Dr Zizmor, star of New York subways adverts, retires

Dr Jonathan Zizmor's famous ad Image copyright Courtesy New York Transit Museum

New Yorkers lament the retirement of Dr Jonathan Zizmor, the star of ubiquitous subway adverts seen since the 1980s.

Anyone who has taken the New York City subway since 1981 will likely recall the advert - a wide rainbow promising "BEAUTIFUL CLEAR SKIN" and the face of a pale, smiling doctor. The latter belongs to Dr Jonathan Zizmor, whose adverts have made him the city's most famous dermatologist.

According to one estimate, the advert was in one out of every five subway cars.

New Yorkers took to social media after news broke that the doctor, now 70, had quietly retired. By Monday morning, "Dr Zizmor" was trending on Twitter, with some calling this the end of an era.

"Dr Zizmor has been a comforting constant in MTA ad space for as long as I can remember," wrote one subway rider.

"Dr Zizmor's retiring?! WHOSE VACANT DEAD EYES WILL I LOCK WITH MINE ON THE SUBWAY NOW?" tweeted another.

Attempts to reach Dr Zizmor were unsuccessful. Calls to the office phone number in the advert turned up nothing more than an out-of-service message.

Over the years, he did grant a handful of interviews. Here are five things you may not know about the famous face from the New York subway.

1. He wanted to democratise dermatology

He began his practice in 1973 and is the former chief of dermatology at St Vincent's Hospital. He is the author of several books.

The very first Zizmor advert ran on a subway platform at the Hunter College station, then migrated onto the cars themselves. Zizmor told the New York Press in 2009 that this was so he could treat a more diverse clientele.

Image copyright iStock

"I was getting all my fancy-schmancy people, but I wanted to see the rest of the world," he said.

2. Dr Zizmor and his wife dedicated an ad to New Yorkers after 9/11

After the World Trade Center attacks, Jonathan and Alexandra Zizmor ran a new advert to "Salute New Yorkers for Their Strength and Courage".

In an interview with The New Yorker about the ad, Mrs Zizmor revealed that when she first met her husband she had no idea who he was, because she had never ridden the New York subway.

3. The real Dr Zizmor did age

While the face on the adverts remained ageless - it was taken when Zizmor was in his mid-40s - the man himself was not immune. This caused a minor kerfuffle when a photo of the much-aged physician popped up on an online medical profile. Dr Zizmor told Gothamist in 2014 that he kept the same picture for consistency's sake.

Image copyright @GraceofWrath
Image caption Comedian Nick Kroll's spoof ad

4. Dr Zizmor is in on the joke

Comedians found plenty of fodder in the Zizmor adverts. Saturday Night Live spoofed them. Comedian Nick Kroll created a "canine plastic surgeon" character modelled after Zizmor.

But Dr Zizmor has a sense of humour about himself, too - in 2009, he made a television commercial with the help of a performance artist. It featured plenty of zooming rainbows and women crooning, "Thank you Dr Zizmor!"

5. The adverts are saved for posterity.

The New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, New York, already has the advert on display in a decommissioned subway car from the 1990s.

According to a spokeswoman for the museum, Dr Zizmor once contacted the museum to see if they were interested in a full exhibit featuring his advert, but they have failed to connect with him since.

Blog by Jessica Lussenhop

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