefner blackmailed his girlfriends

In addition to curfews and other strict rules for tenants of the Mansion, ringleader Hugh Hefner allegedly kept explicit revenge photos of girls as blackmail for going against the enterprise and himself. In "Secrets of Playboy" (via ET), Hefner's former girlfriend Holly Madison recalled being too afraid to leave the Mansion for fear of being blackmailed with various explicit snapshots Hefner kept on hand. "He's taking all kinds of naked pictures of these women when we were wasted out of our minds," the "Girls Next Door" Star said. Hefner's widow Crystal Harris Hefner confirmed the claim, tweeting "I found thousands of those disposable camera photos you are talking about @hollymadison," she wrote. "I immediately ripped them up and destroyed every single one of them for you and the countless other women in them."

Under Hugh's watchful eyes, staff at the Playboy Mansion reportedly kept the place locked down tight. Those with power were allegedly able to continue taking advantage of women there. In "Secrets of Playboy" (via TMZ), the mogul's former butler, Stefan Tetenbaum, claimed that the Playboy founder was an opportunistic voyeur. "Hefner taped everything in his bedroom and many men and stars and athletes came into the bedroom and had sex with these girls," he explained. These alleged recordings were reportedly non-consensual, giving him clout over some very powerful and influential people. "But, many of the girls were devastated after what they were expected ... [and] forced to do," Tetenbaum added.

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).

Ex-girlfriend Karissa Shannon had a secret abortion

For Hugh Hefner's former girlfriend Karissa Shannon, raising a child wasn't a part of the souped-up life living as his arm candy. In "Secrets of Playboy" (via People) Karissa and her twin sister Kristina Shannon recalled the mogul's aversion to practicing safe sex. "The problem is, Hef doesn't like to use protection," Kristina said. It was only when her twin took a blood test in preparation for an upcoming plastic surgery, that the playmate discovered the news she was carrying Hefner's child. "I was disgusted with my body and felt like there was an alien inside my stomach," Karissa told the Mirror. "It was like the devil was inside of me. I didn't want anyone to know I was carrying an 83-year-old man's child."

The procedure had to be hidden from Hefner — who reportedly never found out about it. Instead, the twins had his security team drop them off at the mall, and they pretended to be on a shopping trip. What's left of their playmate legacy is tainted by harrowing memories of the transactional intercourse they were forced to have to maintain their Playboy Mansion status. They've were later diagnosed with PTSD and required counseling. "He used control mechanisms completely through everything, so I'm happy that I had the abortion," Karissa said in "Secrets of Playboy" (via People).

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).

Hefner and the Playboy Mansion doctor

Hugh Hefner may have been a ladies' man, but the love of his life was apparently a dude — the Playboy Mansion's in-house physician, Dr. Mark Saginor. The claim came from the doc's daughter, Jennifer Saginor, who told "Secrets of Playboy" (via Newsweek) that the two shared a powerful bond that eventually became sexual. Hefner's ex-girlfriend Sondra Theodore also backed the claims in the A&E series, saying "They became more than best friends. They became [lovers]." In archival footage shown in the docuseries, the Playboy founder admitted that bisexuality was a given during the swinging scene of the '70s. 

However, the relationship between Hefner and her father may have become toxic with Jennifer alleging the two would traffic women to the homes of powerful men for sex. These women were often aspiring models and actors. "I do believe that with all these men, it was really about knowing that you had power over someone else," she said. Jennifer theorized that Mark and his bestie both grew up experiencing repeated rejection from women. "So having control and power over these types of women at the Mansion was something that was very exciting," she added.

According to The Sun, Mark had his medical license suspended following accusations of sexual misconduct and sexual exploitation, amongst other charges of negligence. Since Hefner liked to distance himself from any potential bad PR, the two fell out. However, Jennifer told the docuseries that her dad was by the mogul's side when he died.

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).

Holly Madison claims she was bribed

Former longtime girlfriend, Holly Madison, was very vocal about her struggles behind closed doors after leaving the Mansion for good. On an episode of "Where Are They Now?" the "Girl Next Door" star said she once discovered a will by the late Hugh Hefner that promised her three million if she stayed in the Mansion. "It was very clear to me that he'd left that out for me to see, because he was hoping it would change my mind and get me to say," Madison revealed. She had debated leaving her bunny ears behind when girlfriends Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson decided to move on to other things. "All he can do is say, 'Oh, here, I'm gonna throw you some money to get you to stay.' It just grossed me out," Madison explained. 

