Gail O’Neill, a prominent Black supermodel from the 80s and 90s, passed away Oct. 10 in Atlanta.
The 61-year-old fresh-faced beauty’s death was confirmed by her longtime agent, Stephanie Grill, of New York-based famed agency Click Model Management.
O’Neill’s trailblazing modeling career began in 1985 after a photographer and a fashion stylist saw the first-generation Jamaican-American at JFK International Airport. Nabbing her first British Vogue cover in 1986, the Westchester County native was the muse for big-name designers like Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis, Esprit, Willi Smith and Donna Karan. O’Neill quickly became a household name after gracing the covers of Italian and American Vogue, Glamour, Elle, Essence and Mademoiselle. The 61-year-old supermodel-turned-journalist appeared in Sports Illustrated’s coveted swimsuit issue with another Black iconic model– Roshumba Williams.
One of the original members of former models Iman and Bethann Hardison’s Black Girl Coalition, O’Neill often took stances against issues affecting Black folks globally- like opting out of cigarette campaigns with companies who hadn’t divested from apartheid in South Africa. And it didn’t stop her from booking jobs.
“People just loved her. They would re-book her and re-book her. She was a major beauty with this beautiful personality — so authentic and kind. And she really had so much integrity,” Click Model Management’s Grill said of her fallen friend.
Having stayed in the modeling game for almost two decades, the statuesque beauty entered a new career in 1999. O’Neill found a new love with journalism. Breaking into broadcast journalism, she appeared on CBS’ Early Show, CNN and HGTV. She would eventually move to Atlanta at the turn of the century. And in 2014, the former supermodel became editor-at-large at ArtsATL.
Regarding O’Neill’s love of journalism, her death and her character, ArtsATL Executive Editor Scott Freeman said, “This is such a devastating loss. Gail was a great journalist who cared about her craft and the people she wrote about. She had a grand curiosity about the world, which was a hallmark of her writing style. She had the ability to take a reader along for the ride on her journey of discovery.”
In 2021, supermodel Beverly Johnson posted a collage of photos honoring all the legendary Black faces of modeling from the 80s and 90s, including O’Neill.
Former modeling peer and reality television star Cynthia Bailey shared a poignant message and photos. The two women worked together extensively during the late 80s and early 90s while they lived in New York. They were also members of the Black Girl Coalition.
“Gail O’Neill was like no other.
truly beautiful inside & out.
grateful for incredible memories.
sending my deepest & most heartfelt condolences to the family and friends.” ðï¸ð¤ðï¸ð¤”
Another iconic Black model of that era, Karen Alexander, expressed her condolences.
“Universally loved by all, our Gail was and always will be everything good and kind and true and beautiful,” Alexander wrote.
O’Neill is survived by her husband, Paul Viera; her sister, who was also a model, Denise; her mom, Elaine; and brother, Randy. Her funeral arrangements will be shared at a later date.
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