Gail O’Neill, a pioneering fashion model and journalist for CBS, CNN and HGTV, has died. She was 61.
O’Neill was found deceased in her home in Atlanta on Oct. 10. Women’s Wear Daily was the first to confirm the news of her death via her longtime Click Model agent, Stephanie Grill, on Oct. 12.
No cause of death has been confirmed. However, ArtsATL — where she served as editor-at-large before her death — reported that O’Neill “had courageously fought a serious illness over the past two years.”
O’Neill was born in Westchester, New York, the second of three children of Jamaican immigrants. After graduating from Wesleyan University, she took on a marketing and sales job with Xerox.
She was first discovered as a model in 1985, when photographer Chuck Baker and his stylist wife Martha approached her at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. By the following year, she was signed with Click Models and appeared on the cover of British Vogue.
O’Neill experienced international fame as a model, appearing on the covers of magazines like Mademoiselle, Elle, Glamour, Ebony and Essence, even appearing in the 1992 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
She also worked as the face of Avon, Esprit, and Diet Coke during her time as a model.
In 1988, she joined the Black Girls Coalition, an organization for Black models founded by Bethann Hardison, Naomi Campbell, and Iman that continues to advocate for models of color today.
O’Neill’s modeling career eventually landed her opportunities on television. She appeared for the first time as a correspondent on CBS’ Early Show in 1999. Later, she worked as a host for CNN’s Travel Now, and HGTV’s Mission Organization and Public Place, Private Spaces.
She continued to work in media and journalism up until her death.
O’Neill is survived by her husband Paul E. Viera, her mother Elaine, sister Denise, and brother Randy.