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Legendary Cosmo Editor Helen Gurley Brown Dies at 90

By Amy Zimmer | August 13, 2012 6:15pm

MANHATTAN — Helen Gurley Brown, the legendary editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine and author of the defining 1962 book, "Sex and the Single Girl," died Monday at the age of 90, the Hearst Corporation reportedly announced.

Widely considered one of the word's most influential editors, Gurley Brown died after a brief hospitalization at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, according to Hearst, which publishes Cosmo.

“Helen Gurley Brown was an icon. Her formula for honest and straightforward advice about relationships, career and beauty revolutionized the magazine industry,” Frank A. Bennack, Jr., CEO of Hearst Corporation, said in a statement.

Author Helen Gurley Brown (L) with unidentified man, taken February 1, 1963.
Author Helen Gurley Brown (L) with unidentified man, taken February 1, 1963.
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Allan Grant/Time Life Pictures-Getty Images

"Sex and the Single Girl," helped redefine the modern woman. 

It encouraged young women to enjoy being single, find fulfillment in work and take pleasure in sex. The book — which attracted the highest price at the time a film company ever paid for a non-fiction title — spent more than a year on the bestseller list, was published in 28 countries, translated into 16 languages. The 1964 Warner Bros. movie starred Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Lauren Bacall and Henry Fonda.

“New York City lost a pioneer who reshaped not only the entire media industry, but the nation’s culture," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. "She was a role model for the millions of women whose private thoughts, wonders and dreams she addressed so brilliantly in print."

Bloomberg, who considered Gurley Brown a friend, called her a "quintessential New Yorker," noting that she was "never afraid to speak her mind and always full of advice.

"She pushed boundaries and often broke them, clearing the way for younger women to follow in her path," he continued. "We will miss her, but her impact on our culture and society will live on forever.”

Gurley Brown was born in Green Forest, Ark., on Feb. 18, 1922, to Ira and Cleo Gurley, both school teachers. When her father was elected to the state legislature, the family moved to Little Rock, but after he died in an elevator accident when Gurley Brown was 10, the family relocated to Los Angeles in the 1930s.

Gurley Brown later spent a year at the Texas State College for Women and returned home to put herself through Woodbury Business College. Gurley Brown was then called on to support her mother and sister (who contracted polio), taking on various secretarial jobs.

She took over Cosmo in 1965 and encouraged her readers to be wise about financial planning.

 “Being smart about money is sexy," wrote Gurley Brown, who was reported to bring her lunch to work at her pink office almost every day for the more than 30 years she spent at Hearst, the company said.

“My success was not based so much on any great intelligence but on great common sense," she once said.

At the age of 37, she married David Brown, then a film executive at 20th Century Fox Studios, and later an independent producer. He passed away in 2010, and in January, Gurley Brown donated $30 million for the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation, housed at both Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford's School of Engineering.

“She lived every day of her life to the fullest and will always be remembered as the quintessential ‘Cosmo girl.’ She will be greatly missed," Bennack said.