Glenn O’Brien, industry icon, author, editor, style guru, TV host, and filmmaker, passes at the age of 70.
BY KENNETH RICHARD
One of our industries most prolific creators, Glenn O’Brien, has passed away at the age of 70 due to complications related to pneumonia.
With his insatiable curiosity, poetic prose, subtle humor, and innovative ambition, O’Brien was a raconteur renaissance man who seamlessly wove throughout the downtown New York fashion, art, music, and cultural scene for half a century. The author and creator of the title, “Editor-at-Large,” leaves behind a legacy of writing, films, ad campaigns, and a cultural landscape that is deeply indebted to him for his support.
His work touched millions from being an editor at Interview magazine, creative director of Barneys New York, host of television shows: “TV Party” and “Tea at the Beatrice,” author of GQ’s ‘The Style Guy’ column, columnist for Artform, co-founder of Spin magazine, playwright, book editor (Madonna’s “Sex”), copywriter for numerous ad campaigns (including notable Calvin Klein ads), author of numerous books, and musician.
O’Brien was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended Georgetown University before making his way to New York to study film-making at Columbia. Shortly after arriving in 1971 he found himself a figure at Andy Warhol’s Factory with the artist asking O’Brien to write for and eventually edit Interview magazine. O’Brien was able to parlay his subversive humor and artisanal network into a public-access television cable TV show, “TV Party,” that ran from 1978 to 1982. The New York City broadcast included interviews with the likes of David Byrne, Debbie Harry, Mick Jones, Iggy Pop, George Clinton, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jean-Michel Basquiat and others.
The multidisciplinary innovator would go on to produce the film Downtown 81, capturing the day in a life of a downtown artist played by Jean-Michel Basquiat as he tries to raise money to overcome eviction from his apartment by wandering streets carrying a painting he hopes to sell. The film, captured in 1981, debuted twenty years later at Cannes, capturing the spirit of both the late artist work and downtown scene of its day.
O’Brien was perhaps best known for his sartorial and witty fashion advice column, “Style Guy”, which he began at Details magazine, then wrote for GQ from 1999 to 2015. The writer also served as a longtime columnist and critic for Artforum, as well as writing for a range of publications including Paris Vogue, Maxim, High Times, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Rolling Stone, and Allure to name a few.
While at High Times O’Brien made a wink at editing a magazine celebrating drug use. Pulling “At Large” as a pun from the FBI’s Most Wanted List, he merged it with his editors title to create the first ever “Editor-At-Large.” Since then many in the industry adopted the title with many unaware its history or wink.
On the subject of titles, The Impression asked O’Brien he thought of himself to which he replied, “I always thought of myself as an essay writer, a non-fiction writer.” A few more of his essays have been recently published in his new book, “Like Art: Glenn O’Brien on Advertising”.
On a personal note, beyond his mannerism and style, Glenn had sense of self and humility that I admired. We would find ourselves bumping into each other over the years and carved out some time to chat. With so many hats, I asked Glenn how he described himself to those who didn’t know him. “A writer. It is what I did when I started and what I still do everyday,” he explained. Glenn certainly was a writer, but more than that his work had a way of coming off the page to life, celebrating culture and all the beauty life has to offer. Our worlds are more connected because of him.
Glenn is survived by his wife Gina Nanni, and their son Oscar as well as his son from a previous marriage, Terence O’Brien Pincus.