Bob Flanagan

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Bob Flanagan
Born(1952-12-26)December 26, 1952
DiedJanuary 4, 1996(1996-01-04) (aged 43)
Known forsadomasochism, performance art, cystic fibrosis activism
Notable work
Why, Visiting Hours
Spouse(s)Sheree Rose (1989–1996)

Bob Flanagan (December 26, 1952 – January 4, 1996) was an American performance artist and writer known for his work on sadomasochism and cystic fibrosis.


Early life[edit]

Flanagan was born in New York City on December 26, 1952 and grew up in Costa Mesa, California, with his mother, Kathy; father, Robert; brothers John and Tim; and sister, Patricia. In childhood, Flanagan was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, from which his sister, Patricia, who died at age 21, and a second sister, who died soon after birth, also suffered. At age 14, in 1967, Flanagan was named the first poster child for the North Orange County chapter of the National Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation.[1]

Flanagan graduated from Costa Mesa High School,[2] and studied literature at California State University, Long Beach and the University of California, Irvine.[when?] He moved to Los Angeles in 1976.[3]


On January 4, 1996, Flanagan died from complications of cystic fibrosis at 43.[3] He was survived by his wife and close artistic collaborator Sheree Rose.[4]

The final years of Flanagan's life, including his death, are the subject of the Kirby Dick documentary SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist. Flanagan's participation in the film was contingent upon his death being part of the completed project.[5]


Flanagan began reading his poems around Southern California in the mid-1970s, and was part of the poetry community at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center. He published his first book, The Kid is the Man, with Bombshelter Press in 1978.[6]

Flanagan met Sheree Rose in 1980,[7] and collaborated closely with her for the rest of his life. Through the 1980s, Flanagan and Rose focused on BDSM community education and organizing, and were founding members of the Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Janus. Their work in performance art began with the 1989 piece Nailed, presented in conjunction with the release of the RE/Search publication Modern Primitives.[8] In Nailed, Flanagan nailed his penis and scrotum to a board while singing "If I Had a Hammer."[9]

Visiting Hours, first shown at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in 1992, combined text, video, and live performance, and explored the convergence of illness and SM. It was Flanagan's most widely toured museum exhibition. In the center of the gallery, Flanagan lay in a hospital bed and interacted with museum visitors for the duration of the exhibit.[10] According to curator Laura Trippi, "The installation is designed like a crazy stage set of a children's residential hospital, replete with a torture chamber lurking amidst the institutional cheer."[11]

In 1996, Flanagan received the Steve Maidhof Award for National or International Work from the National Leather Association International.[12]

Music videos[edit]

Flanagan being tortured in the almost universally banned Nine Inch Nails music video for "Happiness in Slavery".

Flanagan is featured in the widely banned music video for the song "Happiness in Slavery" by Nine Inch Nails. In the video, he plays a slave who worships a machine. He offers a candle to an altar, before ceremonially undressing and washing. He then lies down on an intelligent torture machine that molests and ultimately kills him, with a mixture of pain and pleasure on his face.

In 1993, Flanagan appeared in the video for the Danzig song "It's Coming Down". In the uncensored version of the video (near the ending), Flanagan pierces his upper and lower lips together and then he hammers a nail through the head of his penis before bleeding on the lens of the camera recording him.

Flanagan also had a small role in Godflesh's "Crush My Soul" video, as an upside-down suspended Christ, hoisted on to the ceiling of a church by Sheree Rose.

Selected works[edit]

Partial bibliography[edit]

  • The Kid Is the Man (1978)
  • The Wedding of Everything (1983)
  • Slave Sonnets (1986)
  • Fuck Journal (Hanuman Books, 1988)
  • A Taste of Honey with David Trinidad (1990)
  • Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist (1993) (interviews)
  • Pain Journal (1996)[15]
  • The Book of Medicine (manuscript, never published)


  1. ^ McRuer, Robert (2006). Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: NYU Press. p. 187. ISBN 9780814761090.
  2. ^ Curtis, Cathy (May 12, 1993). "Flanagan Finds Depicting Pain Is a Pleasure : Art: Survivor of cystic fibrosis and his lover give a 'toned-down' presentation of masochistic works at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 7, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Smith, Roberta. "Bob Flanagan, 43, Performer Who Fashioned Art From His Pain". New York Times. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  4. ^ Levy, Emanuel (8 February 1997). "Review: 'Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist'". Variety.
  5. ^ SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist DVD Commentary Track
  6. ^ Mohr, Bill (January 4, 2016). "Bob Flanagan – On the 20th anniversary of his death". Retrieved January 7, 2018.
  7. ^ "Sheree Rose". New World Writing. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  8. ^ Takemoto, Tina (2009). "Love is still possible in this junky world: Conversation with Sheree Rose about her life with Bob Flanagan". Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. 19: 95–111. doi:10.1080/07407700802655588. S2CID 192240498.
  9. ^ Sandahl, Carrie (2000). "Bob Flanagan: Taking It Like a Man". Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism: 97–105.
  10. ^ Reynolds, Dawn (2007). "Disability and BDSM: Bob Flanagan and the case for sexual rights". Sexuality Research and Social Policy. 4: 40–52. doi:10.1525/srsp.2007.4.1.40. S2CID 144664964.
  11. ^ "Exhibitions: Visiting Hours: An Installation by Bob Flanagan in collaboration with Sheree Rose". Retrieved January 7, 2018.
  12. ^ "List of winners". NLA International. 2019-03-14. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  13. ^ "Visiting Hours: An Installation by Bob Flanagan in collaboration with Sheree Rose". The New Museum Digital Archive. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  14. ^ a b c d Flanagan, Bob (1993). Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist. San Francisco, CA: Re/Search.
  15. ^ "Bob Flanagan - Pain Journal". Retrieved 2016-03-04.

External links[edit]