The famed art director, who died Friday at the age of 91, was known for Esquire covers and ‘I want my MTV’ slogan

The ad industry is remembering the life of George Lois, the New York advertising legend behind iconic Esquire covers, seminal ads over the 20th century and the slogan “I Want My MTV.” Lois died at the age of 91 on Friday.

Lois gained fame and won major awards with his work for agencies including Doyle Dane Bernbach, Papert Koenig Lois and Lois Holland Callaway. He also became the youngest inductee into the Art Directors Hall of Fame.

His career spanned an astonishing 60 years in the advertising industry. He began his career at Sudler & Hennessy in New York in 1956 before joining Doyle Dane Bernbach (now DDB) in its early days.

“George was giant in our industry,” Mat Bisher, chief creative officer at DDB New York, told Ad Age. “His commitment to the big idea was revolutionary; he had an unwavering passion for what he believed. It was a stake in the ground for creativity as a force in advertising and culture.”

And Rick Brim, chief creative officer at Adam&Eve/DDB, added: “There are two types of exceptional creatives. The ones who create ground-breaking trends again and again, and the ones who create work so timeless that it feels as fresh today as it did 40 years ago and will remain so for the next 40 year’s time. George Lois is most definitely the latter. His work has way outlasted many of its subject matters, from his iconic Esquire magazine covers to the “I want my MTV” campaign. All of his work is still effortless, it’s still cool and still makes me really jealous.”

Early in his career, Lois was particularly well-known for his bold, clean images in work for Wolfschmidt vodka, Xerox, Allerest, Maypo, Wheatena and Edwards & Hanly.

Credit: George Lois/Wolfschmidt

Long before celebrities were ubiquitous in advertising, in the 1960s Lois persuaded icons of the art world, including Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, to feature in a series of memorable commercials for Braniff Airlines, pairing them with unexpected seatmates such as boxer Sonny Liston and baseball pitcher Whitey Ford. The tagline was “When you got it, flaunt it!”

His Esquire covers became part of MOMA’s permanent exhibition in 2008. They included Warhol drowning in a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, depicting the decline of pop art, and Muhammad Ali portrayed as the martyr Saint Sebastian. They also touched on provocative subjects like racism and religion. One cover depicted Black boxer Sonny Liston in a Santa hat; Time Magazine said: “George Lois’ Esquire cover depicting Sonny Liston as America’s first Black Santa…is one of the greatest social statements of the plastic arts since Picasso’s Guernica.”

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