SEATTLE — A Playboy Playmate from Mount Vernon says a few words stick out when she thinks of the late Hugh Hefner.
Kind. And surprisingly clever.
“He definitely had a sense of humor and was so kind,” 26-year-old Amberleigh West says.
One of two Playmates to pose in what was supposed to be the last full-nude issue of the magazine in January 2016, West was just 23 when she first met Hefner.
She was invited to stay at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles following her photo shoot. Quite a thing for a woman from small-town Mount Vernon, she says.
West was immediately struck by how relaxed the robe-clad Hefner seemed, she says. Even though dozens of people were running around his house.
“He’s so kind to let people come into his house and stay with him,” she said. “So happy and nice.”
Admittedly, she says, she was nervous upon meeting him.
“You can’t mistake him when you see him,” she said.
Hefner, the founder of Playboy and an iconic figure who helped usher in the sexual revolution, was pronounced dead Wednesday at the age of 91. He died of natural causes at his home.
Hefner helped slip sex out of the confines of plain brown wrappers and into mainstream conversation. In 1953, a time when states could legally ban contraceptives, when the word “pregnant” was not allowed on “I Love Lucy,” Hefner published the first issue of Playboy, featuring naked photos of Marilyn Monroe (taken years earlier) and an editorial promise of “humor, sophistication and spice.”
Though Playboy ceased publishing images of naked women in 2015, both Hefner and Playboy have remained name brands worldwide, and stalwart figureheads of the changing attitudes surrounding nudity and sex.
As West's modeling career took off, the importance of her time in Playboy was not lost on her.
"There's so many people, their lives changed (being in Playboy)," West says. "I don't know if I'd be here doing what I'm doing if it wasn't for that. I feel so blessed."
She says it's important to remember Playboy is more than pictures. Even more than articles. The magazine's history - for good and bad - is intertwined with women's rights.
"So many people when they think of Playboy, they just think about the Playmates," West said. "There's so much more than just beautiful women. Heff really opened a lot of doors for many other people and changed so many lives."