The late Hugh Hefner lauded Playboy for promoting progressive causes, including sexual liberation, freedom of speech and transcendence from religious repression — but life for his coveted Playmates wasn't always picture-perfect.
Here are the once shining stars that fell hard by scandal and tragedy:
There’s an established concept that whatever you post online lasts forever. Mathers, the 2015 Playmate of the Year, clearly forgot about this rule when she posted a photo of a 71-year-old naked woman in an LA Fitness shower on her Snapchat story with the caption, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.”
Although Mathers quickly deleted the post and issued an apology soon after initial negative reactions, the story exploded and the social media mob consumed her alive.
Aside from her thoroughly tainted reputation as a body-shamer, other elements of the fallout include a ban from all LA Fitness locations, three years of probation and relentless death threats.
It was an unquestionable tragedy when Adams brought her 7-year-old son along for the fatal 25-story plunge from her penthouse room in Manhattan’s Gotham hotel in May 2018. She was 46-years-old.
In the background of her fateful decision, the Miss November 1992 was plagued with personal woes, particularly a toxic relationship with her ex-husband from whom she was seeking child support.
The final straw came two days before her death when she was in court with Nicolai and asked the judge if she could bring Vincent to Europe, where her boyfriend reportedly lived. The judge sided with Nicolai, who opposed the getaway and ordered her to turn over Vincent’s passport. Adams did not leave a note before pushing Vincent from atop the Midtown hotel and leaping after him.
Like any other Playmate, 20-year-old Stratten had the looks and the charm, but her ambition to make it big in Hollywood set her apart. Nothing could come of it, however, because her life was cut short when her estranged husband, Paul Snider, shot and killed her in 1980. Snider also shot himself.
While Stratten only landed a few movie roles, she was the treasure of both filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, with whom she had a romantic relationship with at the time of her death.
“[Playboy] thought she was going to be the biggest thing they ever had,” said Dave Wilder, Stratten’s agent, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning feature on her death by Teresa Carpenter called “Death of a Playmate.”
Carpenter personified Snider’s predisposition to kill Stratten eloquently: “One of the tacit tenets of Playboy philosophy — that women can be possessed — had found a fervent adherent in Paul Snider.” She was Playmate of the Year in 1980 – the same year she died.
When he first heard that his wife died after a night of binge drinking and cocaine use, Gary Hensley couldn’t help but feel angry. “What am I going to do? How am I going to raise the kids?” Hensley asked.
The circumstances of Lynn’s death in 2014 had little detail until Hensley’s 2015 feature in the Washington Post. Hensley immediately went from stepdad to single dad as Lynn left him to raise two children who were not his biologically.
The fact that Lynn was with the man she’d been having an affair with “for a while” the night she died did not make coping any easier. Although Hensley seemed fairly adjusted to his newfound title, “Dad,” his emotions were still raw.
“I feel like there’s this expectation, especially at 37, that you’re going to, at some point, not miss her anymore,” Hensley said. “And I don’t think that’s the case. I’ll always miss her.”
Anna Nicole Smith
Eyebrows were raised in 1994 when a then 26-year-old Anna Nicole Smith married 89-year-old J. Howard Marshall, a billionaire as a result of his 16 percent stake in private conglomerate Koch Industries.
The relationship was highly publicized, mainly because of speculation that she married him for his money, but Smith vehemently defended their courtship as genuine.
When Marshall died the following year, a legal battle ensued for her claim of his estate against her stepson, E. Pierce Marshall. The case eventually led to two separate Supreme Court decisions supporting the ultimate ruling in 2010 that Smith had no right to her purported inheritance, which was originally valued at half-a-billion dollars.
Even if Smith was awarded the money, she never would’ve seen it, however. In 2007, at 39-years-old, she died from a prescription drug overdose. Smith’s passing came just five months after the death of her son from her first marriage, Daniel, which was also the result of an overdose.
Daniel’s death reportedly hit Smith very hard, especially because it happened three days after the birth of her second child, Daniellynn.
Besides being featured as the centerfold in the July 1959 issue, Vickers was known for starring in cult sci-fi B films “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” and “Attack of The Giant Leeches.”
She made headlines for a final time in 2011 when a neighbor found her mummified body in her Los Angeles home.
"We've all been crying about this,” said the neighbor. “Nobody should be left alone like that." Police speculated she had been dead for around a year when they found her.
Like the broader modeling industry, the Playboy Mansion had significant turnover. In 2009, Harris moved into Hefner’s mansion to fill the void left by Hefner’s three previous high-profile girlfriends featured in reality television series, “The Girls Next Door.”
Two years later, Harris was set to become his third wife but five days before the July 2011 wedding, Harris got cold feet.
"The wedding is off. Crystal has had a change of heart," Hefner tweeted.
The pair later reconciled and married on 2012 New Years Eve.
Vetri’s Playboy days were a distant memory when she was charged with attempted murder in 2010 for shooting her husband, Bruce Rathgeb, in the back from close range.
In her heyday, the 1968 Playmate of the Year was best friends with actress Sharon Tate, the most notorious victim of Charles Manson’s cult killing spree in 1969. After the murder, renowned filmmaker Roman Polanski, Tate’s widower, was worried for Vetri’s safety and gave her a gun to protect herself from the elusive Manson family.
Vetri was supposed to be at the Tate residence the night of the massacre but was not and therefore suffered life-consuming guilt as a result.
Vetri used that very gun Polanski gave her 31 years later to shoot Rathgeb, who survived to share his now ex-wife’s fascinating story of calamitous delusion.
“She thought I was Charles Manson,” Rathgeb said in an interview with the Daily Mail. The now 73-year-old Vetri was convicted of attempted voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 9 years in prison. She could be released as early as May next year.