ArtNews just described Glenn O’Brien as “the dapper, instantly recognizable art world fixture” “who shaped the cultural identity of 1980s New York” – high praise, indeed, and a fitting tribute to the writer/editor/Warhol associate/and early cable icon. Over the past four decades, O’Brien edited and/or contributed to Rolling Stone, Oui, High Times, Allure, Esquire, and The New Yorker, among others. He wrote long-running, influential columns on music (“Glenn O’Brien’s BEAT”) for Interview, on advertising (“Like Art”) for Artforum, and men’s fashion (“The Style Guy”) for Details and GQ.
Alongside co-editor Bob Colacello, in fact, he helped found Interview magazine in the early 1970s, when Andy Warhol was still publishing the magazine out of the Factory.
But it was his public access television show TV party which cemented his status as a downtown legend.
In the 1980s, O’Brien effectively channeled the Factory for the Mudd Club crew with his public-access television show TV Party, a blend of live music, half-coherent interviews, zany skits, and idiosyncratic debauchery.
“Instead of everybody going to a club, they would show up at this TV studio,” said Chris Stein, the Blondie guitarist who cofounded the show, in 2015. TV Party was broadcast live on Tuesday mornings at 12:30 a.m. from 1978 to 1982 in a small studio anyone could rent for $60 an hour to air their own public-access programming.
“The show ran on Channel D and Channel J, and was quite popular with the kids,” O’Brien said in 2014. “We lucked into following the Robin Byrd Show for a while, and so inherited an audience of horny guys. We also got a big high school following thanks to smoking a bunch of pot and talking shit.”
One episode opens with O’Brien rolling a joint with virtuosic skill while blindfolded. Later on, the fashion photographer Steven Meisel gives a makeover to a girl he met in a nearby bar before the musician Fab Five Freddie starts taking phone calls from viewers. Guests over the years included the artists Jean-Michel Basquiat, Chris Burden, and Robert Mapplethorpe, and the musicians David Byrne, Mick Jones, and Iggy Pop. Debbie Harry once stopped by to bounce around on a pogo stick.
Glenn O’Brien had been battling a serous illness for many years, when he died this morning. He was 70 years old.