Condé Nast publishing magnate S.I. Newhouse Jr., who with his younger brother inherited a media empire from their father, died Oct. 1 in Manhattan. He was 89.
Taking over the impressive publishing company, Newhouse (known as Si) presided over the magazine division that eventually included Vogue, The New Yorker, Glamour, Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest, Details, Self, Wired, Bon Appetit and GQ, among others. In 1980, he built the book side of the business, purchasing Random House, including Alfred A. Knopf.
Samuel Irving Newhouse Jr. was born on Nov. 8, 1927, in Manhattan to Mitzi (nee Epstein) and Samuel Newhouse Sr., known as Sam. His father, the son of a Russian-Jewish immigrant, became a lawyer and invested in The Staten Island Advance, a failing newspaper, The New York Times reported. The elder Newhouse and his brothers slowly built one of the largest newspaper chains in the country.
In 1993, Newhouse told Mediaweek, “I was brought up and trained in a very personal business by my father and his brothers, and they were all very personal operators and close to what they were doing.”
At his death, Newhouse’s title was chairman emeritus of Condé Nast. His brother, Donald, led the profitable newspaper and cable television operations, which included The Star-Ledger of New Jersey, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland and The Oregonian of Portland, Ore., among dozens of others.
Si Newhouse dropped out of Syracuse University, and his first marriage, to Jane Franke, with whom he had children Sam, Wynn and Pamela, ended in divorce after eight years, in 1959, The New York Times reported.
Newhouse, who died four days after another pioneer of magazine publishing, Hugh Hefner, was short, introverted and favored old sweaters and sneakers, belying estimates of the family wealth that run at more than $12 billion, according to The Times. An art aficionado, Newhouse owned a collection at one time valued at more than $100 million.
Condé Nast’s glossy magazines influenced fashion, American culture and social tastes for decades. In 2011, the company launched Condé Nast Entertainment to develop film, television and digital programming. But while Newhouse oversaw the transition to multiple platforms, he also culled less successful publications, including the magazines Gourmet, and House and Garden.
“Si Newhouse was the most extraordinary leader,” Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour said in a statement on vogue.com. “Wherever he led, we followed, unquestioningly, simply because he put the most incredible faith in us. Si never looked at data, or statistics, but went with his instincts, and expected us to do the same. He was quick to encourage us to take risks, and effusive in his praise when they paid off.
“There was nothing showy about the way Si led though. This humble, thoughtful, idiosyncratic man, possibly the least judgmental person I have ever known, preferred family, friends, art, movies, and his beloved pugs over the flashiness of the New York media world, and his personality shaped the entire company; it might have been a huge global entity, yet one felt a deep, personal connection to it, all because of him.”
Nephew Steven Newhouse, chair of Condé Nast owner Advance Publications, told The Associated Press: “He was passionate about journalism and he supported journalists and editors. He set an example of caring about the right things in media, which is great stories, great design, great magazines, great websites.”
Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter wrote, “So goes the last of the great visionaries of the magazine business. Indeed, in a career that spanned more than six decades, he placed the Newhouse family name firmly in the pantheon of American publishing, alongside those of Luce, Sulzberger, Graham, and Hearst.”
Newhouse is survived by his second wife, Victoria; son Sam; daughter Pamela Mensch; five grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and brother Donald. His son Wynn died in 2010.