In memoriam: George Lois (1931 – 2022)

George Lois, the American advertising and graphic design titan, died on 18 November 2022, aged 91

George Lois, trying out the Apple Watch Hermès, surrounded by his design collection in his New York apartment.
George Lois, trying out the Apple Watch Hermès, surrounded by his design collection in his New York apartment
(Image credit: Jason Schmidt)

George Lois, the American advertising and graphic design titan, died in his Manhattan home on Friday 18 November 2022. He was 91. His death was confirmed by his son, Luke, to The New York Times, and comes two months after the death of his wife, Rosemary, an artist whom he met on the first day they attended Pratt Institute in September 1949, and to whom he was dearly devoted. They were together for 71 years.

Muhammad Ali as Saint Sebastian on the cover of Esquire

Muhammad Ali as Saint Sebastian on the cover of Esquire

(Image credit: Esquire)

As an art director, Lois was as visionary as they come. From telling the world how easy it is to work a Xerox machine (a monkey could do it), to turning a then-floundering MTV into a pop-cultural phenomenon, and allegedly inspiring the character of Don Draper in Mad Men, Lois’ many achievements also include creating a decade’s worth of groundbreaking US Esquire magazine covers, 38 of which are in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. These iconic images include Muhammad Ali as Saint Sebastian (‘He pointed to each of the arrows and named them after people who were really after him,’ Lois recounts) and Andy Warhol drowning in an enlarged can of Campbell’s tomato soup. 

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Known for his straight-talking, irreverent and irascible nature, Lois had an unrelenting passion for graphic wit. Throughout his 60-year career, he was behind numerous advertising and creative agencies, wrote books about art direction and advertising, and even collaborated with start-up brands in his later years. He was an avid basketball player and even more fervent collector, with his personal love of art and design reflected in an incredibly diverse personal haul, from Tiffany lamps and Wiener Werkstätte furniture to Native American artefacts and Japanese screens, expertly displayed throughout his Greenwich Village apartment in New York City.

As a Wallpaper* Design Awards judge in 2016, he candidly shared his thoughts on the Apple Watch, stating, ‘It’s an iPhone for health nuts. It’s the kind of watch that you wear and you let everyone know that you’re wearing it. I voted for it because it’s going to be a hot item. It will be after this [story comes out].’

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Amongst the many tributes on social media, the photographer Jeremy Liebman, who photographed Lois in 2011, recalls, ‘He was everything I expected – brash, intense, playful, opinionated – and a few things I didn’t – kind, collaborative, accommodating. He talked about his pick-up basketball games and demonstrated how the Knicks were terrible at rebounding and how they should have been doing it. It’s the first and only time I’ve ever been physically shoved around by an 80-year-old, and I’ll cherish it forever.’

Pei-Ru Keh is the US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru has held various titles at Wallpaper* since she joined in 2007. She currently reports on design, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru has taken a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars and actively seeks out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.