Madison, 42, famously dated Hefner from 2001 to 2008, during which time she appeared on the hit reality series, Girls Next Door. The mother of two left the Playboy Mansion in 2008 and first spoke out about her past relationship in her 2015 book, Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny.
In the new A&E docuseries Secrets of Playboy, which aims to unveil the “dark sides” and “hidden realities” behind Hefner’s Playboy empire, Madison disclosed even more previously untold secrets from her time with Hefner, who died at age 91 in 2017.
In a recent statement, Playboy denounced Hefner’s alleged “abhorrent actions” and detailed a commitment to “positive change” under new leadership. “First and foremost, we want to say: we trust and validate women and their stories, and we strongly support the individuals who have come forward to share their experiences,” the statement read. “As a brand with sex positivity at its core, we believe safety, security and accountability are paramount, and anything less is inexcusable.”
The PLBY Group leadership team also reassured staff that the Hefner family is no longer associated with Playboy, which is now made up of more than 80 percent female employees. “Today’s Playboy is not Hugh Hefner’s Playboy,” the statement said.
“Together we are building upon the aspects of our legacy that have made a positive impact, including serving as a platform for free expression and a convener of safe conversations on sex, inclusion and freedom. We will continue to confront any parts of our legacy that do not reflect our values today, and to build upon the progress we have made as we evolve as a company so we can drive positive change for you and our communities,” the statement continued. “Please join us in doing the most important thing we can do right now — listen. It is critically important that we listen as these women share their stories and continue to fight harassment and discrimination in all its forms, support healing and education, redefine tired and sexist definitions of beauty and advocate for inclusivity across gender, sexuality, race, age, ability and zip codes.”
During Monday night’s premiere, Madison was the focus of the docuseries’ second episode, in which she shared how she entered the “dangerous” Playboy world in her early 20s, how she became one of Hefner’s longtime girlfriends and why she left for good after wrapping five seasons of E!’s Girls Next Door.
“I think I was drawn to try to be in spotlight because I felt like, if I could be famous, that could be a shortcut to feeling a connection with people. Because we feel connected to celebrities,” said Madison, who was raised in Alaska. “I was very much attracted to the Anna Nicole Smiths, who was a supermodel at the time, and the Jenny McCarthys, who was the “It Girl” on MTV, and the Pamela Andersons, who was the biggest TV star at the time. And the common denominator was they all started out as Playmates. It made a lot of sense to infer that if I start out at Playboy, I could end up like that too, because they did.”
Read on to learn more about Madison’s biggest bombshells from the series:
Her first intimate night with Hefner
What started as a “wholesome” view of the Playboy “family” in the summer of 2001 quickly turned sour once Madison became involved with Hefner.
Madison recalled the “first night” she went out with Hefner and his girlfriends at a nightclub in Los Angeles. “I was sitting next to Hef, he leaned over and he asked me if I wanted to take a quaalude. I said something like, ‘No I don’t do drugs.’ And he goes, ‘Yeah I typically don’t either but they used to call these thigh openers in the ’70s.’ I thought it was just really weird. That night I drank a lot because I was nervous,” she shared.
After the nightclub, the group returned to the mansion and Madison “ended up going upstairs” with the group. Though she hesitated at first when asked to recount the memories of the night, Madison described the “casual sex” as “all very mechanical and robotic,” adding: “It was really gross to me how Hef didn’t want to use protection. The impact it had on me was so heavy. I never expected to be the first person to have sex that night or pushed into it.”
Calling Hefner’s Playboy world a “cult”
Madison described the environment Hefner had built as “very cult-like.”
“He comes across as caring and generous, especially when you see him in that atmosphere because he’s providing this good time for all his friends and you know, there’s a glow about him. And you just start to build this picture in your head of somebody who can really do no wrong. And now, looking back on my time at Playboy, it reminds me of a cult,” she shared.
“The reason I think the mansion was very cult-like is because we were all kind of gaslit and expected to think of Hef as like this really good guy. And you started to feel like ‘Oh, he’s not what they say in the media, he’s just a nice man,’ ” she continued. “Another thing that reminds me of a cult is how it was so easy to get isolated from the outside world there. You had a 9 o’clock curfew. You were encouraged to not have friends over — you weren’t really allowed to leave unless it was like a family holiday.”
