Former Playmate Barbi Benton left Hugh Hefner and Hollywood to raise a family with another man

Initially, the beautiful Barbi Benton was turned off by the 24-year age difference between her and Hugh Hefner, who–not a fan of rejection–chased her love and pleaded her surrender.

Benton, who found “the pot of gold at the end of the driveway,” that’s now the iconic Playboy mansion, also found that Hefner had a heart of gold.

But after a seven-year whirlwind romance with the Playboy, Benton called it quits and faded from the spotlight to live in solitude with her two children and husband.

Keep reading to find out more about Benton’s quiet life and why she left Hef!
Born in 1950, the New York-born Barbi Benton (Barbara Klein) was an 18-year-old student at UCLA when she captured the attention of a 42-year-old Hugh Hefner, the founder and publisher of Playboy magazine.

Hefner at the time was hosting a TV series called Playboy After Dark, a show that became the platform for Benton’s new career.

Explaining how she was cast on the show, Benton, now 73, recalls her first meeting with Hefner, “We were talking about my schooling and what I was studying, and he asked me if I would go out with him.” She continued, “The first thing he asked me was if I would mind if he held my hand…I told him I had never been out with anybody over 24 and he said, ‘Neither have I!’ I looked at him like, is he joking, or is it true?”
Though she initially wasn’t interested in Hefner because of the age difference, she said the two were quickly “exclusive,” and that “he was one of the most romantic men I’ve ever met.”

In their time together, they traveled the world, she appeared on several Playboy covers–also two nude layouts–and starred on the variety show HeeHaw. In 1970, she had a leading role in the 1970 comedy film Naughty Cheerleader, and recurring roles in TV shows like the Bobby Vinton Show, Love Boat and Fantasy Island.

In 1974, the couple moved into the sprawling Holmby Hills home, the plush Playboy mansion with a sex grotto, that’s famed for its parties.
The star of the slasher film Hospital Massacre explains how she discovered the mansion they lived together: “I found the gate to what looked like an estate and there was a lock on the gate. So, I hopped the gate, walked up the long driveway and found the pot of gold at the end of the driveway.” She added that “Hef didn’t think there was a house in LA that was worthy of him.”

At the time, she was also launching a music career and much like her hit song “Brass Buckles” says, “she could make a man do anything,” specifically Hefner, the ultimate Playboy who proposed to the beautiful Benton, four times.

The first three proposals came after he was caught cheating on her. “I confronted him. He didn’t admit it at first, but it was kind of hard not to. I moved out every time,” said the “Ain’t That Just The Way” singer. “One of the problems is I became a successful singer, and I was on tour much too much. He just couldn’t be faithful that long. The more successful I became, the harder it was. It was hard on our relationship. And when you’re hurt, it’s not a good time to ask someone to marry them. It was his way of him getting me to come back. Because I moved out every time. By the third time, I moved out for good.”

Hef’s last proposal came when the star of Sugar Time! was happily married to George Gradow, a high-profile real estate developer.

Married in 1979, Benton and Gradow–who split their time between homes in Aspen, Colorado and Los Angeles–share two children, Alexander (born 1986) and Ariana (born 1988).

Never a jilted bunny, Benton and Hef remained close, and in 2008, he took his Girls Next Door–Playboy stars Holly Madison, Kendra Wilkinson and Bridget Marquardt–to stay with Benton in her Aspen paradise.

The visit and appearance on TV was rare for Benton and Gradow who prefer anonymity to fame, contrary to the king of adult entertainment.

Hefner died in 2017 of septicemia–a blood infection–at 91 and Benton revealed that she will love him forever.

“People recognized us together and our names were synonymous. Whenever you heard Barbi Benton, you think of Hugh Hefner. And I loved that. I was his girlfriend, and he was my boyfriend.” She continued, “When he died, he took a big piece of me with him…He had an enormous impact on culture and lives of people all over the world. I’ll miss him immensely.”

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