Trend mannequin Gail O’Neill, who helped to enhance variety on runways, in campaigns and in promoting within the ’80s and ’90s earlier than constructing a second profession in broadcast journalism, died on Tuesday.
O’Neill, 61, is believed to have been in her Atlanta residence on the time of her dying, in line with Click on Mannequin agent Stephanie Grill, who represented O’Neill for many years. The reason for dying was not instantly recognized, Grill mentioned. Her household is planning a celebration of her life for a later time.
After establishing herself as a number one style mannequin, O’Neill switched professions and mediums, as an on-air persona for CBS’ “The Early Present,” CNN and HGTV.
Born and raised in leafy Westchester County, N.Y., O’Neill attended Wesleyan College. Her first post-college job in advertising and marketing for Xerox unexpectedly turned out to be the gateway to excessive style. Flying for enterprise, the photographer Chuck Baker and his stylist spouse Martha noticed her on the airplane and requested for her telephone quantity. They later rang up Click on Mannequin’s founder Frances Grill to say they discovered “this nice woman” and after assembly O’Neill, she was instantly despatched out for castings, Grill’s daughter Stephanie mentioned.
From there, her profession took off, and he or she landed main jobs with top-notch photographers like Steven Meisel, Annie Leibovitz, Albert Watson, Arthur Elgort, Fabrizio Ferri, Gilles Bensimo, Alex Chatelain and Patrick Demarchelier and covers for British Vogue, Italian Vogue, American Vogue, Mademoiselle, Elle and Glamour.
“Individuals simply liked her. They might re-book her and re-book her. She was a significant magnificence with this lovely persona — so genuine and type. And she or he actually had a lot integrity,” Grill mentioned. “She would have had 5 or 6 jobs a day, if she might. She had so many choices. Everyone wished to work with Gail O’Neill.”
“She did all of it and at a time when it was troublesome to get Black ladies on something,” mentioned Grill. “Purchasers would badger me with calls [laughs], hoping for a cancellation. I’d inform them, ‘No, you must get another person.’”
Multitalented as a mannequin, the 5-foot, 9-inch New Yorker bridged editorial, promoting and runway work. O’Neill additionally held quick to her beliefs, refusing to seem in adverts for firms that made cigarettes.
She rose to fame in an period when white fashions dominated the sphere. O’Neill was an early supporter of the Black Ladies Coalition, the advocacy and assist group that was based by Bethann Hardison in 1988 for Black fashions, and stays energetic at present. O’Neill was recognized for all the time serving to and advocating for different folks, typically behind the scenes, Grill mentioned.
Enjoyable, good, selfless and family-oriented, O’Neill was not blinded by the glamour of modeling. (Her sister Denise was additionally a a lot sought-after Click on mannequin.)
She was recognized for her punctuality and professionalism, Grill mentioned, and infrequently talked about her profession, preferring to speak about all of her different pursuits. “Modeling was only a job for her. You don’t meet numerous Gail O’Neills. She all the time popping in to say ‘hello’ and doing issues for different folks,” Grill mentioned.
Eloquent and free from any pretenses, O’Neill was extra inclined to look outward than inward. She as soon as defined that magnificence, or a scarcity of it, was not one thing she ever considered as a younger youngster in a 2013 on-line interview with the American Museum of Pure Historical past. She mentioned, “I believe youngsters are way more adept at perceiving true magnificence, as a result of they haven’t been corrupted by outdoors forces. Likewise, the older we get, and the extra we purchase into mass media’s definition of magnificence, the extra possible we’re to seek out fault with ourselves and others.”
Making the purpose that she was “no exception” to that ideology, O’Neill mentioned that on the age of 11 or 12 she thought of her tall, skinny body to be “some type of cosmic joke” together with her being “the punchline.” She continued, “However present me a baby who appears like that at present, and I see how lovely they’re — like a bit gazelle or a child giraffe.”
Years later, O’Neill was constantly featured in editorial spreads and covers of style magazines. In 1994, she appeared on the much-coveted Sports activities Illustrated swimsuit difficulty carrying a star-spangled one-piece with Ashley Richardson and Roshumba Williams. Whereas modeling for main designers and types together with Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Willi Smith, Perry Ellis, Calvin Klein perfume, J. Crew, Liz Claiborne and Nordstrom, O’Neill helped to dispel stereotypes about what outlined American magnificence.
One among her first TV assignments was working as a correspondent on CBS’ “The Early Present,” when it debuted in 1999. Her tv profession later prolonged to CNN and HGTV. In recent times, as an editor-at-large and a books-focused columnist, O’Neill lined arts and tradition for ArtsAtl, an Atlanta nonprofit. She additionally hosted and coproduced “Collective Data,” a conversational collection broadcast on TheA community. Even after relocating to Atlanta and venturing into different areas professionally, modeling requests for O’Neill had been nonetheless being made earlier this 12 months, Grill mentioned.
O’Neill additionally developed an curiosity in pictures. She mentioned shifting from in entrance of the digital camera to behind the digital camera within the 2013 interview, saying on the time: “There may be nothing extra lovely to me than authenticity. When a topic trusts me sufficient to drop their masks and present me who they are surely, magic occurs. My Aunt Rosie is my favourite mannequin because of this. Her child-like nature, playfulness, and large, exuberant persona all the time come by means of in my photos.”
Along with her sister Denise, O’Neill is survived by her husband Paul, whose surname was not instantly recognized, her mom Elaine and her brother Randy.