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When advertising legend Jim Riswold is stricken with leukemia and prostate cancer, he quits the business that made him famous to become a “fake artist,” creating a controversial body of work with a controversial cast of characters, from Hitler to Mao to Kim Jong-Il. It was a decision that would save his life.
The “Bo Knows” Nike campaign? That was Jim Riswold. Pairing Michael Jordan with Bugs Bunny? Jim Riswold’s idea. Those “I Am Tiger Woods” ads? Riswold again.
Jim Riswold is a rock star, a celebrity, a legend in the advertising world. And those outside that world might not know him by name, but they definitely have encountered his creative genius. Because Riswold has spent the last few decades making some of the most influential, quotable, and iconic advertising in American history—all while wondering if he would live to see another day.
In Hitler Saved My Life, Riswold brilliantly combines incisive and funny essays with gorgeous and hilarious visuals to chronicle his battle with leukemia and prostate cancer and details how a post-diagnosis career transformation into a “fake artist” helped stave off death. And that fake art—inhabited by tyrants like Mao, Hitler, and Mussolini—has provoked a great deal of controversy. But as one critic noted, Riswold’s work “teaches us how to deal with monsters, be it a Hitler or a deadly disease.”
His body has been ravaged by disease, but Riswold’s mind is as sharp and brilliant as ever. From pitchman to philosopher artist: “selling people things they don’t need to making things that people don’t want.”
Jim Riswold was the creative director for advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy. A legend in the advertising world, he is the man behind some of America’s most iconic campaigns, including Nike’s celebrated “Bo Knows,” Spike Lee, and Tiger Woods spots. He is currently an artist living in Portland, Oregon.