Down the Rabbit Hole

By: Holly Madison


Don’t you miss the mansion?” squealed a round-faced, wholesome-looking 20-something girl in a high-pitched voice.

“Um,” I started, unsure of how to answer her politely. “No . . . ?” I said, offering her a halfhearted smile.

Here I was, an independent, successful woman, making millions of dollars a year (all on my own), headlining a hit show on the Las Vegas Strip, coproducing and starring in my own television show, and this woman was asking me if I missed the mansion?

Clearly the public perception of the life I shared with Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion was a far, far cry from the actual reality I experienced.

This question wasn’t really that uncommon. Fans would regularly ask me about my time living what they assumed was this lavish, decadent life in Holmby Hills and whether I regretted my decision to leave.

“Hef really fucked up when he let you go,” a young fan said, shaking her head, at a Las Vegas meet-and-greet. That was another one I was regularly on the receiving end of.

“It’s okay,” I would always say. “I’m much better off now.”

I couldn’t—and still can’t—believe that these adult women were actually serious. While filming the E! reality series The Girls Next Door, I never thought of myself (or my two costars) as role models or anyone to be taken seriously.

I thought people were just laughing at us. I thought of us as walking advertisements: “Don’t try this at home, kids.”

I’m not stupid. I know how unsavory that whole situation was. You could read it all over my unsmiling face. Cameras often caught me rolling my eyes or looking totally uninterested. As if I didn’t feel trapped enough, I built up a wall around me. I’d gotten myself into a bad situation, but I became distinctly aware that was not the impression fans walked away with.

The show was the epitome of mindless reality television, which was fine. We all have our guilty pleasures that we like to unwind with at the end of the day. There is something underneath the surface that isn’t okay about it, though. Around the turn of the millennium, it became fashionable for women to appear stupid—to get by solely on their looks and to be concerned only with fame and materialism. Some of the effects of that moment in the zeitgeist still linger today.

And somewhere along the way, I too bought into the ludicrous fantasy . . . perhaps even more so than others.

While there was a part of me that acknowledged the idiocy and superficiality that surrounded me, I fell for the glamour: hook, line, and sinker. It took years for me to realize just how manipulated and used I had been. I could never admit that to myself at the time, because to do so would have been to acknowledge how dark and scary a situation I was in . . . and how very little in control I was.

“I’m an adult. I’m here because I choose to be. I’m here for adventure, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m here as a stepping-stone to something else,” I routinely told myself. And perhaps the biggest disillusion: “I’m here for love.”

Deeper and deeper I fell down the rabbit hole.

Many people may think that I’m biting the hand that fed me and that I should be grateful for the opportunity Girls Next Door and Playboy afforded me. And while I am grateful, it’s also clear to me that most people fail to realize that there are two sides to every coin and that even the most fantastic fairy tale has a dark underbelly. Being attached to Playboy can make people not want to have anything to do with you, even in quirky, crazy Hollywood. There were many times the hateful backlash made me wish I stayed the broke, awkward 21-year-old waitress I’d been before Hef came into my life.

When I finally did find the strength to leave the mansion, I began receiving lucrative offers to reveal my version of events, but I never pursued them. I wasn’t interested in writing a sensational tell-all for the sole purpose of exposing someone else’s strange habits and dirty secrets (don’t worry, you’ll find those things here, but in the context of something bigger). I wanted to have my own story to tell, too.

To this day, it astounds me the number of misconceptions that abound about my life and my experiences while at the mansion. Usually, the version of the story most flattering to Hef is the one that prevails.

I’ve seen both sugarcoated and sensationalized accounts of life at the mansion, but nothing I’ve ever read remotely resembles what I actually experienced. I always thought it would be classy to not kiss and tell . . . but after a while you just get sick of having other people trying to tell your story for you.

Hopefully, once you read my story, you will be able to understand why I made some of the choices I made . . . and why I also felt trapped by those choices. I hope that sharing my mistakes can prevent someone else from making similar ones, or give someone the courage to leave a bad situation.