Felix Dennis, publishing provocateur turned poet, dies at 67

Felix Dennis, publishing provocateur turned poet, dies at 67
Felix Dennis was a poet who spent much of his life as a publishing provocateur. (Bell Yard Comm / Associated Press / AFP-Getty)

Felix Dennis began his career at the British magazine Oz, where he was a defendant in an obscenity trial and once interrupted David Frost's talk show with profanity and a squirt gun. He ended it reading his own poetry on his website, some written while he was battling cancer. He died Sunday at home in England at age 67.

Before turning to poetry, Dennis was a high-profile magazine editor and publisher. Born in London in 1947, he came of age in the 1960s, first playing in R&B bands, then briefly attending art school, then joining the staff of the provocative counterculture magazine Oz, where he became one of three co-editors.


Oz dared to put psychedelic art and naked women on its cover. In 1971, Dennis and his co-editors faced obscenity charges after publishing their "schoolkids" issue, which was edited by teenagers. Of particular concern was a mash-up version of an adult Robert Crumb comic with Rupert Bear, a children's book character. Uncowed, the three appeared in court dressed as schoolboys -- and also as schoolgirls. Despite John Lennon recording "Do the Oz" to support their defense, they were sentenced to jail time.

While still in his 20s, Dennis founded a publishing company, where he co-authored bestselling paperback biographies of Bruce Lee and Mohammad Ali. His company was licensed to produce official "Star Wars" books, which also shot up the charts, along with official tie-ins to "Jaws," "Star Trek" and "Saturday Night Fever."

In the mid-'70s, he began launching narrowly focused magazines, including Which Bike?, about motorcycles, and King Fu Monthly. In 1979, with considerable foresight, he bought a controlling interest in the magazine Personal Computing.

After moving to New York in the 1980s, he co-founded Microwarehouse, a computer mail-order service so successful that it went public on the NASDAQ in 1992.

He opened a London bookstore that specialized in books about the countryside; by that time he'd returned part time to England and bought an 18th century country estate in Warwickshire.

He may have been the only owner of a bookshop carrying books about flora and fauna to have survived both Legionnaires' disease and a crack addiction.

His biggest magazine venture was the glossy lad mag Maxim, which was being published in 31 countries when he sold it in 2007 for nearly 1.5 million pounds. At the time of his death, Dennis was thought to be worth $850 million -- although he said he'd spent as much as $170 million on "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll."

It was during a hospital stint for a thyroid condition that he wrote his first poem.

"I needed something utterly absorbing and gripping, when I wasn't doing business, and I certainly found it," he told the BBC in 2006.

"When you're writing, you're in a totally different zone... I can start a difficult poem and look up at the clock and see to my astonishment that three hours have passed. Instead of taking crack cocaine, going out with whores and boozing, I'll sit down alone in a room and have just as much fun, if not more."

Dennis penned more than 1,500 poems, collected in 10 books; the most recent, "This Is the Way of the World," was published June 5.

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