LeRoy Neiman 1921-2012 - The last interview before his death

  • All Told by LeRoy Neiman All Told by LeRoy Neiman
  • The artist, LeRoy Neiman
The artist, LeRoy Neiman
  • Janet by LeRoy Neiman Janet by LeRoy Neiman
  • Cafe Deux Magots (1962) by LeRoy Neiman Cafe Deux Magots (1962) by LeRoy Neiman
  • Joe Namath by LeRoy Neiman Joe Namath by LeRoy Neiman
  • Leonard Bernstein by LeRoy Neiman Leonard Bernstein by LeRoy Neiman
  • Hawaiian Surfing by LeRoy Neiman Hawaiian Surfing by LeRoy Neiman
  • Hugh Hefner, LeRoy Neiman and feathered friend Hugh Hefner, LeRoy Neiman and feathered friend
  • Pool hall image by LeRoy Neiman Pool hall image by LeRoy Neiman
  • Stretch Stampede by LeRoy Nieman Stretch Stampede by LeRoy Nieman
  • Charlie Bird Parker by LeRoy Neiman Charlie Bird Parker by LeRoy Neiman
  • Watching Muhammed Ali drawing in Miami Watching Muhammed Ali drawing in Miami

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2012 – LeRoy Neiman, legendary artist, died at 7:50 p.m. on June 20, 2012. He had recently celebrated his 91st birthday on June 8, 2012 and the publication of his memoir, All Told.

His good friend and publicist Gail Parenteau says, in addition to his role as artist-in-residence at Playboy and ABC’s World Wide of Sports, Neiman was named Official Artist of the Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid and in Sarajevo as well as the Summer Olympics, Los Angeles. 

LeRoy’s beloved sport of boxing honored him with the induction into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame in 2000 as well as the 2007 induction to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the Boxing Writers Association and England’s Lonsdale Boxing Club as well as the receipt of the Marvin Kohn Award.

Other awards are the 2002 Friar’s Club Tribute, New York City, the 2004 Ellis Island Medal of Honor, Honorary Doctor of Arts, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Arts Horizon’s 2006 Paul Newman Award Recipient for Services to the Arts and Children.

Neiman is survived by his wife of 55 years, Janet Byrne Neiman. He is a son of Lydia Sophia Serline and Charles Julius Runquist, brother of Earl and a sister Phyllis Mae.

Mrs. Neiman, the Neiman family and friends ask that, “while we mourn the passing of such an extraordinary and talented man his friends and fans celebrate his life. A life that LeRoy loved and lived to the fullest.”

The artist and LeRoy Neiman’s personal assistant Tara Zabor said, “I have worked for LeRoy in his studio for 5 years now. LeRoy was always in the right place at exactly the right moment. His luck and his perfect sense of timing wrote an immensely unique and bold life story.

“I will miss sitting with him in the studio at the end of the day, hearing each one of those stories.”


Writer Mary Tabor was fortunate to interview Mr. Neiman in celebration of his book,  All Told and his 91st birthday. That interview, was, we believe the last one granted by the artist.

Cafe de Magots by LeRoy Neiman c. 1962 (click to enlarge)

Mary writes “My heart goes out to his family and I quote in his honor the poet Marianne Moore”:

His mighty singing … how pure a thing is joy.

This is mortality, this is eternity.

The condolences of the entire Communities staff is extended to the Neiman family and friends.



WASHINGTON, DC, June 8, 2012 — LeRoy Neiman, whose paintings, posters and famed handlebar mustache make him one of the most recognizable artists of our time, has written an autobiography that we celebrate today on his 91st birthday. He tells it all in All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies and Provocateurs.

In his new book, Neiman gives us the powerful story of his creative journey through rejection, along with his scoops on the famed and storied folk he’s met, cavorted with, and, yes, painted.

We journey along with him from his early years as a scrappy kid in Saint Paul, Minnesota, through his decision—before he even finished high school—to join the Army during the second great war, to his celebrated career as the “Playboy artist in residence,” as he calls himself; and from there to see his work regularly featured on TV’s Wide World of Sports and to become the man who met and painted Muhammad Ali and virtually every sport and movie legend of his time.

To ring in a Frank Sinatra favorite—yes, he painted him too—he did it his way.

This book is superb, and not only for its incredible images. The real story that Neiman reveals—the one that makes this autobiography worth reading—is the struggle that underlies his extraordinary success, with sales of his prints that still bring in $10 million a year. Rejection was the name of the game that most of us would argue he won.

Neiman’s life struggle began at home with his beloved mother. “My mother never praised or encouraged me,” he writes, noting that once she even threw out his paintings. She opens and closes this book like a gossamer yet unbreakable thread that both held him and challenged him throughout his career.

