Why Crystal Hefner Is Changing Her Last Name

Six years after Hugh Hefner's death, his widow Crystal Hefner exclusively shared with E! News her plans to revert to her maiden name and change her moniker back to Crystal Harris. Find out why.

By Gabrielle Chung Jan 27, 2024 8:00 PMTags
Watch: Crystal Hefner Describes Her "Traumatic" Marriage to Hugh Hefner

Crystal Hefner is turning over a new page in her life story.

The former Playboy model has plans to drop her late husband Hugh Hefner's last name more than six years after his death. By reverting to her maiden name, Crystal feels she will finally get closure on what she described as a "traumatic" relationship with the magazine magnate, who she said was often controlling of her appearance during their relationship.

"I completely changed everything about myself," Crystal told E! News' Francesca Amiker in exclusive interview. "Beauty is subjective. There's all types of beauty, but I just stuck to what Hugh Hefner saw as beautiful and just completely lost myself trying to live up to his standards of beauty."

And that included taking his last name shortly after their 2012 wedding. As Crystal recalled, "When we got married, Hugh's press secretary immediately changed my name for me. It all happened so fast and I tried to settle into it."

But now that she's regained her own voice through therapy, the 37-year-old said the "next step is definitely going back to my original last name and finally taking that last step to just be myself."

Secrets of Playboy Bombshells

"I'm in a much better place," Crystal noted. "I feel that I will always be a work in progress, but I feel that I finally have true freedom."

In fact, writing her new book Only Say Good Things: Surviving Playboy and Finding Myself played a vital role in her healing journey. While detailing her time in Playboy Mansion, Crystal was able to see all the red flags she had missed.

"It was emotionally abusive," she said of her nearly five-year marriage with Hugh, who died in 2017 at the age of 91. "It was very restrictive. I didn't realize how bad it was until I was away from it for a while."

Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Playboy

Looking back, Crystal recognized that she "didn't have much" for love for herself during that time, leading her to constantly seek approval from Hugh even though she was admittedly "never truly in love with him."

"When I was at the mansion, I didn't know who I was," Crystal added. "When you don't know who you are, that could be dictated to you by somebody else and if that's given to you by someone else, it could also be taken away. So, it's very important for you to have your own power."

Only Say Good Things: Surviving Playboy and Finding Myself is out now. For major revelations from Crystal's book, keep reading.

Life at the Playboy Mansion Was a Constant Competition

Though portrayed as a spot to indulge your wildest fantasies, life in the famed Playboy Mansion was quite restrictive for Crystal Hefner (née Harris), who was just 21 when she met and subsequently moved in with magnate Hugh Hefner in 2008.

Her curfew, for instance, was 6 p.m. on the dot. "The pantry staff would start frantically calling my phone at exactly 6:01 p.m.," she writes in Only Say Good Things: Surviving Playboy and Finding Myself. "And then I would run in, pushing through the heavy wooden door, and go find Hef, so I could kiss him on the cheek and show him: Here I am, I’m home, I’ve followed the rules.”

There was also little opportunity for privacy. "Hef, of course, held the master key that ensured no one could ever lock him out." 

But the toughest bit for the psychology major who shared Hef with twins Karissa and Kristina Shannon, among other girlfriends, was the feeling she was constantly being compared to a parade of other women. "Playing the role of someone else’s image of you every day and night is exhausting—physically, mentally, and in a way that feels like your soul is actually tired," she writes, "like some kind of life energy battery is running low."

Crystal's Sex Life With Hugh Hefner Was Not Great

Let's talk about sex—because Crystal insists it was never the best with the mogul who was six decades her senior. From the first night they met at his 2008 Halloween party, the entire bedtime ritual was "odd and robotic" she writes of the process that she says included bringing in new women from the party, changing into the requisite silk pajamas, dimming the lights, turning on the music and porn and passing around marijuana. 

With Hef not even looking at her, but rather the mirror placed strategically above the bed, "He seemed less sex-savvy than some of the teenage boys I’d been with years ago,” she reveals. ”It was clear to me Hef had never taken a moment in his entire life to figure out how to please someone else.”

Gaining Weight, Condoms and Talk of Death Were All Off-Limits

With everything from grilled cheese to filet mignon at her disposal, “I quickly gained a few pounds without realizing it, like a first-year student putting on the ‘freshman fifteen,'" Crystal shares. At 134 pounds, she didn't really notice, "but Hef certainly did. One night when the twins and I were undressing for him, he gave my body a critical look and raised his eyebrows. ‘Looks like somebody needs to tone up,’ he said lightly, but with a warning note in his voice. He gave my hips a light tap, to call my attention to the offending area.” 

In a panic, she hit the gym and began limiting her food: "I dropped those offending extra pounds fast."

She "obediently" began following other what she called other unwritten rules as well, alleging she was not allowed to ask Hef to wear a condom ("If anybody caught something, he had a personal doctor on staff to treat us"), talk about death or "anything unless it related to Hef." 

As a result, she writes, she "jumped rank" and was moved into the primary bedroom as Girlfriend No. 1

While Hef passed away in 2017, his son Cooper Hefner defended his legacy after the 2022 release of A&E's Secrets of Playboy, tweeting that his father "was generous in nature and cared deeply for people. These salacious stories are a case study of regret becoming revenge."  

Crystal Received an Allowance From Hef

To afford essentials like gas, clothes and the beauty items required to maintain her flawless appearance, she relied on her weekly $1,000 allowance they received every Friday morning.

"It was demoralizing on purpose," she opines. "It was infantile. But since we couldn't work outside the house, it was our only source of income." 

