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SNEED: Hugh Hefner lived like a lion waiting to be served prime beef

Hugh Hefner poses with his likeness in wax in 2001 in the Hollywood Wax Museum. | Sun-Times file photo

He was a pipe-smoking hedonist.

A hip pip of a guy, Hugh Marston Hefner reveled in a world of sexual freedom backdropped by a classic film.

But in Hefner’s later years, the laird of the bastion known as the world’s biggest bunny hutch spent most of his time confined inside his L.A. mansion with old friends because of a debilitating and painful back.

“There was a big difference in his later years because of his bad back,” said a source close to the Hefner family. ( No, I’m not going to go there, folks. You do the math.)

“They had to put an elevator into the mansion because of his back. He really didn’t go out much after that,” the source said.

“And he never really recovered from the loss of his best friend, his brother Keith, several years ago.”

OPINION

Dead at 91, the former czar of an international multimedia empire promoting sexual freedom, Hefner lived like an old lion waiting to be served prime USDA beef.

“He [Hef] had the kind of life where he would do whatever he wanted — with whomever he wanted all the time; never had to be with anyone he didn’t agree with; and never had to do things he didn’t want to do,” the source said.

“Who wouldn’t want that?”

Sneed is told Hefner wasn’t a liquor drinker. His favorite food was fried chicken, and he would travel with a chef to make sure it was cooked his way.

Everything had to be cooked a certain way.

The bunny baron also had a phenomenal recipe for chocolate cake, which he apparently cherished. “He also loved mashed potatoes and peas, and steamy hot biscuits,” the friend said.

Once a Pepsi addict, Hefner cut way back on his favorite beverage and stopped smoking a pipe after his stroke.

But every night at the mansion was special, “designated for something,” the source said.

Especially the evening known as “Manly Night.”

In an evening with 10 old Hollywood film buff friends, Hef would serve dinner and then the group would conduct a paper vote on which old movie they wanted to see.

“He actually had three movie nights; Friday, Saturday and Sunday; one night each for a musical, a film noir, or a new movie. These people really knew movies. Every aspect of them. The conversation would go on for hours about every aspect of them.

“First-run movies were selected for Sunday night.”

And then one night of the week was card night, where he and his friends played “partner gin.”

“Look, the guy was a man’s man.”

And after all these years and all the women in his life, he was close to almost all of them in the end. I think he remained closest to Barbi Benton, who once was a Playboy bunny.

“And he stood tall when nobody would give an opportunity to black entertainers. Hef hired them to play his circuit clubs: Dick Gregory, Sammy Davis Jr., Bill Cosby,” as well as George Shearing and even Lenny Bruce, the source added.

“He was also very generous to his friends — both male and female — and former employees, and if they were in need or in trouble, he had no trouble giving anonymously to them,” the source added.

Sneed is told there will be a private memorial service “in the near future” for Hefner.

Stay tuned.

Sneedlings . . .

Saturday’s birthdays: Lacey Chabert, 35; Barry Williams, 63; and Debbie Silverman Krolik, ageless. . . . Sunday’s birthdays: Julie Andrews, 82; Jimmy Carter, 93; Brie Larson, 28; and a happy belated birthday to Bill Marovitz, priceless and ageless.