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Bob Flanagan (December 26, 1952 – January 4, 1996) was an American performance artist, comic, writer, poet, and musician.

Bob Flanagan
Born (1952-12-26)December 26, 1952
New York City
Died January 4, 1996(1996-01-04) (aged 43)
Los Angeles
Nationality American
Known for sadomasochism, performance art, cystic fibrosis activism
Notable work Why, Visiting Hours
Spouse(s) Sheree Rose (1989–1996)



Early lifeEdit

Flanagan was born in New York City on December 26, 1952, and grew up in first in Glendale, then Costa Mesa, California, with his mother, Kathy; father, Robert; brothers John and Tim; and sister, Patricia. (Another sister died in infancy from cystic fibrosis.) At a young age, Flanagan was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (from which his sister, Patricia, who died from it at age 21, and a second sister, who died soon after birth, also suffered), a condition which would influence his art and ultimately claim his life. Flanagan survived into his 40s despite the cystic fibrosis—an unusually long life at a time when the life expectancy of those diagnosed with CF was 17 years and because doctors did not expect Bob to live past the age of 7 or 8.

Bob's nephew Jonathan Flanagan (oldest son of brother John) married Natalie Wilson in 2013. Natalie had a daughter in 2005 who was also born with Cystic Fibrosis and still battles the disease today at age 11. Jonathan owns Four of Hearts Screen Printing based in Gustine, CA. Along with his wife Natalie, they started the clothing brand "Fight 65" which donates profits to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Flanagan studied literature at California State University, Long Beach and the University of California, Irvine.[when?]

Flanagan moved to Los Angeles in 1976. In 1978, he published his first book, The Kid Is the Man. He also worked with the improv comedy group The Groundlings.[1]


On January 4, 1996, Flanagan died from complications of cystic fibrosis, aged 43.[1] He was survived by his wife Sheree Rose.[2]

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.[3]


While some of Flanagan performances were notable for acts of extreme masochism (on at least one occasion he hammered a nail through his penis, while cheerfully singing If I Had a Hammer[4]), he also wrote humorous songs, many of them intended as much for children as adults.

Flanagan briefly appeared in Michael Tolkin's The New Age as one of the alternate lifestylers encountered by Peter Weller's character.

Flanagan's latest posthumous piece by Sheree Rose entitled Bobaloon, was shown in Japan, featuring a 20-foot tall inflatable Flanagan complete with pierced penis, ball gag and straitjacket.

Music videosEdit

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, all with a mixture of pain and pleasure on his face.

In 1993, Flanagan also 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 bit part in Godflesh's "Crush My Soul" video, as a suitably blasphemous, upside-down suspended Christ, hoisted on to the ceiling of a traditional-looking church by his partner/companion Sheree Rose.

Selected worksEdit

Partial bibliographyEdit

  • 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)[7]
  • The Book of Medicine (manuscript, never published)


  1. ^ a b Smith, Roberta. "Bob Flanagan, 43, Performer Who Fashioned Art From His Pain". New York Times. Retrieved 26 July 2016. 
  2. ^ Levy, Emanuel (8 February 1997). "Review: 'Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist'". Variety. 
  3. ^ SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist DVD Commentary Track
  4. ^ Holden, Stephen. "An Artist Whose Medium Was Pain". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 26 July 2016. 
  5. ^ "Visiting Hours: An Installation by Bob Flanagan in collaboration with Sheree Rose". The New Museum Digital Archive. Retrieved 26 July 2016. 
  6. ^ a b c d Flanagan, Bob (1993). Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist. San Francisco, CA: Re/Search. 
  7. ^ "Bob Flanagan - Pain Journal". Retrieved 2016-03-04. 

External linksEdit