“Hef changed my life. He made me the person I am today. I couldn’t be more thankful for our friendship and our time together. I will miss him so much but he will be in my heart forever,” Wilkinson said in a statement to PEOPLE.
Hefner peacefully passed away on Wednesday from natural causes at his home, The Playboy Mansion, surrounded by loved ones. He was 91.
Wilkinson, who was 18 when she first moved into the Playboy Mansion while Hefner was 78, spoke highly of the Playboy founder in her 2011 memoir, Sliding into Home.
“Staring into his eyes, I didn’t see a man four times my age with ten times more girlfriends than most,” said the former Girls Next Door star, who was featured on the E!’s reality series from 2005 to 2010.
“Even though I hardly knew him yet, I saw a sweet man who made me feel really good about myself – a true gentleman. It was weird, but in my heart, I felt like he was someone I could possibly trust.”
In October 2016, Wilkinson admitted how she worried daily about the thought of losing Hefner.
“I mean, I worry every day. He’s at that age and I’m not going to lie, every day I open up my social media and I pray that I don’t see what we think might happen,” she told E! News.
“He honestly is my family. I don’t even know how to say it. He’s an angel to me in my life. The day that comes will be devastating for me and my family,” she said.