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Story highlights

Hugh Hefner founded Playboy in 1953

He died of natural causes at his Playboy Mansion

(CNN) —  

As news of Hugh Hefner’s death spread, the women featured in his Playboy magazine paid tribute to the man who helped launch their careers.

Hefner died of natural causes Wednesday at his Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills. He was 91.

He started the men’s magazine in 1953 and built it into a multimillion-dollar empire that included TV shows and Playboy Clubs, the latter featuring cocktail waitresses dressed in bunny ears and fuzzy tails.

Over the years, Hefner introduced the world to a bevy of women through his magazine and television show “The Girls Next Door” on E! channel. Many of the women tweeted their tributes early Thursday.

“Thank you for being a revolutionary and changing so many people’s lives, especially mine. I hope I made you proud,” said Jenny McCarthy, who was on the cover of Playboy magazine in 1993, and was named Playmate of the Year.

Actress Donna D’Errico was a regular on “Baywatch,” and posed for Playboy magazine in 1995.

“Hugh Hefner put me in Playboy & ignited my career. I am forever indebted, Hef,” she tweeted. “You will forever live on as an icon of epic proportions.”

The daughter of legendary musician Frank Sinatra described Hef as “one of the nicest men” she’s ever known. Nancy Sinatra posed for Playboy in 1995.

“Godspeed, Hugh Hefner,” she tweeted, along with a picture of the two of them hugging.

Miriam Gonzalez, who graced the magazine in 2001, thanked Hefner and credited him with changing her life. So did Michelle McLaughlin – a Playmate seven years later.

“Rest In peace my dear sweet Hugh Hefner Forever in my heart and forever grateful for changing my life. I love you,” Gonzalez said.

Model Adrianne Curry said she was featured on Playboy magazine’s cover twice. She thanked the magazine titan for believing in her vision and giving her artistic freedom.

Hefner is survived by his 31-year-old wife, Crystal, and four grown children, Playboy said.

CNN’s Amanda Jackson contributed to this report.