Frank Frazetta, greatest Conan artist ever, dead at 82

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:31 PM EST

Frank Frazetta, one of the most influential and remarkable commercial artists of the 20th century, died on May 10, 2010, at the age of 82. Known primarily in science fiction and fantasy circles for his amazing oil paintings of well-muscled men and stunningly attractive women, Frazetta also worked in comic books, album covers and movie posters. Most recently, Frazetta's name made the news this past December when his son Alfonso, also known as Frank Frazetta Jr., used a backhoe in an attempt to break into the Frazetta Museum in the Poconos and remove the artwork.

Frazetta studied fine art techniques as a child and moved into comic books at the age of 16. He worked for EC and DC Comics and assisted Al Capp with Li'l Abner and also the newspaper comic strip Johnny Comet. He was also an illustrator for Playboy. Frazetta was interested in physical culture for more than the sake of his art—an athlete, Frazetta entertained an offer to play professional baseball in the early 1950s. At around that time, he met Eleanor Kelly, whom he'd marry in 1956. With Eleanor, Frazetta had four children and moved from New York to rural Pennsylvania.

It was in the early 1960s that Frazetta found his true medium—book covers. His cover illustrations for paperback Conan the Barbarian and Tarzan books became wildly popular and indeed iconic; the popular images of these heroes today owe as much to Frazetta as they do to Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Frazetta's distinctive style also could be found on album covers by hard rock acts such as Molly Hatchet. Frazetta didn't abandon his cartoony style completely, however—his movie posters for films including What's New Pussycat? and The Fearless Vampire Hunters combine Frazetta's eye for detail and character dynamism with comic-strip and comic-book sensibilities.

He collaborated with animator Ralph Bakshi on the 1983 film Fire and Ice, which used Frazetta's character designs and Bakshi's rotoscoping aesthetic. Though a commercial and critical disappointment, the film has a cult following. In 2005, the film was released as a limited-edition DVD set, and the package includes the documentary Frazetta: Painting With Fire.

Eleanor Frazetta, who administered the lucrative trade in Frazetta's originals, mail-order business and reproduction rights, died in July 2009, sparking a round of infighting among the adult children. In December 2009, Alfonso Frank Frazetta was arrested for stealing nearly $20 million of his father's art from the museum in the Poconos after he and two others used a backhoe to enter the building. Frazetta Jr. claimed to be working on his father's orders to retrieve the art "by any means necessary." Since then, Frazetta's children have resolved their differences, and last month Frazetta released a public statement saying, "Frank Frazetta is pleased to announce that all of the litigation surrounding his family and his art has been resolved. All of Frank's children will now be working together as a team to promote his remarkable collection of images that has inspired people for decades."

Frazetta's cause of death has not been confirmed at press time, but early reports suggest that he died of a stroke.

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