Kevyn Aucoin, dead at 40, embraced beauty in everyone

Even as he hobnobbed with supermodels, rock stars and celebrities, makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin, who died Tuesday at age 40, embraced the beauty in everyday women.

He appeared on The Today Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show, teaching women how to enhance their inner beauty.


"I wish I could get on a bus and tour America because I love women, and I would love to be able to do that," he said in 1995.

Aucoin died at Westchester Medical Center in New York from complications relating to a pituitary brain tumor.


He was born on Valentine's Day 1962 in Shreveport, La., and adopted a month later by a family who raised him and three other adopted siblings in Lafayette. Aucoin realized at an early age that he was gay, and his childhood was traumatic as a result. He took refuge in fashion magazines, spending hours making up his younger sister Carla to look like a model.

At 15, he dropped out of high school after two of his classmates tried to run him over with a car. In 1983, he moved to New York City and enrolled in beauty school. Within a year, he was hired by photographer Steven Meisel to work with Meg Tilly on a Vogue magazine shoot. Two years later, he was a legend in the industry, working with such models as Cindy Crawford and Kate Moss and such celebrities as Tina Turner and Cher.

Catherine Deneuve, Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Barbra Streisand, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez were among those who worked with Aucoin. Commanding up to $6,000 a day for his services, he was booked months in advance for awards shows.

"Kevyn was a true artist and a loving and special friend," pop singer Janet Jackson said Tuesday. "Through his craft, he wanted to open the hearts and minds of all people, regardless of race or sexual preference."

Aucoin achieved his well-regarded position in the worlds of style and entertainment in some part because he railed against a look of labored excess. "He was an advocate of the natural look as far back as the '80s," said Linda Wells, the editor of the beauty magazine Allure. "At first, it was a laughable concept. Makeup is artificial, after all, and the idea seemed oxymoronic."

Wells said Aucoin's neutral shades and his idea that a woman should look as though she has not spent more than a few seconds in front of a mirror remain the prevailing fashion.

His work graced countless fashion magazines and designer runways, and he authored best-selling beauty books The Art of Makeup (Harper Collins 1994), Making Faces (Little, Brown 1997) and Face Forward (Little, Brown 2000) and wrote a monthly column for Allure, a beauty magazine.

"He had such a rapid rise because he was so extraordinarily talented," Wells said.


Still, he wasn't just another pretty face maker.

Aucoin was outspoken about gay rights, gun control and race relations. He told Time magazine in October 2000 that "if all it says on my gravestone is 'Did Good Lipstick,' I'd rather it say nothing at all."

Growing up, "he felt ugly and unacceptable," said Wells, a friend of 20 years. It was a recovery from these painful feelings, Wells said, that moved him to celebrate difference in his makeup work. "If you had a big nose, by golly, he'd say, 'Let's make the most of it,'" she said.

Aucoin is survived by his partner Jeremy Antunes, his parents Thelma S. and Isidore A. Aucoin Jr., his brother Keith and his sisters Carla and Kim.

Booth Moore writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press and New York Times News Service contributed to this article.