Glenn O’Brien, jack-of-all-trades (and master of all) passed away today at age 70, due to complications from pneumonia. His importance and contributions to the worlds of fashion, music, art, and culture is storied, and almost unclassifiable. Skimming over his long career, one can’t help but be both baffled and impressed by the breadth of subjects he covered and jobs he held.
O’Brien hailed from Cleveland, Ohio, and studied at Georgetown University—where he notably edited the Georgetown Journal—before getting a Master’s degree in film at Columbia University. Already one can understand his wide-ranging interests.
The first publication he joined was Interview magazine, as an assistant editor. One year later, in 1971, he became the editor and art director. He held positions at Rolling Stone and Oui before joining High Times. In 1978, he became the editor-in-chief of the latter publication before stepping into the role of “editor-at-large,” a term that he is credited for coining.
O’Brien helped found Spin magazine, the arts publication Bomb, and worked for a copy editor at Barney’s before becoming the creative director of the New York retailer.
He’s held long-running columns and contributing editorships for Interview (“Glenn O’Brien’s Beat”), Art Forum, Allure, Paper, Arena Homme Plus, Vanity Fair Italia, and of course, Details, where he was the longstanding “Style Guy” before he moved the popular column to GQ. When he was unceremoniously replaced as the column head in the summer of 2015, he gave one of the best interviews of the year, calling the move “offensive”, and saying “they could have at least called their replacement the ‘Style Intern.’”
But back to his accomplishments. He edited two of Madonna’s books (SEX, and The Girly Show), as well as his own books SOAPBOX: Essays Diatribes Homilies and Screeds, and How to be a Man, among others. Outside of writing, he also formed the bands Konelrad with artists Douglas Kelley and Neke Carson, and Chad and Sudan with David Johansen. He hosted the television show Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party, wrote and produced the film Downtown 81, and at one point was a standup comedian. He also was a freelance copy editor and creative director for Calvin Klein in the '90s. He was even the creative director of Island Records. Yes, really.
This is but a smattering of the work that he has done, and listing it all would be both exhausting and unnecessary, as it is all outlined on his website, where one can really get a sense of his humor. To wit, the opening line of the bio section on his site reads: “The Story of My (Work) Life [Long, Stalker Version]” and later states that was a “Pisces with Aquarius rising and a Cancer moon”.
Glenn O’Brien will be dearly missed by many in the fashion, art, and publishing worlds. He was the type of honest, lively, engaging writer and thinker that many young journalists (this writer included) hope to become.
O’Brien is survived by his wife and two sons.