In her memoir, Hugh Hefner's widow blames the mansion for contributing to her failing health.
If Hogwarts decided to wear a sexy Halloween costume, it would be dressed as the Playboy Mansion. At least that’s what Crystal Hefner writes in her memoir Only Say Good Things: Surviving Playboy and Finding Myself about her first encounter with the mythical epicenter of American hedonism.
By the time Crystal, then a 21-year-old aspiring model and psychology major at San Diego State University, first crossed the threshold, the mansion was closer to Gothic horror than hip chic, she says. And a little tacky, to tell the truth.
Speaking with PEOPLE in this week's issue, the 37-year-old entrepreneur, advocate and widow of Hugh Hefner says she initially was a little bedazzled by the place, but further inspection revealed the flaws both in the man who built an empire on sexual fantasy and the building that embodied the spirit of Playboy.
After that first night that included a walk up to Hefner's bedroom where she ogled photos of famous people hanging with Hef, she took a tour around the mansion and started seeing the cracks.
She describes the sunken living rooms with their velvet couches, shag rugs, glass chandeliers and wood-paneled walls. Everything, she writes, looked expensive and a little worn around the edges. “It was like a time capsule from the ‘70s,” writes Crystal. “Like Hef had pushed pause at the height of his heyday and never unfrozen it.”
Visitors to the mansion during the Crystal years would have seen the sleazy game rooms — one blue, one red — with boxes of tissues all over the lust pits that looked like a brothel. When asked about it, Crystal recalls the area all too well. “I went in there a lot. I was always afraid to touch too many things in there because it was always open during the parties,” she tells PEOPLE. “I have no idea what happens in there.”
At first, it didn’t seem so bad to be living in a mansion. “This was a beautiful English Tudor home — and my family is from England — on five acres in the middle of LA,” Crystal says. “But over time, I saw that this place doesn’t really get cleaned that well and there’s mold. It just felt rundown and gross after a while.”
Then there was the zoo where people could see exotic creatures. It was filled with monkeys in cages and peacocks wandering the grounds. From her room, Crystal says the noise they made were like cats dying or women screaming.
“Even with the window shut, I could hear their plaintive voices in my mind. 'Help, help,’ they cawed and wailed," she writes in her memoir. “At least that’s what it sounded like to me.”
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Hefner even kept a birdcage in his bathroom that always held two lovebirds. Just not the same lovebirds because they kept dying and being replaced.
“It was all an illusion,” she says. “I don’t even know if I was ever happy there, to be honest.”
But the ultimate clue that the mansion might actually not be in the best shape was when she started getting sick. After being diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2016 and breast implant illness in 2016, her blood work suggested toxic mold exposure from the mansion, according to her memoir.
“The whole time the mansion was breaking me down, one way or another,” Crystal writes. “Now it was breaking down my health. The house was literally making me sick.”
Crystal took charge of trying to get the mansion cleaned up as Hefner agreed to let her organize his intensely cluttered home. “Everything was moldy and dusty and it was just hoarder central in the mansion,” she says.
She had come a long way from the young woman who marveled at the artwork and memorabilia she saw when she first entered the mansion. By the end, she knew it was all just a facade. "The original paintings I had been so in awe of my first night—the Picasso, the Jackson Pollock—weren’t actually real," she writes. "The house had been sold and Hef was just allowed to live there for the rest of his life."
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