He was born in Naples to American parents and spent his childhood abroad.
In 1946, aged just 30, he was named publisher of Life; later, as CEO, he had to close it down (in 1972). In 1974 he created People, which rapidly became a great asset.
He was married three times. His second wife was the Hollywood actress Madeleine Carroll. His third wife, whom he married in 1965, was Marian Sulzberger Dryfoos, the widow of New York Times publisher Orvil Dryfoos.