John Wilcock, Sheffield-born counterculture pioneer who worked with Andy Warhol, dies at 91

John Wilcock in 1967.
John Wilcock in 1967.

A Sheffield-born journalist and travel writer who co-founded the famous Village Voice counterculture newspaper, rubbed shoulders with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and was a colleague of Andy Warhol has died aged 91.

John Wilcock grew up in Ecclesall, worked for the Sheffield Telegraph, and went on to write for the Daily Mail and the Mirror before emigrating to North America in the 1950s.

He interviewed Monroe - who was in a flirtatious mood, by all accounts - as well as Rock Hudson and Marlene Dietrich for magazines.

John loaned the notorious comedian Lenny Bruce his apartment, put up Bob Dylan and started Village Voice in Greenwich, New York, alongside literary heavyweight Norman Mailer - who offered him marijuana, which he refused, although he later changed his views, dabbling in magic mushrooms and LSD as recreational drugs went mainstream.

He was a familiar face at Warhol's legendary Factory studio - the scene of many a party - and launched Interview magazine with the celebrated pop artist, who sketched him. He later became travel editor of the New York Times and wrote guidebooks.

"I’ve been lucky to be in weird places at the right time," he told his old Sheffield paper in 2004.

John Wilcock in 2004.

John Wilcock in 2004.

John left school at 16 and got a job in the Telegraph's Barnsley office, later transferring to its base in the city where he learned the basics of reporting, funerals and courts.

"The thing I most learned from those early days was the ability to collect information and put it a coherent form," he said. "I remember going to a mining accident in Rotherham and everyone was vying to get to the one phone at the time."

He was the Daily Mail's 'man in Newcastle', but after a couple of years on the Mirror realised he was 'never going to get to London'. "I saw a Times magazine story about Canada and I was off."

His conversation with Monroe was a one-on-one chat in a bar on Lexington Avenue in 1955 - before today's pervasive PR interference.

"She leaned across the table confidentially, grabbed my arm with her right hand and looked directly into my eyes as if about to convey a secret known only to the two of us," he recalled in a book called Memories of Marilyn. "‘I like men who are poets,’ she declared, squeezing my wrist with her fingers for emphasis. ‘But that doesn’t mean they have to write poetry. Do you know what I mean?’" 

He was 'surprised there wasn't some sort of paper' when he made it to Greenwich Village. Before long the Voice was born; the title was dreamed up by Mailer.

"It was the first alternative paper in America and broke new ground in writing about culture," he said.

Interview was established in 1969 - the publication, like The Village Voice, is now no longer printed. In 1971 he compiled The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol, a collection of interviews with friends and associates.

In 2001 he settled in Ojai, California, and began an online monthly magazine, The Ojai Orange. It included a piece called 'The Column of Lasting Insignificance'. John's life story, Manhattan Memories, was issued in 2010 – his Warhol book was re-released the same year.

He married Amber Nomi Lamann in 1967 and the couple divorced in 1972. John died on Thursday, September 13, at a care facility in Ojai. He had suffered several strokes, the New York Times reported.