Dylan, Obama and a Crown of Thorns: 50 Years of Rolling Stone

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Rolling Stone has chronicled the lives of stars of music and movies, often in images and words from some of the most renowned photographers and writers of their generation.
CreditAnnie Leibovitz/Wenner Media

Rolling Stone helped define the counterculture epoch. It filled its pages with the words of renowned writers, including Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Cameron Crowe and Greil Marcus. Its covers minted stars. And while it focused on music, its influence ultimately stretched into pop culture, entertainment and politics.

“It was a magazine about music and the attitudes and things that music embraced,” said Jann S. Wenner, the Rolling Stone founder who has put it up for sale. “Rolling Stone has been one of the great magazines of our time.”

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Jann Wenner in 1970.
CreditBettmann/Getty Images

Rolling Stone not only covered music, it was enshrined in it: A song written by a poet and illustrator best known for his children’s books, Shel Silverstein, irreverently captured the essence of rock ‘n roll stardom.

Wanna see my picture on the cover

Wanna buy five copies for my mother

Wanna see my smilin’ face

On the cover of the Rolling Stone.

John Lennon appeared on the cover of the magazine’s first issue, followed by nearly every rock star, and many celebrities, from the 1960s onward. Mr. Wenner was a particular fan of Bob Dylan, who has appeared on the cover nearly two dozen times.

Provocative photography was also one of the magazine’s hallmarks. The celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz began her association with the magazine in the early 1970s and set the tone for whimsical and insightful portraits, like her 1981 cover photo of Meryl Streep.

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Rolling Stone has mixed politics and culture, as in an issue focusing on climate change that put The Police on the front cover, and one that featured only Barack Obama.
CreditLeft to right: Wenner Media, Peter Yang/Wenner Media

Celebrity access — to rock stars and political giants alike — was one of Rolling Stone’s greatest assets. Mr. Wenner himself conducted some of the magazine’s biggest interviews, including with Barack Obama, as a candidate and later as a president. “The access you get everywhere is phenomenal,” Mr. Wenner said.

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A cover that focused on Kayne West…

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