NEW YORK — Legendary Playboy artist LeRoy Neiman, whose vivid color-splashed portraits of sports figures and glamorous lifestyles that became synonymous with the men's magazine, died yesterday in New York.
Neiman was 91 years old.
Playboy founder and publisher Hugh Hefner tweeted, “Long time friend & resident Playboy artist LeRoy Neiman has passed away at the age of 91. R.I.P.”
Neiman’s trademark handlebar mustache, slicked-back hair, white suits, flashy hats and Cuban cigars made him an instantly recognizable figure wherever he appeared.
“He quite intentionally invented himself as a flamboyant artist not unlike Salvador Dalí, in much the same way that I became Mr. Playboy in the late ’50s,” Hefner told Cigar Aficionado magazine in 1995.
The artist met Hefner in the early ‘50’s while working at the Carson Pirie Scott department store in Chicago before Playboy was created.
“In 1954, after five issues of Playboy had appeared, Mr. Neiman ran into Mr. Hefner and invited him to his apartment to see his paintings of boxers, strip clubs and restaurants. Mr. Hefner, impressed, showed the work to Playboy’s art director, Art Paul, who commissioned an illustration for 'Black Country,' a story by Charles Beaumont about a jazz musician,” the New York Times reported.
In 1955, Hefner then called on Neiman to jazz up the magazine’s party jokes pages. He answered the call and created the iconic, sexy "Femlin" cartoon character that appears in every issue to this day.
Neiman then came up with a running feature, “Man at His Leisure,” allowing him to travel the globe for the next 15 years, allowing him to send back visual reports on some of the world’s most glamorous happenings.
The artist also documented the heyday of the Playboy Clubs, producing more than 100 paintings and 2 murals for 18 of the clubs that opened around the world.
“Playboy made the good life a reality for me and made it the subject matter of my paintings — not affluence and luxury as such, but joie de vivre itself,” Neiman told V.I.P. magazine in 1962.