A Perfect MAD Man

William Gaines' splendidly zany magazine taught irreverence to a generation

Obituaries tend to be occasions for breathless hyperbole and for reducing rich, messy lives to tidy summations. Why should this one be any different? After all, no postwar American literary institution has had a more profound cultural influence than Mad magazine, and William Gaines, the aggressively idiosyncratic impresario who launched and then ran the magazine for four decades, is a singular character in 20th century American publishing -- the anti-Luce.

For such a happily unkempt man -- he wore shoulder-length hair and bargain- basement clothes, and weighed an eighth of a ton -- Gaines' death last week seemed curiously neat: he...

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