David Kennedy, co-founder of Wieden+Kennedy and one of the creative minds behind Nike’s iconic “Just Do It” campaign, died Sunday. He was 82. The agency has temporarily renamed itself Kennedy+Wieden in his honor.
“David Kennedy was the purest part of the heart of Wieden+Kennedy,” said agency President Colleen DeCourcy.
Kennedy met longtime partner and agency Co-Founder Dan Wieden when they both worked at McCann-Erickson in Portland, Oregon, in the late 1970s. In 1982, they made the (some said foolish) decision to go their own way, walking away from comfortable posts at an established shop. But they brought their client Nike with them.
Soon after, the fledgling agency created Nike’s first national TV spots, kicking off two decades of now-legendary work for the brand, putting the city of Portland on the creative map and proving that independent agencies could be as influential as their holding company peers.
“David had three passions. His family and creativity were on that list. But his passion for helping the little guy is what made him so unique. Those who are too often overlooked and under-valued. And inspiring them to step up and do great things,” said Dave Luhr, former chairman and president at W+K. “People often ask me what made W+K so special. David Kennedy made W+K so special. We lost a great one. His imprint and legacy will live on.”
Kennedy was born in Kansas in 1939. A welding apprenticeship at 13 instilled in him a lifelong appreciation for the craft, and he went on to study metal sculpture and printmaking at the University of Colorado, passions he continued even well after retirement.
He wed his wife Kathleen in 1963, and the couple settled in Chicago, where they had five children while he worked as a designer and art director at Young & Rubicam, Leo Burnett, Needham and Benton & Bowles. In 1979, he jumped at the chance to move out West, where he had spent much of his youth, leading to his fateful rendezvous with Wieden at McCann-Erickson.
"Dan deeply felt the loss of his longtime partner in business/in wild craziness/in brotherhood yesterday when he was informed of David Kennedy’s passing," reads a statement from Dan Wieden provided to Ad Age via his wife Priscilla. "Together they failed hard and succeeded huge and had more fun than they ever imagined along the way. As tears fell, he remembered the heart and soul of a good man, a man he loved."
In the early years of Wieden+Kennedy, the pair worked closely together on campaigns for a growing number of clients. Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed appeared a Honda scooter ad in 1985, one of the first to employ a shaky-cam. Nike debuted “Just Do It” in its 1988 spot “Walt Stack.” After that followed the “Bo Knows” spots and partnerships with Michael Jordan and Spike Lee.