Clarification to This Article
The July 2 obituary of Clay S. Felker omitted the name of Sheldon Zalaznick, who was the first editor of New York magazine in the early 1960s, when it was part of the New York Herald Tribune newspaper. Felker was founding editor of the independent New York magazine in 1968.

Clay S. Felker, 82; Influential Editor of New York Magazine

Clay Felker helped shape new journalism in the 1960s with such writers as Tom Wolfe and Jimmy Breslin.
Clay Felker helped shape new journalism in the 1960s with such writers as Tom Wolfe and Jimmy Breslin. (Associated Press)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Clay S. Felker, the pioneering editor who founded New York magazine and helped launch the new journalism of the 1960s, with its novelistic techniques and strong point of view, died July 1 at his Manhattan home at 82. He had battled throat cancer in recent years.

"He had beaten cancer three times," his wife, writer Gail Sheehy, said yesterday. "He died at home in his sleep."

By defining the form of the modern city magazine and encouraging writers to address modern life in a bold, vividly descriptive style, Mr. Felker was one of the most influential journalists of his time.

His first triumphs came in the mid-1960s, when he was editor of New York, originally the Sunday magazine of the New York Herald Tribune newspaper. He gave writers such as Tom Wolfe and Jimmy Breslin the freedom to roam the city and write as they pleased, making the colorful supplement "the hippest Sunday reading in town," as Newsweek put it.

When the newspaper folded in 1967, Mr. Felker used his severance pay to buy the magazine's name and secured more than $1 million in financing to rebuild New York as a glossy weekly publication. When it debuted on April 8, 1968, it was not an immediate success, but Mr. Felker soon found an innovative formula that would inspire imitators around the world.

He combined in-depth articles on politics, crime and finance with lighter features on shopping, restaurants, reviews and listings that made New York, in Mr. Felker's words, "a guide on how to live in this city." The magazine's lively design, created by art director Milton Glaser, reflected Mr. Felker's view of New York -- both the city and the magazine -- as a bright and varied feast for the mind and the eye.

His complicated personality, which ranged from soothing and encouraging to explosive and temperamental, left few people indifferent.

"He is variously described by associates and acquaintances as autocratic, devious, dishonest, rapacious, egotistical, power mad, paranoid, a bully and a boor," a 1977 Time magazine article said. "Almost in the same breath, the same people call Felker a genius."

In the early years of New York magazine, Mr. Felker assembled a staff of writers that included Wolfe, Gloria Steinem, Nora Ephron, Richard Reeves, Pete Hamill, Jack Newfield, Aaron Latham, Gael Greene and Sheehy, who was Mr. Felker's third wife. He exhorted them to write in distinctively personal voices as they explored the city's trends, horrors and delights. An anthology of writing from New York will be published in fall.

"It was a magazine that helped create the notion of the writer as star," one of Mr. Felker's writers, Ken Auletta, told The Washington Post in 1993.

New York had a tone that seemed to match the heady confusion of the times. Much of the issue of June 8, 1970, was devoted to Wolfe's "Radical Chic," which described a fundraiser for the Black Panthers at the apartment of conductor Leonard Bernstein. Wolfe's scathing story, which coined the term "limousine liberals," became a classic of new journalism. Six years later, in another New York article, Wolfe summed up the entire era when he called it the "Me Decade."

Wolfe called Mr. Felker "the greatest idea man that ever existed" in a 1993 interview with The Washington Post.

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