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How Does It Feel?

Wenner's wheeling and dealing changed the tone of life at Rolling Stone.

"It became a business," says Stuart Zakim, who was hired and fired -- twice -- as Wenner's PR man. "He started buying other magazines and it became more corporate and buttoned down."

But not totally buttoned down. Wenner sometimes wandered the office swigging from a vodka bottle, and he became legendary for losing his temper and abruptly firing people he once wooed.

"He could be unbelievably cruel," says David White, who was RS's production manager in the '80s. "But he could also be unbelievably generous. If you had a personal problem or a sickness in the family, he'd bend heaven and earth to fix it for you. He'd charter a plane or get the best doctor."

In 1985, Wenner repositioned Rolling Stone with his "perception/reality" ad campaign, which was designed to boost ad sales by changing Madison Avenue's view of the magazine's readers. One ad had the word "perception " above a roach clip, and "reality" above a money clip. Another had "perception" above a peace sign , "reality" over a Mercedes-Benz symbol.

Hipsters grumbled about selling out the ideals of the counterculture, man, but the ads worked: Rolling Stone's advertising revenues skyrocketed.

In 1995, a British newspaper revealed what was already widely known in media circles: Wenner had moved out of the $3 million Manhattan townhouse he shared with his wife, Jane, and their three sons -- and moved in with Matt Nye, a fashion designer and former model. The story sparked a brief media flap, but today Wenner is still married to Jane (who owns a big chunk of Wenner Media) and is still living with Nye.

"It had no impact on his business, and he became more calm and rational," says Zakim. "Since Jann came out, he's healthier than he's ever been. And financially he's in the best shape he's ever been in."

Through it all, Rolling Stone chugged on, its editorial quality rising and falling with the vagaries of pop culture. "God knows the disco years were rough," sighs former Stone writer Gerri Hirshey.

In the '80s, as Thompson's production plummeted, his political slot was filled by P.J. O'Rourke, who did gonzo from a Reagan Republican perspective.

In the late '90s, when "teen pop" ruled the charts, Rolling Stone entered its infamous "all Britney all the time" era -- and for a while, it seemed as if the magazine had hit bottom.

Alas, it hadn't. In 2002, Wenner -- eyeing the success of the "laddie" mags Maxim and FHM -- hired FHM's editor, Ed Needham, to run Rolling Stone. Needham Maximized the magazine with short, zippy, dumbed-down stories.


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