Madison added, “Sex always happened kind of like the same time the same night. We would go out to a club every Wednesday and Friday and that would be expected when we got home. I kept my waitressing job just like one day a week because I wanted just to have something easy to go back to should things not work out and he said it made him jealous and he would appreciate it if I quit my job. So instead, we were given $1,000 a week as an allowance.”
Feeling like she had “Stockholm syndrome”
“I think one of the reasons I was able to buy in into being able to have this relationship with an older person is because I thought, ‘Well I’d never connected to guys my own age so maybe this is what is meant to happen. Maybe this is a better fit,’ ” Madison recalled.
When asked if she was ever in love with Hefner, she responded, “I think I definitely thought I was in love with Hef but it was very Stockholm syndrome, very Stockholm syndrome. So Stockholm syndrome is when somebody starts to identify with somebody who’s their captor in some way and I feel like I did that with Hef 100 percent.”
Madison added, “I never blamed him for any of the drama that went on and always blamed it on the other women. Hef was innocent in my eyes. And then later, one of the girls was telling me how Hef always pits the main girlfriend against the other girls. This situation was going on for years before I came along.”
When Madison was Hefner’s “main girlfriend,” she described her time as his No. 1 as feeling “completely isolated until” Bridget Marquardt, a fellow Girls Next Door alum, came along in 2002.
“Compulsive” plastic surgery amongst the women
“I think it probably gave him a feeling of being more in control if we all looked identical,” Madison said.
Describing the plastic surgery amongst the women at the mansion as “compulsive,” Madison shared that “everybody was doing it with very few exceptions. I remember being made to feel like I needed to look exactly like everybody else.”
During a conversation with Hefner about testing for a Playmate opportunity, Madison claimed “he said I’m just not photogenic enough. So of course what that does to you is it makes you wonder, wow, what’s wrong with me? Like what do I need to get fixed?”
In an old sound bite of Madison from a previous interview that was included in the docuseries, she said, “I’ve always been very honest about [plastic surgery]. I’ve had my boobs and my nose done.”
In another example of Hefner maintaining a specific look, Madison spoke about the time she cut her hair to stand out from the rest of the women. “I got to a point not too far into my time there, I think it was only like six months in, where I kind of broke under that pressure and was being made to feel like I needed to look exactly like everybody else,” she said. “My hair was really long naturally. And I was just like, I’m gonna go chop my hair off so I can at least look a little different. I came back with short hair. And he flipped out on me. And he was screaming at me and said it made me look old, hard and cheap.”
Allegations of revenge porn
Describing a reason why she had stayed as long as she did, Madison claimed Hefner had a form of blackmail on her. “His friends were always so supportive and speaking so highly of him. But that’s the only side of him they ever saw. They had no idea what was going on behind closed doors and how the women were treated,” she said.
“When I lived at the mansion, I was afraid to leave. Something that was always lingering in the back of my mind, I think since the very beginning, was that if I left there was just this mountain of revenge porn just waiting to come out,” Madison alleged. “When you would go out with Hef, he’s taking all kinds of naked pictures of these women when we’re wasted out of our minds. And he would print out like eight copies for him and all the women, you pass them around. It was just gross.”
Wanting to drown herself
“I felt like I was in this cycle of gross things and I didn’t know what to do,” Madison shared.
As Hefner’s “main girlfriend,” she said she didn’t want to be intimate with him and the other women after going out to the nightclubs, especially with those “who all hate you and you know they’re all talking s— about you.” Madison recalled drinking “pretty heavily every night we went out, [as] it was my way of coping with the situation after we got back home.”
Two years into her relationship with Hefner, Madison said she reached a low point in her life.
“I didn’t feel like I had any options. I remember there was a point in time, a couple of years in after we had gone out and after we’d all been in the bedroom. Everybody was leaving and walking out and I was in the bathtub. I just wanted to drown myself. I just felt like I was in this cycle of misery,” she said. “And you know those feelings would never last long. But you have those moments like what did I gain from this experience? I knew there would be something I always had that faith that there will be something that would make it worth it.”
