Holly Madison Defends Not Mourning Hugh Hefner: 'Every Interaction He Had with Me Was About Control' (Exclusive)

“When he passed away, everybody expected me to have some big reaction," Madison reflects in a revealing new interview with PEOPLE

<p>Denise Truscello</p>

Denise Truscello

In the nearly 15 years since Holly Madison left the Playboy Mansion, she’s become a New York Times bestselling author, a mother of two and the host of the Girls Next Level podcast with her friend Bridget Marquardt.

But Madison spent some of her most-formative years in a relationship with Hugh Hefner, trapped in what she's described as a Playboy false paradise.

When Hefner died in 2017, Madison remained mum about his death — and it's a decision she stands by today.

“When he passed away, everybody expected me to have some big reaction or post about it on social media, and it just felt weird. I didn't have any emotional attachment to him anymore in any way,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively.

Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/Getty Hugh Hefner
Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/Getty Hugh Hefner

Before his death, Madison had also gone public with the trauma she faced after dating Hefner in her book Down the Rabbit Hole.

“I'd already come out talking about what a toxic relationship this was for me,” she says. “Why am I supposed to post a memorial on my Instagram?”

Related: Holly Madison Says the Playboy Mansion Was 'Cult-Like': 'We Were All Gaslit'

Still healing from her years in the Playboy Mansion at the time, Madison — who says she developed body dysmorphia due to Hefner's constant judgment — felt a range of emotions when he died.

“Not relief at all, because I felt like I had taken myself kind of out of that universe pretty solidly. But it was a really odd time,” she recalls. “For me, after leaving that relationship, I kind of felt like he had always interacted with me in such a fake way. Because every interaction he had with me was all about control or this fantasy he had of a relationship. It almost felt like playing house in a way.”

J. Merritt/FilmMagic Holly Madison and Hugh Hefner
J. Merritt/FilmMagic Holly Madison and Hugh Hefner

Even after Madison left the mansion and the relationship, she was still working at E!, the same network who had produced her show Girls Next Door. 

“The spinoff was produced by the same guy who did Girls Next Door, so he would want to do crossover episodes," she says. "So I did a few of those and it felt safe because the cameras were on, and it's semi-scripted, so that felt okay, but if I was in a meeting with him in the office, he would always be like, ‘Why don't I get Hef on the phone? Why don't you guys talk?’”

Madison says she had no interest in talking to Hefner by that point.

Laurence Cottrell/FilmMagic Hugh Hefner and Holly Madison
Laurence Cottrell/FilmMagic Hugh Hefner and Holly Madison

“Why would I want to talk to a robot? Everything he says to me is just going to be designed to get a certain reaction, designed to keep me on his good side. It just didn't feel authentic,” she says. “Before he passed away, there had been maybe five or six years where I just had not spoken to him at all. He had become a completely different character in my mind.”

Related: Holly Madison Claims Women Felt Pressure to Sleep with Hugh Hefner to Be Playmate of the Year

Sharing her side of the story wasn’t easy for Madison: her book was met with a wave of backlash, and there are still people who are “snarky” with her today, she says.

“There's still people who want to attack me for telling my truth, even if it has nothing to do with them. Just because when you're coming from the mansion, it's kind of this high-stakes environment where people attach who they are to this title of being a playmate or being associated with Playboy, so they don't ever want to hear a bad word about it,” she says.

“And it just gets really catty even now with some people, but those people aren't in my life, so it's okay.”

<p>Denise Truscello</p> Holly Madison

Denise Truscello

Holly Madison

Thanks to her Girls Next Level podcast and her co-host and longtime friend Marquardt, Madison says she’s been able to  “reclaim some of the good times” from her 20s as well.

“[When] Bridget and I became friends, we decided we really wanted to flip the script. So I started meeting all the new Playmate candidates at the door when they showed up and giving them a tour, and that really changed the vibe," she says. "We made a lot of friends with a lot of people, a lot of playmates, and it just completely changed the atmosphere.”

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