The Sideline Virtuoso: Mourning the loss of Artist LeRoy Neiman

Written By:  •  Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fans of LeRoy Neiman know his work (and his mustache) instantly.  The movement, the bold colour, the palpable emotion that emulate from his works are iconic.  Passing away at the age of 91 in New York on June 20th, Neiman leaves a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten by all those who cherished the man and his work.

LeRoy Neiman in his Studio in 2007 and Self Portait (Photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP)

His subjects ranged from hollywood stars like Sinatra and “Rocky”, to iconic Playboy covers, the Olympics and of course professional athletes… most say his greatest works are those which depict sports and athletes in action.

In 1968, Neiman became the un-official team artist and portrait painter for Joe Namath and the New York Jets and accompanied them on the road, churning out one stunning piece after another.

“He chronicled many of the most important moments in Jets history and his work hangs prominently throughout our team’s headquarters at Florham Park. His special relationship with the Jets will be greatly missed and our thoughts are with his family during this time.” said Jets owner Woody Johnson.

For years after he left the Jets to pursue other subjects, Neiman continued to foster a relationship with the club, even designing their holiday cards from time to time.

Two of Neiman's most Iconic Jets Paintings: "Joe Namath" and "Hand off Super-Bowl-III"

LeRoy was a truly unique artist, drawing from a front-line perspective when it came to sports.  His sideline renditions were done in the heat of the moment and his work captured the electric charge of the crowd and emotion of the players like no other medium including photographs.

His style is tough to categorize, it has touches of impressionism but is interlaced with a more wild and gutteral surrealism and brave use of colour that is truly unique to him. He worked in a multitude of mediums from household enamels to lithographs and silk screen prints known as serigraphy. Although he loved to paint large game, his true passion was for sport.

“For an artist, watching a (Joe) Namath throw a football or a Willie Mays hit a baseball is an experience far more overpowering than painting a beautiful woman or leading political figure,” Neiman said in 1972.

His critics over the years have been harsh, accusing him of “selling out” to commercial interests.  But Neiman never seemed to mind, he wanted his work to be seen and enjoyed by the  public. It graced the covers of sports programs and Man at Leisure Magazine, it hung in the halls of important sports institutions like the Sports Museum of America in New York, all of which allowed people who weren’t necessarily “into” art per se to see it and appreciate it.

The man will be missed but the work lives on to be enjoyed by many generations.

“It’s been fun. I’ve had a lucky life, I’ve zeroed in on what you would call action and excellence. Everybody who does anything to try to succeed has to give the best of themselves, and art has made me pull the best out of myself.”

For more information and to view more of his work please visit

LeRoy Neiman, a true heavyweight of the art world





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Kristen Meyer

Kristen Meyer is a full-time marketing specialist at a graphic design firm. When she's not saving the world one-brand-at-a-time she can be found at the ballpark cheering on her Blue Jays (at home and on the road) or taking in a rugby match.

  • Douglas Mellott

    Leroy Neiman played a minor role in “Rocky III” as the ring announcer at an exhibition bout for charity between Rocky Balboa (World Boxing Champion) and Thunderlips (World Wrestling Champion, played by Hulk Hogan). The scene was inspired by the real “Wrestler vs. Boxer” match when Japan’s Antonio Inoki (wrestling legend in Japan and founder of New Japan Pro Wrestling) took on Muhammed Ali on June 26, 1976.

  • ingmar66

    When I first saw his paintings some 30 years ago it did not move me at all, but over the last few years I have really started to like his style of painting. It’s so full of energy, vigor and sheer optimism, qualities that I thought were merely superficial 30 years ago. I was so wrong.

  • LeRoy Neiman was very proud of his autobiography and lived to see its publication around June 8, 2012 on his 91st birthday. It’s called All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies, and Provocateurs. It’s a wonderful read about the artist, his life, never-before revealed stories about the paintings he did and the amazing people he met.

    Thanks for your gracious tribute.

    • It was my absolute pleasure. Unfortunately I couldn’t fit any more into the post! There is so much to say about him. I will definitely check out his autobiography….sounds fascinating. Thanks for leaving a message!