Stephen Rubin, Publishing Executive Behind Bestsellers and Champion of Music and Public Life, Dies at 81

Rubin’s Legacy of Blockbuster Books and Colorful Personality Leaves a Lasting Impact on the Publishing Industry

Stephen Rubin, a prominent publishing executive known for his keen eye for bestsellers and his love of music and public life, has passed away at the age of 81. Rubin, who played a pivotal role in launching the careers of authors like John Grisham and bringing blockbuster books such as The Da Vinci Code and Fire and Fury to readers around the world, died after a brief and sudden illness. With his distinctive raspy voice, stylish suits, and wide network of friends and colleagues, Rubin was a powerful and colorful presence in the publishing industry for decades.

A Publishing Icon and Social Butterfly

Rubin’s impact on the book publishing world is immeasurable. As a former journalist for The New York Times, he broke into the publishing industry in the 1980s and quickly rose to top positions at Doubleday and Henry Holt and Company. His tortoiseshell glasses and stylish suits became his signature look, while his wide range of friends and colleagues, including Jacqueline Kennedy and Beverly Sills, showcased his ability to connect with people from all walks of life. Rubin was known for hosting memorable parties at his West Side apartment and for his candid and often colorful assessments of friends, colleagues, and the world at large.

A Publisher with Unwavering Convictions

Rubin was a man of strong likes and dislikes, and he never wavered in his opinions. His unwavering convictions and discerning taste made him a force to be reckoned with in the publishing industry. Close friend Jane Friedman, former CEO of HarperCollins Publishers, described Rubin as someone who could enter a room and immediately command attention. His strong convictions and unwavering support for the books he believed in made him a trusted figure among authors and colleagues alike.

The Midas Touch: Bestsellers Galore

Rubin’s career was marked by his uncanny ability to identify and promote bestselling books. He played a pivotal role in the success of John Grisham, starting with the release of The Firm in the early 1990s. The novel catapulted Grisham to fame and established him as a leading author in the courtroom drama genre. Grisham fondly remembers Rubin as a great publisher who loved books and knew how to get them on the bestseller lists. Their friendship endured throughout the years, a testament to Rubin’s loyalty and support.

Rubin’s Midas touch extended beyond Grisham. In the early 2000s, he took on Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, a religious/art thriller set in Europe. With a relentless promotional campaign, Rubin helped turn the book into an immediate sensation. The Da Vinci Code sold over 70 million copies worldwide, solidifying Brown’s position as a bestselling author. Rubin’s infectious enthusiasm for Brown’s work and his unwavering belief in its potential propelled the novel to unprecedented success. Brown expressed his gratitude for Rubin’s friendship, encouragement, and unwavering support.

In 2018, Rubin embarked on yet another extraordinary publishing journey with Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, a tell-all book about the Trump presidency. Despite the controversy surrounding the book, Rubin recognized its significance and agreed to publish it. Fire and Fury became a lightning rod, capturing the ongoing chaos of the administration and igniting a firestorm of public discourse. Rubin considered it the wildest experience of his career, a testament to his willingness to take risks and push boundaries.

A Passion for Music and Legacy

While Rubin’s impact on the publishing industry is undeniable, his initial and enduring passion was music. As a lover of opera and classical music, he helped run the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music alongside his late wife, Cynthia. The institute was a source of great pride for Rubin, reflecting his commitment to nurturing the arts and supporting aspiring musicians.

Stephen Rubin, a publishing icon and champion of music and public life, leaves behind a remarkable legacy. His keen eye for bestsellers, unwavering convictions, and infectious enthusiasm for books propelled numerous authors to unprecedented success. Rubin’s ability to connect with people from all walks of life and his larger-than-life personality made him a beloved figure in the publishing industry. As the headlines of his obituary predict, Rubin will forever be remembered as the publisher of The Da Vinci Code, but his impact extends far beyond a single book. He leaves behind a lasting legacy that has shaped the world of literature and brought joy to countless readers.