Entertainment·Obituary

Michael C. Gross, Ghostbusters logo creator, dead at 70

Michael C. Gross, an artist, illustrator, film producer and personal designer who created two of the most iconic pop culture images of the 20th century – the enduring Ghostbusters logo and a dog with a gun to its head for the cover of National Lampoon – has died of cancer at age 70.

Successful artist was also film producer; designer for John Lennon, Olympics

The late artist Michael C. Gross sits in his Oceanside, Calif. studio near one of his paintings in July 2014. Gross died of cancer on Monday at the age of 70. (Lenny Ignelzi/The Associated Press)

Michael C. Gross, an artist, illustrator, film producer and personal designer who created two of the most iconic pop culture images of the 20th century – the enduring Ghostbusters logo and a dog with a gun to its head for the cover of National Lampoon – has died of cancer at age 70.

Gross died Monday at his Oceanside, Calif., home, according to his son, Hollywood cameraman Dylan Gross.

The artist, who had survived cancer 30 years before he was given a terminal diagnosis in 2014, said he decided to forgo any life-extending efforts.

Launched dark anti-cancer campaign after diagnosis

Instead, he told the Associated Press following the diagnosis that he would "go down fighting" and launched a darkly comic anti-cancer campaign.

Gross solicited dozens of paintings and drawings from fellow artists and created some of his own, each featuring a hand with a raised middle finger. Underneath them he put the words "Flip Cancer."

He put the works, done in various media, on display at a gallery exhibition last year. At the time of his death, he was making plans to auction them and donate the money to cancer research.

It was the type of stunt that marked key points in the career of the artist who once described his life's goal as a quest "to have fun and do new things."

Acerbic National Lampoon cover coveted by collectors

In 1973, he was art director for National Lampoon when he put a frightened-looking dog on the cover with a gun to its head and the words, "If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We'll Kill This Dog."

Humour magazine National Lampoon got widespread attention when it released its January 1973 magazine cover created by Gross with the catchphrase "If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We'll Kill This Dog."

"We were just going to do it as a subscription ad in the magazine," he said.

"Then we thought the next one would be, 'OK, we killed the dog. Now we're going to kill the cat. We really mean it."'

When he learned the magazine was planning an entire issue making fun of death, the dog was promoted to the cover. In 2005, the American Society of Magazine Editors rated it one of the 40 greatest covers of all time.

Iconic Ghostbusters symbol

For the first Ghostbusters film in 1984, Gross created the drawing of the confused-looking spirit caught in the middle of a red circle with a slash through it. It has come to be a ubiquitous symbol in American pop culture.

Gross created the enduring symbol of a confused looking ghost in the middle of a slashed red circle for the film Ghostbusters. He was also an associate producer for the movie. (Getty Images for Leather & Laces)

The logo placed first, beating out the Chrysler Building, when the prestigious Pratt Institute held a 125th anniversary celebration in 2012 and surveyed people for their thoughts on the 125 most admired icons created by its alumni and faculty.

John Lennon's personal designer

Born Oct. 4, 1945, Michael Curtiss Gross grew up in the Hudson River town of Newburgh, N.Y. As a child he began publishing his own fan magazines and making home movies with friends.

Unable to decide which career to pursue, he attended Pratt, where he majored in fine art and eventually drifted toward illustration.

After working for National Lampoon, Esquire and other publications, he became John Lennon's personal designer. He also worked as a senior designer for the 1968 Olympics.

A prolific artist, his work ranged from animation to comic strips to political cartoons to abstract expressionist paintings. Various examples of it have been displayed in New York's Museum of Modern Art, Switzerland's Olympic Museum and other institutions.

On Tuesday, his son recalled a childhood growing up in the company of such figures as Andy Warhol, Truman Capote and John Belushi.

John Belushi, Andy Warhol among friends

Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and other friends Gross had made in New York encouraged him to come along when they began moving to Los Angeles to make movies in the 1980s.

His first movie credit, as associate producer, was for Heavy Metal, the 1981 cult film that merged animation with science fiction, sex and blaring rock music.

From there he would go on to produce nearly a dozen films, including TwinsKindergarten CopLegal Eagles and both
of the Ghostbusters movies.

He also worked in television, earning Emmy nominations for the series SCTV Network, the animated film Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas and the animated series The Real Ghostbusters.

Twenty years ago, he retired to a small beach house in the San Diego suburb of Oceanside.

Gross sits on the porch of his ocean front bungalow in Oceanside, Calif. in July 2014. He painted and produced other artwork in his studio. (Lenny Ignelzi/The Associated Press)

"That's where I paint, I photograph and I do things like this," he said of the "Flip Cancer" campaign last year.

"I don't work very hard."

He remained active, however, until his final days, posting regularly on Facebook until last week and attending last month's Geekie Awards, a light-hearted annual Hollywood affair honouring geek art. There, he received a lifetime achievement award.

Gross' wife of nearly 40 years, Glenis Gross, died in 2006. In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, Gina
Misiroglu, and three grandchildren.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.