NEW YORK (AP) – Ellen Willis, a professor of journalism at New York University and respected cultural critic, died of lung cancer Thursday at her home in Queens. She was 64.

Ellis was known for her ability to write with panache and authority on myriad subjects such as religion, film, sex and even the O.J. Simpson trial and Monica Lewinsky scandal.

“She had a restless mind,” husband Stanley Aronowitz told The Associated Press. “She was not a specialist. She was an essayist. That meant she wrote many, many things short and long.”

Her work appeared in many of the nation’s most esteemed magazines.

She penned sharp political essays in The Nation. She was The New Yorker’s first rock critic. And she wrote about music in Rolling Stone and The Village Voice.

Willis believed that movies and music were culturally important and worthy of political and critical attention.

If Ellis had something tough to say, she did. It was that simple, said Aronowitz, a professor of sociology at The Graduate Center at the City University of New York.

“The one thing that always surfaced is that she was unflinchingly honest,” Aronowitz said. “That meant taking on controversial positions and doing it without to regard whether people liked it or not.”

Aronowitz said his wife’s candor and philosophy mirrored her favorite authors, powerful writers like Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky who tried to affect social change, hoping to improve society.

A respected feminist, Ellis believed that “pleasure and freedom are everyone’s right and that women should grab both immediately and shamelessly,” according to a family statement.

At NYU, Ellis directed the journalism department’s cultural reporting and criticism program after founding it in 1995.


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