NEW YORK — Art Cooper, the recently retired, longtime editor of GQ, died Monday afternoon at Manhattan’s New York Hospital, four days after he suffered a severe stroke. He was 65.
The news cast a somber shadow on Gotham’s media circle, which just weeks ago had toasted Cooper at his favorite watering hole, the Four Seasons restaurant, when he stepped down from Conde Nast’s GQ after nearly 20 years as editor in chief.
On June 5 Cooper was having lunch with Men’s Health editor in chief David Zinczenko when he had a stroke and was rushed to the hospital.
Allure editor in chief Linda Wells, a good friend of Cooper’s, recalled her first invitation to such a lunch. “There was nothing better than that,” she said. “It was many hours at the Four Seasons filled with juicy, delicious stories. You’d roll back into the office at 3:30 and you’d just have learned a lot of good stuff.”
Cooper was known equally for his joie de vivre and his passion for his work, which began at the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News in 1964. Before arriving at GQ in 1983, he worked on the staff of Newsweek magazines and was editor in chief of Penthouse and of the now-defunct Family Weekly.
But GQ was where he made his mark. Under his leadership, the magazine was reinvented from a marginal men’s fashion mag into more general-interest book with the literary ambition of the 1960s Esquire. Under his tenure, GQ’s total paid circulation soared to more than 800,000. The magazine was nominated for 27 National Magazine Awards and won three.
Cooper was interested only in top talent. Mordecai Richler soon became part of the GQ stable of writers, along with journalists David Halberstam and Garry Wills.
“He always wanted to know who the best writers were and how to employ them,” said New Yorker writer Michael Specter, who said Cooper “was someone who cared passionately about good writing and cared passionately about good living, and was able to encourage one and do the other.”
In recent years, GQ suffered somewhat from the growing popularity of “lad” magazines, such as Maxim, FHM and Stuff. Newsstand sales were down in the six six-month periods leading up to the second half of 2002, when numbers rose.
“He was a class act and resisted the laddie-boy trend,” said New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
Since Cooper’s retirement, his successor, Jim Nelson, has made editorial changes that suggest the magazine is headed in a younger direction. But wherever GQ is headed, Cooper’s imprint remains.
“Whoever comes after Art will have to manipulate and expand upon the template that he designed for GQ,” Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter said. “He made GQ into a magazine.”
Carter added: “He was a dream to work with and to work alongside. He was a man’s man but an editor’s editor.”
Most Cooper memories, however, wind up at the Four Seasons, where the ceremony typically proceeded from the lunch table to the bar for chocolate truffles, espresso and cigarettes (before Cooper quit). “He had lunch there practically every day,” Dowd said. “Sometimes he’d bring whoever was going to be on the cover of GQ, so he’d show up with Sharon Stone or Susan Sarandon. He was having the time of his life to be walking into the Four Seasons with Sharon Stone.”
Cooper told friends he was planning to write a book in retirement.
“I remember thinking he would write the most wonderful novel,” Dowd said.
He is survived by his wife, former Mademoiselle editor Amy Levin Cooper.