Lanny Friedlander, at 63; founded Reason magazine

A magazine cover from 1968. A magazine cover from 1968.
By Margalit Fox
New York Times / May 11, 2011

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NEW YORK — Lanny Friedlander, who with little more than a typewriter and a stack of paper founded the libertarian magazine Reason in his college dorm room in 1968 and ran it briefly before dropping out of sight for the next 40 years, died March 19 in Lowell, Mass. He was 63.

The cause was a heart attack, said his lawyer, George Murphy.

Perhaps fittingly for a man who was an enigma for so long, Mr. Friedlander’s death commanded little notice outside libertarian circles.

Even within those circles, Mr. Friedlander was a phantom presence. In an obituary posted March 26 on Reason’s website, Nick Gillespie — editor in chief of and, the magazine’s video arm — wrote that neither he nor anyone else currently at the magazine had ever met him.

In 2007, when Reason opened an office in Washington (its headquarters are in Los Angeles), Gillespie cast about for a picture of Mr. Friedlander to hang on the wall. None could be found.

Until last year, Gillespie wrote, no one at Reason was certain if Mr. Friedlander was alive.

In its dorm room days, Reason never attained a circulation of more than a few hundred copies per issue. Today, the magazine is a glossy publication with a monthly circulation of about 50,000; its website receives 4 million visits a month. broadcasts original and archival video programming online.

As Mr. Friedlander conceived it, Reason was neither strictly right-wing libertarian nor strictly left — in modern parlance, neither red nor blue, but a purple amalgam of the two. It was genuinely purple at first, as it was run off on a ditto machine.

“When REASON speaks of poverty, racism, the draft, the war, student power, politics, and other vital issues, it shall be reasons, not slogans, it gives for conclusions,’’ Mr. Friedlander wrote in the first issue, published in May 1968 and peppered with typographical errors and misspellings. “Proof, not belligerent assertion. Logic, not legends. Coherance, not contradictions. This is our promise: This is the reason for REASON.’’

Mr. Friedlander was, by all accounts, an intuitive genius of design, publishing issues in the magazine’s post-ditto period that had stark, evocative graphics; coolly elegant sans serif typefaces; and layouts that reinforced the editorial content.

He seemed headed for a vibrant career, if it had not been for the schizophrenia that took hold of him in his early 20s.

Lanny Friedlander was born in Boston. His mother suffered from mental illness while he was growing up, Murphy said in a phone interview Friday, and his parents eventually divorced. Mr. Friedlander entered Boston University but left before graduating.

In the early 1970s, unable to run Reason effectively, Mr. Friedlander sold it to a consortium of its writers. (It is now owned by the Reason Foundation.) He was retained as an editor there for only a short time.

At some point during these years, Mr. Friedlander, who opposed the draft, enlisted briefly in the US Navy during the Vietnam War. His illness was detected before he could be sent overseas, and he was discharged.

He fetched up in New York, where he worked as a graphic designer and appears to have driven a cab, Murphy said. In the early 1970s he made a pilgrimage to Paris to visit the grave of Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors. There, Mr. Friedlander became agitated and was sent home by the authorities.

He spent much of the rest of his life in psychiatric hospitals.

Mr. Friedlander leaves his father, Herbert, and a brother, Daniel.

In December, Ronald Bailey, Reason’s science correspondent, received a letter from Mr. Friedlander in response to an article he had written on developments in genomics.

Writing by hand in block letters, Mr. Friedlander said, “I think you should take your thinking one step further and write about the prospects of immortality in the foreseeable future.’’ He continued, “I also wonder if magicians can reverse the effects of old age.’’

At the bottom of the letter, he wrote: “P.S. I started Reason magazine in 1968.’’