Roy Grace, the award-winning advertising art director responsible for Alka-Seltzer’s “spicy meatball” spots, died of prostate cancer Feb. 26 in New York City. He was 66.
Grace was a leader in the Madison Avenue creative revolution of the ’60s and ’70s. For more than 20 years of his four-decade career, he was a mainstay of Doyle Dane Bernbach (now DDB Worldwide, and besides Alka-Seltzer, he guided creative campaigns for Volkswagen of America and American Tourister luggage.
He was inducted into the Halls of Fame of the Art Directors Club and the One Club for Art and Copy, and won at least 28 Clio awards for commercials and several film festival awards. His work is included on several lists of top commercials of all time, and four of his commercials are among the New York Museum of Modern Art’s collection of 17 classic ads.
Born Jason Roy Grace, Gotham native earned a scholarship to Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. He began as an animator for Paramount but quickly moved to an advertising career, first with Benton & Bowles, then Grey Advertising, before joining Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1964 as a protege of founder Bill Bernbach.
He left the firm briefly in the early ’70s to become a partner in Gilbert, Grace & Stark, but returned to DDB and rose to executive creative director and chairman of U.S. operations.
Besides his classic “Spicy Meatball” spots, which were a break with Alka-Seltzer’s previous campaigns, Grace created the “Funeral” commercial for Volkswagon, showing a funeral procession of luxury cars as a crotchety old man bequeaths his entire $100 billion fortune to his thrifty, VW-driving nephew, Harold, who brings up the rear of the procession in his black bug. Entertainment Weekly rated the commercial as one of its 100 Greatest Moments in TV History, one of the few ads to make the list.
A third memorable ad campaign Grace created for DDB was “Gorilla” for American Tourister, which showed one of its suitcases easily surviving a playful drubbing by a gorilla.
His firm, Grace and Rothschild, operated from 1986 to 2000.
He is survived by his wife, Marcia; a daughter and a son.