What Happened to Life Magazine? Origins, Success, Decline, Out of Business

The late-1970s were difficult times for Life magazine, and a book written by Liam Kennedy, a professor of American Studies at University College Dublin, examines the dwindling success of the American weekly. The magazine’s editors ranked the “100 Most Important People and Events of the Millennium,” but the list was criticized for being too Western and overly based on a few prominent personalities. In an effort to stay afloat, Life changed its approach to advertising.

Before its demise, Life magazine published several iconic photographs. The first was taken by the world-famous war photographer, Robert Capa, who was the sole photographer in the first wave of D-Day in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. Life magazine’s failure to shoot a photo of Capa in the darkroom sparked controversy, with the magazine claiming that Capa’s hands were shaken during the landing. Capa later poked fun at the magazine’s shortcomings in his memoir, Slightly Out of Focus. Sadly, Capa died in a landmine accident two years later.

Life Magazine was published weekly until 1972 and was interrupted by periodic specials until 1978. In 2000, the magazine went monthly. It is now distributed as a free supplement in most major U.S. newspapers. The magazine’s history began as a weekly humor magazine, and it eventually became an artful medium for portraits and cultural reporting. Then, in 1936, it was bought by Henry Luce, who transformed the magazine into a picture-based periodical.

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