Girls Next Door
That moment came when she was cast in E!’s 2005 reality show Girls Next Door, which followed the lives of Hefner and his three girlfriends, which included Madison, Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson. In her Secrets of Playboy episode, Madison rewatched old clips from Girls Next Door and reflected on how it “totally saved my life.”
“The show gave me confidence, it gave me a sense of purpose. The contrast between the first three years I lived there and the last three-and-a-half years, it was night and day,” she shared.
“I can see myself getting my self-esteem back,” Madison said while rewatching an old clip. “I had a job at the Playboy studio for the show, and I ended up really loving it. I seem like I’m on my way to being a little more normal, like a little more of a functional human.”
Girls Next Door, which Madison said “really was a lot of fun,” led her to achieve one of her original goals of being in the magazine. But being a part of the show also had many downsides.
“We weren’t paid for the first order of episodes for Girls Next Door,” she claimed. “Eventually we did get paid, but we were told one day that we needed to sign contracts and we need to sign them that day or E! wasn’t going to renew the show, which I just didn’t want to sign a contract that in essence was signing a contract to be in a relationship since the show was about three girls he was dating. That felt very prostitute-ish to me.”
Though they “all signed” the contracts, Madison said, “I consider that signing under duress.”
Hefner and Madison’s relationship was seen in a new light by Girls Next Door fans, but according to Madison, it was anything but romance. While rewatching a scene of her crying and Hefner reading a card she wrote for him, she revealed that she “was embarrassed and stressed … feeling f—ing stupid” at that moment.
“I’m supposed to be filming like this romantic scene but he’s dating other people,” she said. “The show was doing a lot for me, in terms of self-esteem and as far as other opportunities that would come to me later, but I wasn’t really seeing that. I still felt like I was very stuck in the same situation.”
Reps for E! did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Her final straw
“In 2008, my last year there, the other girls were leaving. It looked like it was just going to be me. I finally thought I got what I wanted out of this situation, and was finally like this committed relationship. But during that time period, he started getting even meaner,” Madison said.
Marquardt recalled being told about an “altercation” between Madison and Hefner during which he called her a “c—.” According to Marquardt, “that’s it she was done” after that incident.
“At that point, there were no women to pit me against, there was none of that left. And that’s when I had the realization, and I was like ‘Whoa he’s been the problem the whole time.’ I had been locked into the mentality of the mansion, and had felt like there’s no other future for me outside. But I finally saw him for who he was and I had to go. I just felt it so strongly that I had to leave,” Madison said.
As she looked back on the photo albums she’s kept from her years with Playboy, Madison looked back at the trauma she said she had endured.
“The time at Playboy really caused some damage. I’ve had different types of therapy and stuff since I left. Other than some of the animals in the zoo, I can’t really think of anything I miss,” she said. “When I decided to leave, it was pretty sudden so I wouldn’t say it was so much that I had a plan. I just had more to fall back on. I’d been really careful with my money and making investments and I knew that there was at least a fan base for Girls Next Door. So maybe I could turn that into something? And it worked out really well.”
After leaving both her relationship with Hefner and the mansion, Madison had two seasons of her own TV show on E!, called Holly’s World, from 2009-2010. Then, she went on to marry Pasquale Rotella in 2013 until 2019, during which they raised their two kids, daughter Rainbow Aurora and son Forest, together.
“I basically did everything I wanted to do but every single day of my life, I would have a stranger approach me and ask, ‘How’s Hef?’ and I would always say, ‘Oh, he’s good. He’s great.’ I really started to feel terrible about it and I was living a lie,” she said.
“After my book came out, no one ever came up to me again and asked, ‘How’s Hef?’ My book wasn’t motivated by money at all. It wasn’t motivated by revenge,” Madison said about her 2015 memoir. “I knew he was in a place where he didn’t really answer to anyone. He wasn’t necessarily cancelable so to speak. It was strictly for me so I wouldn’t feel bound to be living this lie where I constantly have to say things were great when I was there when they weren’t.”
Madison also shared, “What I love about my book is I feel some people are finding it and they read it and they recognize parallel situations in emotionally abusive relationships that they might be in. I’ve heard a lot of feedback like that. And I love it that people are talking about abuses of power and imbalances in relationships. And I hope that helps some people.”
Secrets of Playboy, a 10-part docuseries, airs Mondays on A&E.