In 1957 he was invited to the Corcoran in DC, was on display at Chicago’s Art Institute, and traveled on to the Big Apple with the likes of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

But Neiman’s work did not pass muster with the elite New York critics’ club.

In spite of them, he sold paintings faster than he could paint them. And he was off to the races, literally and figuratively: His paintings of jockeys and thoroughbreds are now the stuff of urban legends.

As far as Neiman was concerned, let the critics be damned. He resolutely refused to “defer” to those he dubbed “the art elites.”

LeRoy Neiman knew what he was about. “Imagination comes of not having things,” key words he used to describe the creative soul. “Paintings were windows …” Lessons like these inform the fullness, the speed of the images that flash off his canvases.

Insert “artist” for writer in these words by Henry James and you have LeRoy Neiman: A writer is someone on whom nothing is lost.

Consider these facts culled from his curriculum vitae:

He goes AWOL briefly from the Army but comes home with an honorable discharge and five battle stars. Neiman notes, “The most significant designation on those discharge papers of November 20, 1945 was Army T/4 Artist.”

He learns his craft at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago, where he also taught, as well as at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois. He studies his peers. The power of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning seems to him “like witnessing a powerful switch from one way of seeing the world to another,” words that provide a key to the invention that marks his work.

His love of fine art in music, literature and painting is in stark contrast to the paradoxical underbelly of his story: The low and high life he led in pool halls and bars and his self-acknowledged lifelong “affection for the hucksters.”

This candid autobiography also describes the author’s private collection that includes an evocative sepia and brown ink on paper of Leonard Bernstein, drawn in his presence. Neiman may not have been welcome in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the doors to the rehearsal halls at the Metropolitan Opera and Avery Fisher Hall were always open to him.

We who admire his work and his story know that “the doppelgänger, the white bearded Monet” who lies hidden in his paintings lives in Neiman’s heart and lies at the heart of this telling.

LeRoy Neiman reveals how to overcome adversity, how to live on the margin of the fine-art world and at the center of the high life, the low life and all that’s in between while never forgetting who you are.

Following are LeRoy Neiman’s answer to questions about his life, his love—married 50 years to Janet Byrne—and his art.

Q: You candidly describe being seen by the critics as “the urchin clambering over the gates of their exclusive world.” Who is a painter the so-called critics have not recognized?

Neiman: What a challenging question for me. One of my young artist friends, James de la Vega, has had some recognition in New York City but currently considers himself more of a philosopher/artist. At both Columbia University in New York City and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I have a presence in the art departments. In both these schools there are many talented young people training and experimenting in areas that are brand new. I have always said to young artists that scholastic training and the studying of art history are crucial to fully developing as an artist. I also tell them it is essential to draw or paint every day as I have done for decades now. As I turn 91 this June 8th, I have to admit my hours at the easel have diminished.

Q: Through your mother’s piercing insight, you realized “photographs are realistic but static” and so you’ve met virtually everyone you painted. Who gave you insights into the soul that you incorporated in the painting?

Neiman: Perhaps Muhammad Ali who I drew and painted for so many years in many different settings. I really followed his entire career from the workouts to dressing room to the square ring in the big arenas. He was always a compelling subject. There is also a watercolor I did in 1969 that reveals Joe Namath at that moment as he is walking off the football field. His posture says everything about him at that moment.

Q: We have here one fashion illustration of your wife Janet. Have you painted Janet or is she hidden in paintings like your Monet figure?

Neiman: My lovely wife Janet has been in a few paintings. She is basically a reserved woman who has never sought the limelight. She has always been there throughout my career and continues to be at my side.

All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies, and Provocateurs by LeRoy Neiman (Lyons Press, $29.95; June 8, 2012)

Mary L. Tabor is the author of the memoir: (Re)Making Love: a memoir and The Woman Who Never CookedHer novel Who by Fire will be published in the fall. She says, “I ferret out the detail, love the footnote, am never bored and believe it all leads to story. Best advice I ever got? ‘Only connect …’ E.M. Forster.” Find out more at http://www.maryltabor.com


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Mary Tabor

I’m the author of the novel Who by Fire, the memoir (Re)Making Love: a sex after sixty story and The Woman Who Never Cooked, which won Mid-List Press’s First Series Award. I graduated from high school and went to college when I was barely sixteen. I always think I am the youngest person in the room—am trying to get over that—or maybe not because I have so much to learn.

You can read more about the so-called literal biography, where I went to school and jobs I’ve held, at http://maryltabor.com but one thing’s for sure: I believe love is the answer. Now, what was the question? In this column, I’ll try to figure that out with you.


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