Renowned fashion model and TV journalist, Gail O’Neill, who left an indelible mark on the world of fashion and broadcast journalism, passed away at the age of 61 at her Atlanta home. While the cause of her death remains unknown, her family plans to celebrate her life at a later date.
O’Neill’s journey into the fashion world was an unexpected turn of fate. Born and raised in Westchester County, New York, she initially pursued a career in marketing for Xerox after graduating from Wesleyan University. However, a chance encounter on an airplane with photographer Chuck Baker and stylist Martha Baker set her on a completely different trajectory. The duo recognized her potential and introduced her to Click Model’s founder, Frances Grill. Thus, began her remarkable career as a fashion model.
Gail O’Neill swiftly climbed the ranks, working with renowned photographers like Steven Meisel, Annie Leibovitz, and many others. She graced the covers of prestigious magazines such as British Vogue, Italian Vogue, American Vogue, Mademoiselle, Elle, and Glamour. Her appeal extended beyond her striking looks; she was cherished for her authentic personality and unwavering integrity. Clients clamored to work with her, and she was a pivotal figure in challenging the industry’s lack of diversity, especially in the ’80s and ’90s.
“Beauty, or a lack of it, was not something I ever thought about as a young child,” Gail O’Neill once mused in a 2013 online interview with the American Museum of Natural History. “In fact, 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,” O’Neill continued. “But show me a child who looks like that today, and I see how beautiful they are—like a little gazelle or a baby giraffe!”
Notably, Gail O’Neill actively supported the Black Girls Coalition, a group founded by Bethann Hardison in 1988 to advocate for Black models. Her commitment to the cause was emblematic of her selfless nature, always willing to help and advocate for others.
Beyond her successful modeling career, Gail O’Neill transitioned into broadcast journalism, becoming an on-air personality for major networks like CBS’ “The Early Show,” CNN, and HGTV. Her professionalism, punctuality, and commitment to her work were unwavering. She was known for putting others before herself, and she rarely discussed her modeling career, preferring to talk about her varied interests.
Throughout her career, Gail O’Neill graced the pages of fashion magazines and made a significant impact by appearing in the coveted Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. She also modeled for iconic designers and brands, breaking stereotypes about American beauty standards.
Besides her contributions to the fashion world, O’Neill developed a passion for photography. Her ability to capture authenticity and reveal the true essence of her subjects set her apart.
Gail O’Neill’s legacy extends beyond her professional accomplishments. She was a beloved figure known for her fun-loving, selfless, and family-oriented personality. Her dedication to diversity in the fashion industry and her unwavering commitment to authenticity will be remembered for years to come. She leaves behind her husband, Paul Viera, her mother, Elaine, her brother, Randy, and her sister, Denise, who was also a sought-after Click model. Gail O’Neill’s impact on fashion and media will continue to inspire generations to come.