The 44-year-old television personality spoke out about Hefner on her self-titled SiriusXM radio show, telling listeners that she balled her eyes out when she heard about Hefner’s death.
“He’d always say, ‘Thanks for sharing the dream, Jen.’ And when I thought about him passing last night, I just thought, I wanted one more chance to say thanks,” McCarthy said on The Jenny McCarthy Show, holding back tears. ‘Thank you for sharing your dream with me and for giving so many girls and so many people the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“I will always miss you Hef,” she said, calling him by his nickname. “You will never be forgotten.”
Hefner peacefully passed away on Wednesday from natural causes at his home, The Playboy Mansion, surrounded by loved ones, according to a statement from the Playboy founder’s rep. He was 91.
McCarthy, who first posed for Hefner’s magazine in 1993 as Miss October when she was just 22, went on to be named that year’s Playmate of the Year.
She called Hefner “the most good-hearted, caring, generous, supportive friend, and mentor” — adding that “his zest for life was contagious.”
“I was lucky enough to be part of his family. And when I say family, it really truly was that for me and I think for a lot of girls, ” she said. “A lot of girls came from broken homes, and he would take good care of those girls in such a sentimental way. Which is why every girl interviewed about his passing will say probably the exact same things as me.”
— Jenny McCarthy (@JennyMcCarthy) September 28, 2017
Explaining why she was so emotional, McCarthy reflected on how many lives Hefner changed.
“There’s always those people in your life that change the course of your life, and I think about how many people he affected just through me alone,” she said. “Giving me the opportunity to move my parents out of a bad neighborhood and into a good neighborhood; pay off their debts; pay off my college loan; move to Los Angeles so I could pursue my dream…”
“It was the thing that made me who I am today,” she continued. “ was always supportive, always proud. Whenever I would see him he would always say, ‘You’re doing such a good job.’ I hope I did. I hope I did make him proud. … Every tear that I cry, is really out of gratitude.”
McCarthy also combatted any negative stereotypes people might have about Playboy — admitting that her own family had similar doubts when she first got the job.
“Playboy one of the classiest organizations I had ever worked with,” she said, praising “the respect, the caring, and the support” she received when she first moved to Los Angeles from Chicago a year after her spread.
“I remember moving out to Los Angeles and not knowing anybody, but Playboy was like a sorority house meets the best grandpa ever,” McCarthy said. “Hef never once hit on me when I lived at the mansion. It was during the time that Hef was married, so I got to see the dad part of Hef.
Coming from a tight-knit family, McCarthy was grateful. “My first day there one of his sons threw bacon at my face during breakfast, and I realized, ‘Wow this is like any other normal family,’ ” she marveled. “There were toys everywhere. There was no parties. There was no crazy orgies. It was a legitimate family home.”
McCarthy also recounted her journey to her first Playboy centerfold.
Growing up in Chicago, where Playboy was born, she said she was always aware of the magazine’s legacy — often looking up at the city’s skyline and seeing the bunny logo on the side of its headquarters.
At the time, she was also working at a Polish grocery store that sold Playboy magazines and found the publication, especially an issue with cover star Anna Nicole Smith, as a source of inspiration for her dream modeling career.
“I would stare at the cover and think, ‘I can do that,’ ” McCarthy recalled. “‘These girls come from all over the country and they don’t have any modeling experience. … She’s not a size zero.’ I was a thicker girl compared to what you would consider an L.A. girl. I thought, ‘Maybe someday?’ ”
“Someday” would come sooner than she thought. After a brutal string of rejections from modeling agencies — including one in which she was told “go serve beer because look like a bartender” — McCarthy found herself in tears as she exited a meeting.
She looked up, and across the street were the Playboy offices.
Feeling ambitious, McCarthy took the elevator upstairs and asked the woman at the front desk how she might apply to get into Playboy.
“She said, ‘Well certainly you don’t walk in here,’ ” McCarthy recalled. “‘You have to send some pictures in and we get approximately a million photos a year from girls. So take some photos and mail to this address.’”
But on the way out, a man noticed her outfit (“I was dressed what I considered ‘school girl sexy’”) and stopped McCarthy, inviting her into the back for a photoshoot.
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McCarthy didn’t think the shoot was anything special (“I took a few photos … I looked like a mugshot”). And by the time she got home, the Miss October offer was waiting for her on her answering machine.
Hefner, it turns out, pushed for McCarthy then and throughout her five-day centerfold shoot.
“I was a Chicago girl,” McCarthy said. “His dream was realized, and I think his whole with having a girl next door was real. It was authentic. He could tell I didn’t come from a strip club. I was truly the girl that worked at the Polish grocery store.”
The Jenny McCarthy Show airs live weekdays (10 a.m. ET) on SiriusXM Stars (Ch. 109).