Holly Madison – who was the first Playboy bunny?

Photograph: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Holly Madison took her role as an aspiring pin-up model very seriously. When she turned 19, in 1998, she wanted to be the first person to be a Playboy cover girl (and the first to become known as a Playboy bunny). At the time, the sultry future Mrs Hugh Hefner was a familiar face – especially when she played a little Tommy Tutone on E!’s Newlyweds. While Hefner never broke character and complained on air, “What’s a Playboy with a little breasts like that doing on the inside cover of a magazine?”, Madison’s contentions seemed to gain him serious credibility, especially as he pledged he would personally make her the first celebrity bunny, thanks to his a million-dollar reward.

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On the cover, as well as inside, the writhing centrefold resembled something from a Heidi Fleiss-style brothel, with lots of lap dancing. It was a higher vantage point than the traditional bunny ears and tail, but Madison still looked slightly out of her depth, at least until she’d gotten a thoroughly Hollywood makeover. “Everybody was saying that I should have some kind of career now,” she told People magazine in 2001. “Maybe I could be a wardrobe mistress. A model agent. A costume designer. Anything.”

When, in 2001, Playboy unveiled its 100th issue, the pop version of Madison graced the cover, wearing a Versace-style bellbottomed dress, a black wig and a classic bunny ears. We quickly learned, though, that she wasn’t yet fully ready for pop, even if hefner started leaking nude photoshoots and Playboy mogul son Cooper styled her into the world of burlesque shows. By 2003, Madison had moved on to reality television, playing a somewhat lame role as “Partner No 2” on the show Girls Next Door. When it ended in 2010, she was nearly 37 – more than a decade away from the first Playboy bunny. In January 2012, she married a doctor called Pasquale Rotella, 26, and they announced they were expecting a child. Their son Billy arrived in 2015.

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