In 2015, the star had written about this claim in her memoir, "Down the Rabbit Hole," along with other accusations which suggested manipulation, drugs, and coercion were all at play within the walls of the Mansion. Hefner rolled his eyes at the accusations and told Us Weekly that many of his former girlfriends were healthy and happy and continued to be friends of his. "Sadly, there are a few who have chosen to rewrite history in an attempt to stay in the spotlight," he griped. 

Sexual assault allegations taint Hefner's legacy

Hugh Hefner died in September 2017, barely dodging the firestorm of the "Me Too" movement that dominated the media following the takedown of Harvey Weinstein and many other celebrities. Although he managed to avoid a great deal of damning scrutiny while he was alive, women from his past continue to speak out with allegations regarding the silk-clad Playboy founder

In "Secrets of Playboy" (via People), Audrey Huskey, an aspiring playmate at the time, alleged that Hefner had raped her in 1994 when his then-wife, Kimberly Conrad, was out of town. She had been invited to the Mansion to shoot test photos for Playboy magazine. When Hefner invited her up to his room to go over photos, she was initially uncomfortable with doing so. However, she relented. "I had no thoughts in my mind that anything [bad] would happen," she said. 

After Hefner lit a joint in the bed next to her, Huskey recalled freezing as he pulled down his pants. "I didn't say anything. I didn't give him permission. What was I going to do? If he said no, would he have stopped? I don't know." After the alleged incident transpired, the former model claimed she was so traumatized that she canceled a follow-up photo shoot — her modeling contract was then terminated. She remained silent about the alleged assault. "He didn't care about me or what happened to me, and I was protecting him. That was it," Huskey claimed. "I was thrown away, and I shut my mouth."

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).

Bill Cosby and a teenage girl

Bill Cosby has faced dozens of allegations against him surrounding abuse and sexual assault, and his misconduct is a bunny trail that leads right back to the Playboy Mansion. In 2018, the disgraced star was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison on a sexual assault charge, before being released three years later. In 2022, he was found guilty of having sexually abused Judy Huth in 1975, when the Californian native was just 16 years old, per Variety

The civil lawsuit accused Cosby of having lured the teenager and her friend over to the Playboy Mansion with him, after meeting the pair in a park. Huth alleged that the comedian forced her to perform sex acts on him without her consent. While no punitive damages were found, the jury decided that $500,000 should be awarded to Huth in compensatory damages. According to Variety, this was the first case to go to trial under the Child Victims Act, which allows survivors to come forward and seek justice regardless of age.

Per World Republic News, former actress Chelan Lasha, who previously testified against the comedian in the Pennsylvania trial, was in attendance outside the courthouse. "He's a boogeyman, he's a sexual predator, he's a deviant," she said. "He's horrible. It's one more victory. I came here to stand with Judy. I'm proud of Judy. I'm glad for the outcome." Cosby has consistently denied any claims against him and insists he is innocent.

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).

Legionella bacteria was found in the pool

When guests took a dip in the Playboy Mansion's hot tub in 2011, they got a lot more than they bargained for — and not in a good way. According to The Guardian, health Inspectors found legionella bacteria in a water source at the Playboy complex after around 200 guests fell sick with respiratory afflictions after attending a party. The bacteria can cause Legionnaire's disease, which according to the CDC is a serious type of pneumonia that can grow in man-made water systems — like the bunny-filled "grotto" hot tub at the Playboy Mansion perhaps?

While the bacteria that causes the disease was found, it's unclear whether that is the cause of the respiratory outbreak among partygoers. Most people make a full recovery from the illness, however, the CDC sites that one in every 10 people infected with the bacteria will die. The notorious whirlpool spa may have once been known for mystery guests enjoying a steamy cave with a pack of bunny women — but that same atmosphere feels a lot less sexy and way more medieval after the news of this outbreak. We wouldn't have wanted to be the butler in charge of that deep clean!