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David Kennedy, co-founder of Wieden+Kennedy, has died aged 82

David Kennedy, co-founder of W+K, has died; the agency reversed the order of its name in his honor

David Kennedy, co-founder of the world’s largest independent advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, has died at the age of 82.

Kennedy died this Sunday (October 10), the agency confirmed. Wieden+Kennedy renamed itself ’Kennedy+Wieden’ online and on its social channels in honor of the late founding partner, and pledged: “Your legacy and spirit will live on forever in our hearts and our work.“

Born in Wichita, Kansas in 1939, Kennedy got his first job as a welder’s assistant in the Oklahoma and Colorado oil fields; his father and grandparents were wildcat oil drillers.

After ditching geology for fine art, Kennedy graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1962. Kennedy moved to Chicago, where he worked as an art director for Young & Rubicam, Leo Burnett, Needham and Benton & Bowles.

A move away from the Illinois suburbs took Kennedy and his family to Portland, Oregon, and his career to McCann-Erickson, where he met future business partner and W+K co-founder Dan Wieden.

In 1982, the pair founded Wieden+Kennedy in a basement room without a telephone; all their calls were made through a nearby payphone. The agency’s first client, a then-unknown footwear brand called Nike, helped make the company’s bones, transforming the apparel firm into a global athletic powerhouse and the agency into one of the most sought-after in adland.

A spokesperson for Nike said: ”We are deeply saddened to hear about the passing of David Kennedy, one of the advertising world’s most creative minds and a close partner to Nike for many years. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to his family and friends, as well as to everyone in our W+K family.”

Though Kennedy formally retired in 1993, he would frequently reappear at its Portland offices to produce work for the American Indian College Fund, a pro bono client. His final work for the organization debuted this week.

In 2015, his co-founding partner Wieden told It’s Nice That: “We began as a ship of fools and I believe that’s why we’ve succeeded. We were naive, we were stupid, but sometimes stupid can work for you. When you start believing your own historic wisdom you’re not stupid any more, you’re dead.”

After his career in advertising, Kennedy returned to art – and welding – working in sculpture with bronze, steel and copper. An exhibition of his work was shown in the lobby of W+K’s Pearl District office in 2018.

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