Backstory: Wenner was born in New York and later moved to California, spending much of his teenage years at a boarding school in LA following his parents' nasty divorce when he was 12. He enrolled at Berkeley but soon dropped out; after bounding around the San Francisco music scene for a spell, he teamed up with veteran music critic Ralph Gleason to start up Rolling Stone. Wenner was only 21 at the time, but with $7,500 in financing from his in-laws, he was off and running, and the first issue of Rolling Stone debuted in October 1967 with John Lennon on the cover.
The mag was hardly an instant hit—of the 40,000 copies printed, 34,000 were returned unsold. But Wenner turned things around soon enough. Within a couple of years, Rolling Stone had emerged as the voice of a new generation as it championed the '70s rock movement in all its glory—how many magazines marketed a free roach clip with a new subscription?—and introduced readers to countless new artists who went on to become musical icons. A legendary spotter of talent, Wenner was also responsible for discovering a long list of editorial superstars, including Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Joe Klein, Joe Eszterhas, Lester Bangs, photographer Annie Leibovitz, and Cameron Crowe (who paid homage to Rolling Stone's golden years in the movie Almost Famous).
Wenner moved his operation to New York in 1977 as part of a plan to expand his media franchise. He branched out with Outside (which he sold two years later) and Us Weekly, which he acquired in partnership with Lorimar Telepictures in 1985. He also became a tabloid fixture, palling around with the likes of Jackie O and Mick Jagger, and making cameos in movies (the box office dud Perfect).
In 1992, Wenner founded Men's Journal, which remains part of his publishing domain. Family Life, which he introduced in 1993, was sold two years later.
Of note: Rolling Stone isn't nearly as influential as it once was. Although it continues to lead the category—and has broadened its scope over the years to account for the declining relevance of rock music—it no longer possesses tastemaker status as in the '70s and '80s. (Over the past year it's made an effort to become more of a general interest title with articles on the financial crisis and war in Afghanistan.)
But while Rolling Stone has faded from prominence over the past decade, the gossip glossy Us has turned into a cash cow as it's helped reinvent the celebrity weekly genre. Much of the credit for the Us turnaround goes to Bonnie Fuller, who gave the title a makeover after her arrival in 2002, and Janice Min who boosted circulation and buzz following Fuller's departure, and these days, the tabloid generates 60 percent of the company's revenue. Ironically, Wenner wasn't always optimistic about Us's prospects: In 2001, he sold a 50 percent stake in the magazine to Disney for $35 million. Five years later, he coughed up $300 million to buy the share back.
It's RS, though—whose 1,000th issue was celebrated in 2006 with a star-studded gala—that remains closest to Wenner's heart. Wenner still holds the title of editor-in-chief, although Will Dana effectively runs the magazine on a day to day basis.
Drama: Wenner has never been known as an easy man to work with, and his battles with editors, artists, and critics are legendary. He's been accused of cozying up to the music industry and bullying his editors to run (or kill) features and covers; and former employees have also accused him of insisting on freebies from companies whose products are reviewed. Now that Wenner is in his 60s, he's a lot tamer than he used to be. Once renowned for his ability to sip and snort with the very best, these days he claims espresso is his drug of choice.
Personal: Wenner's private life became a messy, public affair in 1995 when he was publicly outed, and it was revealed that he was involved with an aspiring fashion designer 19 years his junior named Matt Nye. Although Wenner's sexuality had been an open secret for years, the revelation caused a split with his wife of nearly 30 years, Jane Schindelheim, although the couple have never officially divorced. Jann has three kids with Jane—Alexander, Theo, and Edward—and he has three kids with Nye, who were born via a surrogate mother. Wenner and Nye live on the Upper West Side and have vacation homes in Montauk, upstate New York, and Sun Valley.
No joke: He was actually born Jan S. Wenner. He switched to "Jann" several years after founding Rolling Stone.
Full Name: Jann S. Wenner
Date of Birth: 01/07/1946
Place of Birth: New York, NY
High School: Chadwick School
Residences: New York City (Upper West Side); Montauk, NY; Tivoli, NY; Sun Valley, ID
Filed Under: Media, Magazines