Hef speaks in a deep bass voice, laced liberally with cackles and aaaaahhhhs, animating the face that stands atop the Mount Rushmore of the imagination of most American males. But we are not here to talk of Playmates, nor Playboy, nor the minutiae of the Halloween revelry, which - and I have seen the videos - would make Bacchus blush. We are here at the Playboy Mansion to speak of rebirth. Specifically, how, at the turn of the century, the Playboy Mansion has once again become "the hottest spot in America," according to Harper's Bazaar, an authority on all that is hip.

There is a short answer and a long one. The short answer is Hef's recipe for a great party: his own chef, his own staff, and his unshakable belief in a three-women-for-every-man guest ratio. "When I was at the University of Illinois, after WWII, all the veterans had come back, and the ratio of men to women on campus was seven guys to one girl," he says. "I thought that if it were ever in my control, I would reverse those unfortunate odds."

The longer, more definitive answer about the Mansion's resurgence is a bit more complicated, and for Hef, even painful. Yes, pain exists even here in this palace of pleasure. Hef's been bruised, but the bruising was the key to his rebirth. The parties are a metaphor for Hef's emergence from a dark period, which began, really, at 2 a.m. on March 7, 1985, when Hef suffered a stroke. Two weeks later, he rose from his bed, announcing, "My recovery is total and something of a miracle. What happened is actually a 'stroke of luck,' that I fully expect will change the direction of my life."

He quit going to meetings, turned the company reins over to his daughter, Christie Hefner, and began living The Life again. But the times, the height of mid-'80s conservatism, were against him. "The Party's Over," blazed an August 4 Newsweek cover story about Hef. He ended the decade married to 26-year-old Playmate Kimberly Conrad, whose nude centerfold remains framed in Hef's library.