Legendary Supermodel Turned Journalist Gail O’Neill Has Died

She appeared on several covers of Essence, and in 2008, she posed for Vogue Italia for its iconic “Black Issue” to bring awareness for the lack of diversity in the fashion and beauty industry.

With heavy hearts, we report that legendary supermodel turned journalist Gail O’Neill has died. She was 60.

Earlier this week, posts began floating around Instagram commemorating her life and legacy. On Thursday (October 12), her death was confirmed by her agency with Vogue.

As the daughter of Jamaican immigrants and one of three siblings, O’Neill was destined for success, and became a pioneer who served as an agent of change in the fashion industry.

In 1985, she began making a name for herself while working at Xerox in marketing and sales. Things took a fashionable turn for her when photographer Chuck Barry scouted her. She soon landed representation at Click Models, and then, in March 1986, she graced the cover of British Vogue. That launched a movement of Black models, revered as a renaissance, charted by models securing high fashion gigs in magazines and on runways.

Gail would become the face of Avon, Esprit, and Diet Coke, among other high-profile brands. Throughout her career, she was front and center on magazine covers for Essence, Glamour, Elle, and Mademoiselle. One of her career's most talked about highlights was landing the 1992 cover of the coveted Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

In 2013, she reflected on her childhood and how beauty helped shaped her view of the world. “Beauty, or a lack of it, was not something I ever thought about as a young child,” she said. “In fact, I think children are far more adept at perceiving true beauty, because they haven’t been corrupted by outside forces. Likewise, the older we get, and the more we buy into mass media’s definition of beauty, the more likely we are to find fault with ourselves and others

“I was no different, and by the time I was 11 or 12 years old I was convinced that my tall, skinny frame was some kind of cosmic joke...with me the punchline.”

O'Neill later became a fashion industry force, though she faced rejection. In 1988, she joined the Black Girls Coalition, founded by Iman and  Bethann Hardison, who told The Hollywood Reporter, "I just wanted to celebrate Black models. I wanted them to see each other."

She pivoted careers in 1999 when she became a correspondent for The Early Show on NBC. She also worked for CNN and HGTV. In 2000, she relocated to Atlanta and became an editor-at-large for ArtsATL. "This is such a huge loss. Gail was a great journalist who cared about her craft, and the people she wrote about," said ArtsATL executive editor Scott Freeman.

"She was a strong ambassador for us in addition to her stellar journalism. She was also a dear friend. Sometimes it felt like she held the city of Atlanta in the palm of her hand; whenever we went to an event together, everyone seemed to know her and wanted to be around her. Gail was special: Humble, vivacious, caring. Simply one of the most incredible people I've ever known."

The trailblazer continued to use her voice and striking beauty to spread awareness of the lack of diversity in the fashion and beauty industry. In July 2008, she posed for Vogue Italia's Black Issue, which sold out in the United States and the U.K. within 24 hours of hitting newsstands.

Her cause of death has not been disclosed.

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