With profound sorrow, we announce the passing of the iconic figure Gail O’Neill, who transitioned from a legendary supermodel to a distinguished journalist. She departed this world at the age of 60.
The news of her passing began circulating on Instagram earlier this week, with tributes pouring in to commemorate her remarkable life and enduring legacy. On Thursday, October 12, her agency, in collaboration with Vogue, officially confirmed her untimely demise.
As the daughter of Jamaican immigrants and one of three siblings, Gail O’Neill was destined for greatness, ultimately becoming a trailblazer who catalyzed change within the fashion industry.
Her journey into the world of modeling began in 1985 while she was working in marketing and sales at Xerox. Her destiny took a stylish turn when she was discovered by photographer Chuck Barry. Shortly thereafter, she secured representation with Click Models, and in March 1986, she graced the cover of British Vogue. This marked the inception of a groundbreaking movement for Black models, often referred to as a renaissance, which saw models breaking barriers by securing high-profile opportunities in leading fashion publications and on prestigious runways.
Gail O’Neill would go on to become the face of esteemed brands like Avon, Esprit, and Diet Coke, among others. Throughout her illustrious career, her presence graced the covers of magazines such as Essence, Glamour, Elle, and Mademoiselle. One of the most notable highlights of her career was landing the coveted 1992 cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
In 2013, she reflected on her childhood and the role of beauty in shaping her worldview. She remarked, “Beauty, or a lack of it, was not something I ever thought about as a young child…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.”
Despite facing rejection, Gail O’Neill evolved into a formidable presence in the fashion industry. In 1988, she joined the Black Girls Coalition, founded by Iman and Bethann Hardison, with the aim of celebrating Black models and fostering a sense of unity among them.
In 1999, Gail embarked on a new career path as a correspondent for The Early Show on NBC, later contributing her expertise to CNN and HGTV. In 2000, she relocated to Atlanta and assumed the role of an editor-at-large for ArtsATL. Scott Freeman, executive editor at ArtsATL, lamented her loss, stating, “This is such a huge loss. Gail was a great journalist who cared about her craft and the people she wrote about.
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, and caring. Simply one of the most incredible people I’ve ever known.”
Throughout her illustrious career, Gail O’Neill continued to use her voice and striking beauty as a catalyst for raising awareness about the lack of diversity within the fashion and beauty industry. In July 2008, she posed for Vogue Italia’s Black Issue, which quickly sold out in the United States and the U.K. within 24 hours of hitting newsstands.
The specific cause of her passing has not been disclosed, leaving the world to mourn the loss of an iconic individual who left an indelible mark on the realms of fashion and journalism.