GQ's Art Cooper
Legendary editor whose appetites were legendary
It's not often that the manner of a person's death reflects on the substance of his or her life. Art Cooper was an exception.
Cooper died yesterday afternoon at New York Hospital, four days after suffering a massive stroke. He was 65. A lifelong journalist, he had just finished a 20-year run as editor of the men's magazine GQ. His final issue, containing his farewell editor's letter, was still on sale at newsstands.
Cooper loved eating and drinking as much as he loved great magazine writing, and his favorite place to enjoy the former while talking about the latter was at Manhattan's Four Seasons restaurant. It was there that he suffered the stroke while lunching with David Zinczenko, editor of Men's Health.
Cooper took over GQ in 1983 and remade it from a lightweight fashion magazine with a predominantly gay readership into a mainstream men's lifestyle title showcasing top-shelf long-form journalism, fiction, food writing, criticism and fashion photography. He was nominated for 27 National Magazine Awards, winning three, and was inducted earlier this year in the American Society of Magazine Editors' Hall of Fame.
Prior to joining GQ, Cooper was editor of Family Weekly and, before that, Penthouse. Over the course of his career, he served as a mentor to a number of today's most prominent magazine editors and writers.
David Granger was Cooper's No. 2 at GQ before leaving to head up rival Esquire. Kate White, now editor of Cosmopolitan, worked under him at Family Weekly. Michael Kelly's breakout Gulf War reporting appeared in GQ. Kelly, who went on to edit The Atlantic Monthly, died this spring in a Humvee accident in Iraq.
"What Art conveyed, with his body language and everything else, was utter confidence -- this total aura of being in control," says Granger, who worked under Cooper for more than five years.
"He taught me that that's kind of the most important thing about being an editor in chief. You've got to infuse your staff with confidence."
Cooper's GQ surpassed Esquire in circulation while consistently leading its category in advertising sales.
In recent years, GQ's dominance has been threatened by Maxim and other lad magazines, which rely for their appeal on sexy photo spreads and humor rather than sophistication and good writing. With a circulation of more than 2.5 million, Maxim now dwarfs GQ, at about 800,000, although GQ remains the ad page leader.
Cooper's response was to deride the newcomers as publications for the drooling demographic. At the urging of his boss, Conde Nast chairman Si Newhouse, however, Cooper also copied the lad magazines in small ways, adding a sex advice column and more racy photo spreads to GQ.
Despite frequent verbal sparring between Cooper and the lad magazine editors, Maxim founder Felix Dennis paid his respects upon hearing of Cooper's death.
"The American publishing industry has lost a scholar and a gentleman," Dennis said. "For many years, Art Cooper was men's lifestyle publishing in the USA and, all joking aside, we mourn his passing."
Ultimately, Newhouse decided that a younger man's sensibility was needed at GQ if it was to remain competitive. Cooper announced his retirement in February, and Newhouse promoted GQ executive editor Jim Nelson to succeed him.
While Cooper's mode of passing had a certain poetic quality to it, his death was also untimely. He never got a chance to use the round-the-world airplane tickets Newhouse gave him and his wife, former Mademoiselle editor Amy Cooper, as a retirement present. The two would have celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary yesterday.
June 10, 2003© 2003 Media Life