Obituary: Art Cooper's legacy

By Published on .

Most Popular
Art Cooper, the just-retired longtime editor in chief of Conde Nast Publications' GQ, died June 9 at Manhattan's New York Hospital. He was 65.

Mr. Cooper collapsed while having lunch June 5 at Manhattan's Four Seasons. He suffered a severe stroke.

He passed away as the final issue of GQ that he edited was still on newsstands. He was stricken at his favorite haunt while accompanied by Rodale's Men's Health Editor in Chief Dave Zinczenko-who'd been favored to replace him.

potential

Mr. Cooper took over GQ in 1983. At that point he was editor of Family Weekly, a now-defunct competitor to Advance Communications' newspaper supplement Parade, which he came to after a stint editing Penthouse. In `83, GQ was a marginal men's title, but Mr. Cooper sensed potential.

"If I could get that magazine," he recalled thinking about GQ in the early '80s during a recent interview with Ad Age, "I could put Esquire out of business."

He didn't, but soon the creative mojo at men's magazines clearly shifted to GQ, thanks to Mr. Cooper's coupling of his luxe-life taste with literary ambition. Last year GQ's ad pages virtually doubled Esquire's.

Mr. Cooper also became an archetype of a certain kind of magazine editor-in his case, the bon vivant living out a fantasy life, with his own banquette at the Four Seasons.

"He made being a magazine editor feel like a romantic, dashing career," said Linda Wells, editor in chief of Conde Nast's Allure. "He turned it into this adventure, rather than it being sitting there editing stories and figuring out budgets."

Under Mr. Cooper, GQ received 27 National Magazine Award nominations and won three. In January, Mr. Cooper was inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors' Hall of Fame.

But his final years at GQ were met with whispers he'd lost his touch. Newsstand sales declined in six consecutive six-month periods leading up to the last half of 2002.

`Lad' titles

During that time the "lad" titles, such as Dennis Publishing's Maxim, reset the cultural landscape for men's magazines. These magazines' success made Mr. Cooper's magazine, with its lengthy articles and seemingly bygone Good Life ideal, look slightly behind the cultural curve-to Mr. Cooper's chagrin.

"I never thought I'd live to see the day when an editor is criticized for trying to do good work, trying to promote elegant writing," Mr. Cooper said in his final Ad Age interview. "I'm sorry. I don't agree with that."

Mr. Cooper walked into a Feb. 24 meeting with his boss, Samuel I. Newhouse Jr., and left with a June 1 retirement date. Jim Nelson, a GQ executive editor, was tapped to replace him.

An alumnus of Pennsylvania State University and a Berwick, Pa. native, Mr. Cooper is survived by his wife, Amy Levin Cooper, former editor of Conde Nast's Mademoiselle.

In this article: