Felix Dennis, an author, poet and media tycoon who rose to fame in the 1960s and later founded Maxim magazine, has died after a battle with throat cancer, his family announced. He was 67.
Dennis emerged as a champion of free press as editor of Oz magazine, a London-based counterculture publication, when he and two co-defendants stood trial for “conspiracy to corrupt public morals” over a sexually explicit comic strip.
He later founded Dennis Publishing, which created Maxim, among other titles, and became a successful author and poet.
Read on for more about his life and legacy.
1. He Had Been Battling Throat Cancer for 2 Years
RIP, Felix Dennis. pic.twitter.com/XdgTDmk9SZ
— Elliot (@helloitselliot) June 23, 2014
According to Dennis’ website, a doctor noticed an unusual lump in Dennis’ throat when he was on the island of Mustique in 2012. He was then diagnosed with throat cancer after he returned to the United Kingdom.
Dennis’ website includes a collection of letters that he wrote to friends and colleagues after his diagnosis.
On December 20, 2012, he wrote a letter titled “Thoughts on Symptoms, Surrender, ‘Going Gentle’ and the Bridge of Futility,” which began as follows:
Although I’m making progress, I must hasten to add that there is no guarantee of a ‘cure’. Nor am I the same physically or mentally as I was prior to all this. Quite probably, I never shall be.
My hearing is still above average, but my left ear is ‘disassociated’ from the rest of me. I often feel unbalanced, as if my ears had not ‘popped’ after diving in water or descending in an aeroplane. I’m told that my voice has returned to normal, whether on stage or tête-à-tête, but to me it sounds as if I’m mumbling through bone. Which, in a way, I guess, I am.
2. He Founded Maxim & Sold it & its Sister Magazines for $250 Million
Dennis Publications, the company founded by Dennis, launched Maxim in 1995 and turned it into one of the most successful men’s magazines in the world.
In 2007, the company sold Maxim, Blender and Self to American hedge fund Quadrangle for what Dennis’ website says was close to $250 million. The media group Quadrangle created to manage the magazines, Alpha Media Group, sold Maxim in 2014 to restaurant company Bilgari Holdings for a cost estimated at between $10 and $15 million.
3. He Was a Defendant in a Historic Trial About ‘Public Morals’ and Freedom of the Press
Dennis and his co-defendants Richard Neville and James Anderson (pictured above, with Neville at left, Dennis in the middle and Anderson on the right), rose to fame in England during their 1971 conspiracy trial, during which barrister John Mortimer successfully lobbied the jury to deliver a non-guilty verdict on the conspiracy charge.
The charges were filed after the magazine, under the direction of Dennis, ran a sexually explicit version of Rupert Bear, a popular British children’s comic strip.
Dennis recounted the trial — and Mortimer’s performance — in a 2009 tribute he wrote after Mortimer died in 2009. In The Week, a publication Dennis founded, he wrote:
In the event, John Mortimer, against all the odds, and (let it be admitted) the expectations of his clients, persuaded the jury at the OZ Trial that this conspiracy charge was utterly disproportionate to whatever sins we may have committed. Again and again, he demanded they dismiss the conspiracy charge as a monstrous imposition on freedom of speech and thought.
The three were convicted of two lesser charges, but the convictions were quashed by an appeals court in 1973. They’re pictured above celebrating the charges getting overturned.
4. He Lived on a Private Island in the Caribbean
Yesterday, The Week and @mental_floss lost our leader and friend, Felix Dennis: http://t.co/rPeeaaFjNS pic.twitter.com/CoQkzrsh1b
— The Week (@TheWeek) June 23, 2014
For years, Dennis split his time between the U.K. and the private island of Mustique, which is part of the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Independent reported in April 2014 that Dennis had arranged for every child in the country to get a new laptop.
After rounds of negotiation – involving the bearded British media mogul, the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Microsoft, the Taiwanese computer giant Acer, the former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his troubled successor Nicholas Maduro – each one of the 12,500 secondary school children in the island country is to be given a new laptop computer.
5. He Reviewed Led Zeppelin’s First Album for ‘Ox’ in 1969
RIP Felix Dennis, passing at his Warwickshire home. A one off. I remember his exclusive review of Led Zeppelin's first album.
— Stuart Linnell (@Stuart_Linnell) June 23, 2014
Dennis rose to fame as a writer in part because of a 1969 review he wrote for Oz of Led Zeppelin’s first album. The review and other writing helped Dennis earn a promotion to editor.
The review began:
Very occasionally a long-playing record is released that defies immediate classification or description, simply because it’s so obviously a turning point in rock music that only time proves capable of shifting it into eventual perspective. (Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, The Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday, Disraeli Gears, Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? and Sgt. Pepper). This Led Zeppelin album is like that.
You can read the full review here on Dennis’ website.