Holly Madison is determined to expose “the dark side of Playboy.”
In 2016, the former Playboy Bunny wrote a memoir titled “Down the Rabbit Hole” where she alleged years of verbal and emotional abuse. Then in late 2021, the former “Girls Next Door” star described her “traumatic” first sexual encounter with magazine mogul Hugh Hefner in the podcast “Power: Hugh Hefner.” In early 2022, she sat down with A&E for “The Secrets of Playboy” when she alleged the iconic Playboy Mansion was “cult-like.”
On Jan. 23, the 43-year-old kicked off a new true-crime docuseries on Investigation Discovery (ID) titled “The Playboy Murders,” which explores high-profile tragedies associated with the iconic magazine brand.
“It started with sharing my own story back in 2015, just because I was frustrated,” the mother of two told Fox News Digital. “I would meet people every day who had preconceived notions of me based on other people’s versions of who I was supposed to be… I just really wanted to tell my side of the story and where I’d been coming from and why I made the decisions I made. It was just a personal story in the beginning.”
“When I did ‘Secrets of Playboy’ last year, I wasn’t particularly eager to tell my own story again, but I did want to be there and be supportive of the other women who were coming forward and telling their stories,” she explained. “I know what it feels like to be the only one and nobody’s corroborating your story or backing you up in any way or supporting you. And now, I feel such a kinship with some of the women described in these stories. These were real people and their lives were more than just the glamorous side we saw. I wanted to tell their stories.”
Madison dated Hefner from 2001 to 2008. During her time at the mansion, Madison claimed there were many times when she wanted to leave.
“There were many times over seven years that I wanted to leave or was ready to leave, and Hef would kind of swoop in and address whatever issue was at the top of my mind at the time,” she reflected. “But for me, it happened when the other women were leaving and I was the only one there. I thought that’s what I wanted for so long. I thought the problems that I had in the relationship were because it was a multi-partner relationship – but when the other women were out of the way, I saw it more as an a-ha moment. It made me see who he really was because he couldn’t deflect the drama onto the other women anymore. And things just got verbally abusive. I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
Madison said she no longer wanted to be one of Hefner’s longtime girlfriends. In 2008, after wrapping five seasons of “The Girls Next Door,” she left the Playboy Mansion.
“I was in a state of shell-shock when I left,” said Madison. “I can’t even tell you what I did on my first day out or what it was like. I just knew I had to hit the ground running as far as establishing a life for myself and a career for myself. I needed to find a livelihood. But I felt emotionally shell-shocked because I was finally realizing who this person was that I’d been with for seven years. I was learning that a lot of people I thought were friends in my life weren’t really friends. They were just there because I was a fixture at the mansion. I have a hard time remembering those days really because I had to hit the ground running. I was in survival mode.”
Madison admitted she was initially wary of exploring crime stories tied to Playboy. However, after learning about the cases being featured, she wanted to shed a spotlight on the victims, who have seemingly been forgotten with time.
“I was surprised by a lot of these stories,” said Madison. “I thought I knew everything about Playboy’s history and what happened to all the Playmates. But I hadn’t heard of so many of these stories. I wanted to take a deeper dive and try to bring the stories of the victims to the forefront.”
Madison said she was particularly touched by the 2009 murder of Jasmine Fiore. The model’s body was found in a suitcase, and the only way she was identified was because of her breast implants. Authorities charged her husband, former reality TV star Ryan Jenkins, with the 28-year-old’s murder. The 32-year-old went on the run and took his life soon after.
“She was somebody who started going to the mansion right after I left,” said Madison. “I just missed meeting her. But I have a close friend who knew her and had deep talks with her about her relationship and her struggles… Her story really struck a chord with me.”
Madison was also stunned to learn the story of Playboy centerfold Stacy Arthur. In 1991, her husband was gunned down by a crazed fan who also took his life.
“It’s such an incredibly tragic and scary story, especially because Stacy and her husband were so much in love,” said Madison. “He was so supportive of Stacy’s hopes and dreams.”
Madison believes there are many other similar stories – ones that have yet to be told.
“So many women have modeled for Playboy over the years – they all have different stories,” she said. “I think in some cases, you’re put on a pedestal and it’s a dream for so many women. And when you get that exciting thing in your life, there can be people around you who get obsessed or possessive. Sometimes it leads to these horrible cases where you hear about domestic violence that reached a tragic end. I think [Playboy] is the kind of thing that, unfortunately, can magnify those feelings of jealousy or obsession.”
“I think the biggest misconception people have [about Playboy] is that it has to be all one way,” she continued. “It’s either an amazing opportunity, a stepping stone in a career, or it was a horrible place. And really, all those things can be true. This was an organization that was in business for decades. And in every decade, the atmosphere was different at the mansion and with the women who went there. There are so many intriguing stories over the years and they’re from all ends of the spectrum.”
Today, Madison is a busy mom living a “super fulfilling life.” She hosts the podcast “Girls Next Level” with former “Girls Next Door” co-star Bridget Marquardt, where they discuss their time filming the reality TV show.
Looking back, would Madison do it all over again? It’s complicated, she said.
“That’s a hard question for me to answer,” she admitted. “I don’t know if people mean, ‘Do you want to go back and erase things from your past?’ Or, ‘Would you physically go back and do it again?’ If it was to physically go back and do it? Absolutely not. I couldn’t take the drama, I couldn’t take the stress. There’s no way. I’m more about being fulfilled through work and my interests, not trying to chase fame or looking a certain way.”
“When I was younger, I saw Hef as this amazing, generous, intelligent person who could just do no wrong,” Madison shared. “And obviously, I learned that wasn’t the case… Now, I look at things from different perspectives. I look at things as nuance. People evolve… And things are multifaceted.”
“My goal today? I’d love for viewers to walk away with a sense of empathy for the victims [after watching this series] and understand them a little bit more as people,” she said. “These horrible things could really happen to anybody.”
A spokesperson for Playboy previously issued a statement to Fox News Digital in 2022 ahead of “The Secrets of Playboy.”
“Today’s Playboy is not Hugh Hefner’s Playboy,” the statement began. “We trust and validate these women and their stories, and we strongly support those individuals who have come forward to share their experiences. As a brand with sex positivity at its core, we believe safety, security and accountability are paramount.”
“The most important thing we can do right now is actively listen and learn from their experiences,” it added. “We will never be afraid to confront the parts of our legacy as a company that do not reflect our values today.
“As an organization with a more than 80% female workforce, we are committed to our ongoing evolution as a company and to driving positive change for our communities.”
Hefner died in 2017 at age 91.
“The Playboy Murders” air Mondays at 10PM on ID.