Hef Maintained a Little Black Book

The Playboy publisher "could be charming, and he could be cruel," Crystal writes of his "mercurial" mood swings. "He could make you feel like you were the most important person in the entire world one minute, and like you were less important to him than the rugs that he walked across."

And he was fastidious when it came to taking notes. Along with photos he collected of his various girlfriends flashing the camera—"Rolls and rolls of potential blackmail, if he ever wanted to use it that way"—Hef kept a little black book "where he wrote down the names of every single women who went up to the bedroom," reveals Crystal.

His conquests included celebrities, politicians and business leaders, she alleges: "He only told me one specific name, a famous television host still on the air, a sweetheart in America but a victim in the mansion." 

Hef Developed an Addiction to Opiates

Originally starting as a way to treat his back pain, "Hef's addiction to pills was a well-known secret in the house," claims Crystal, "and one nobody every talked about." 

In addition to the Quaaludes he reportedly offered to his women, "doctors had no problem prescribing him opiates," Crystal writes of Hef. "His doctor had given him an 'earthquake supply' of Percocet. We didn't know until much later just how much he had tapped into that earthquake supply in addition to his regular monthly refills." 

Crystal and Hef Never Discussed Marriage Before His Grand Proposal

When Hef asked Crystal if he fully wanted to be part of his world on Christmas Eve 2010, proposing with a Little Mermaid-themed music box and a diamond, she was stunned. 

"As far as romantic proposals go, it wasn't," she confesses of the moment, captured by cameras for an already-planned Marrying Hef special. "We hadn't even talked about marriage, we weren't in love, and I was confused." 

Though she slipped the ring on as expected and began filming the wedding planning process, her doubts grew. The breaking point: Learning her payday for the special would be a paltry $2,500. "In that moment, I snapped," she writes. "I realized that Playboy was going to squeeze everything they could out of me for as long as I stayed here." 

So she left. Running toward the gate, she heard Hef's voice over the mansion loudspeaker. "'Close the back gate!' he boomed. 'If Crystal tries to leave, detain her!'" 

Feeling trapped, she continues, "I turned around and walked, steadily, back to the house." 

Crystal Carefully Plotted Her Escape

Realizing she "had to make a plan," Crystal began squirreling away her allowance money and doing paid promotions on social media. Making an appearance as a Playmate at a Lil Jon performance, she decided she would learn how to DJ "so that I was more than just an accessory." 

A producer pal connected her with Jordan McGraw and while mansion staffers began planning her wedding to Hef, Crystal found herself forming a connection with the musician. "He made me feel special, just for being me," she explains, "and the contrast between that and who I was in the mansion made me giddy." 

Buoyed by support from Jordan and his dad Dr. Phil McGraw, Crystal slowly began moving her stuff out of the mansion and into the closet Jordan had cleared out for her.

And in June 2010—just days before the planned nuptials—she left in the middle of movie night, she left, telling security guards she was just running out to get tampons. "I didn't feel guilty for sneaking away," she admits. "I didn't feel guilty about the wedding. Hef had never asked me to marry him. Going along because there's no choice and saying 'yes' are two very different things." 

Crystal Had Several Conditions for Returning to Hef

Painted a runaway bride in the media, "I ran straight to Jordan and hid from it all," she writes. "When Jordan kissed me for the first time, I felt butterflies." 

But the giddiness proved to be temporary. While she writes "I wanted so badly for it to work out," she realized she was making the same mistakes: "I ran from one man to another, hoping it would fix all my problems." 

Devastated by her split from Jordan and with no job and a dwindling bank account, "I felt unprotected and vulnerable, so in my head I began to rewrite history," Crystal shares. "Life at the mansion hadn't been so bad. They had never really aggressively prevented me from leaving. I had it pretty good there." 

So when Hef's longtime secretary Mary O'Connor called explaining how much he missed Crystal, "I felt myself softening more quickly than I would have liked."

Though she agreed to return, she had some demands: While sex could remain a group activity, she "cleaned out the other girlfriends." As she puts it, "The mansion was still a twisted underworld. But at least now, I felt a little bit in control." 

Crystal Wasn't By Hef's Side When He Died

When she and Hef finally did marry on New Year's Eve 2012, Crystal wore pink, writing, "I told myself that when I got married for real someday, I would wear a white dress." 

Playing Hef's wife was still a job, she confesses, "but it felt like a promotion." Still, it was work. In addition to kicking off a DJ and real estate career, growing her social media platform and studying crypto currency, Crystal found herself adopting the role of caretaker.

"I was there at his elbow holding his arm to support him so when we were out in public, nobody would know he was starting to get frail or confused," she writes. "I wasn't going to let him down." 

Though she faced her own health battles—Lyme disease, breast implant illness and toxic mold exposure—she became "hyper-vigilant about protecting his image." 

When she returned from a week away in late 2017, Crystal learned that Hef had developed a UTI with "a strain of E. coli that was considered a 'super bug.'" Though they turned his bedroom into a makeshift hospital room complete with the necessary antibiotics, he began to slip in and out of consciousness.

While out in the hallway debating the next steps, recalls Crystal, "one of the nurses came out of the bedroom and said simply, quietly, 'He's gone.'"

Crystal Never Really Loved Hugh

Reflecting on how Hef made an effort to see she would be taken care of—setting aside his Playboy retirement fund and buying a house for her as the mansion itself had already been sold—Crystal speculates, "maybe he really loved me in some small way." 

As for her feelings toward the nonagenerian, "Yes, I loved him, but I loved him the way someone might love their kidnapper after 10 years of being with them every day," she writes. "I feel sorry for him, that he didn't know how to love, how to actually see another person, or how to really connect in a meaningful way. The man thought to be the greatest lover in the world never knew how to love at all." 

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