Wells, Rich, Greene Co-Founder Dick Rich Dies at 84

Mr. Rich's Wry Spots for Alka-Seltzer and Benson & Hedges Cigarettes Became Classics

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Dick Rich, a founder of the legendary agency Wells, Rich, Greene who turned vignettes of indigestion and cigarette mishaps into some of the most enduring TV commercials of the era, died in New York on Nov. 11. He was 84.

His death, of a heart attack, was confirmed by his wife Silvia Rich.

Stewart Greene, Dick Rich (middle) and Mary Wells in 1966, when their agency first launched.
Stewart Greene, Dick Rich (middle) and Mary Wells in 1966, when their agency first launched.

Buzz abounded in 1966 when Mr. Rich and his colleagues Stewart Greene and Mary Wells Lawrence left Jack Tinker & Partners to found their own firm. The new venture was successful almost immediately, with Mr. Rich taking the lead on now-famous spots for Alka-Seltzer and Benson & Hedges cigarettes.

The Alka-Seltzer spot shows a series of stomachs -- trim and jiggly, male and female, old and young -- and advised: "No matter what shape your stomach's in, when it gets out of shape, take Alka-Seltzer" to relieve "the flutters," heartburn, headaches and even "nervous feelings."

A Benson & Hedges spot also featured everyday situations, focusing on the "disadvantages of the Benson & Hedges 100s," extra-long cigarettes that got in the way of everything from moviemaking and car repair to fishing in the spot. "Benson & Hedges 100s must taste pretty good," it concluded. "Look what people put up with to smoke them."

These series of vignettes showed the products as having broad appeal, and they helped Mr. Rich, who is said to have wanted his ads to work even in foreign countries, to indulge his image-first aesthetic.

The humor was also a frequent feature of Wells Rich Greene work, although it helped that "many of WRG's clients were second-tier brands looking for attention," according to Ad Age's Encyclopedia. He also worked on the firm's ads for blue chip clients like TWA.

His humor was one of his defining features, his wife said. She said she believed that his final thought, before dying while taking a stroll, was, "See what happens when I go for a walk!"

Within just two years of opening, WRG was at the top of the thriving Madison Avenue ad world. It was one of the top 15 ad agencies in the country and billed more than $59 million annually within two years.

In 1969, a year after WRG became the ninth American agency to go public, Mr. Rich left to form Dick Rich Inc. He would go on to work on campaigns for Wendy's and the Commodore 64, an early PC.

After a series of name changes and acquisitions, WRG closed in 1998.

Mr. Rich was born Richard Lowell Aufrichtig on Oct. 27, 1930. The "through-and-through" New Yorker attended Brooklyn Technical High School and graduated from NYU in 1952. He married Ms. Rich in 1964.

In addition to Ms. Rich and their daughters Nina Rich and Rebecca Nott, he is survived by three children from his first marriage to the former Irene O'Connor -- Karen Rich, Lesley Smith and Christopher Rich -- and seven grandchildren.

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