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Obituary
Clay Felker

17 July 2008

Clay Felker, an innovative magazine editor and the namesake of the Felker Magazine Center at the Graduate School of Journalism, died July 1 at the age of 82, following a long battle with throat cancer.

Neil Henry, dean of the journalism school, called Felker “a treasure” and recalled that he brought “tremendous passion, dignity, and deep conviction about the importance of journalism in American society to his teaching.”

An iconic figure in the magazine world, Felker edited New York magazine, which he launched as a Sunday supplement to the New York Herald Tribune in 1964 and took independent in 1969. Felker was credited with helping to develop the New Journalism of the 1960s, as reflected in the writings of such New York contributors as Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson.

New York magazine was eventually purchased by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The Village Voice, bought by Felker in 1974, and New West — a West Coast version of New York that Felker began in 1975 — also were eventually made part of the Murdoch empire.

Along the way, Felker was editor at publications that included Esquire and Adweek. He also developed Manhattan Inc., a magazine that (he told the San Francisco Chronicle) “was founded on the premise that investment bankers were the rock stars of the 1980s” before it floundered in the wake of the stock-market crash of 1987 and folded three years later.

“Magazines die when tastes change,” Felker was quoted as saying in a 2002 issue of the Graduate School of Journalism’s North Gate News. “When young people come up with new generational ideas, new values, new magazines come up.”

Thomas Goldstein, the director of Berkeley’s Media Studies program and dean of the journalism school from 1988 to 1996, talked with Felker in the early ’90s about a role for him at North Gate Hall. “He had decided that he wanted to spend his next act in the West,” recalled Goldstein, noting Felker’s keen interest in Silicon Valley and high tech.

Felker joined the Berkeley faculty as a lecturer in 1994, and the Graduate School of Journalism established the endowed Felker Magazine Center a year later. He and his wife, writer Gail Sheehy, moved to Berkeley in 1995, although they maintained a residence in Manhattan.

Henry said that Felker “shared his remarkable background and wisdom as a journalism pioneer with his students at North Gate as if they were equal partners in the enterprise of publishing a magazine from concept to the printer.” The school’s magazine program features editing workshops that pair students one-on-one for a semester with some of the best editors in the country, as well as visits from top magazine journalists who teach workshops and courses.

Felker was born in Webster Groves, Mo., in 1928. He is survived by his wife, Gail Sheehy of New York City; a sister, Charlotte Gallagher; a daughter, Mohm Sheehy of Cambridge; and a stepdaughter, Maura Sheehy Moss of Brooklyn.

Funeral services are pending. Plans are underway for a memorial program at the journalism school sometime during the fall 2008 semester.

— Kathleen Maclay