John Fiske

John Fiske, 81, passed away on July 12, 2021, following complications from heart surgery.

Born on September 12, 1939, in Bristol, England, John was raised in the Cotswolds, where he acquired his lifelong love of seventeenth-century English oak furniture. He received a BA (Honors) and MA in English Literature from Cambridge University, where he studied under the renowned critic Raymond Williams, whose influence guided John’s writing and thinking throughout his life. While there, he acted in the Cambridge Footlights alongside several of the founding members of Monty Python, revealing the dry wit and humor for which he was so well known.

During his first career as a cultural theorist and critic, John held a number of academic appointments in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States including Principal Lecturer at Sheffield Polytechnic, where he designed the first undergraduate degree in Communication in the United Kingdom; Principal Lecturer in Communication at the Polytechnic of Wales, where he supervised the first Ph.D. candidate in Communication in the United Kingdom; Principal Lecturer in the School of Communication and Cultural Studies at Curtin University in Perth, Australia; and finally Professor of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, from which he retired in 1990.

In addition to hundreds of articles and book chapters, John was the author or coauthor of nine books including Reading Television (with John Hartley), which was one of the first scholarly works to apply semiotics to media texts; Introduction to Communication Studies; Television Culture; Reading the Popular; Understanding Popular Culture; Media Matters: Everyday Culture and Political Change; and Power Plays, Power Works, the book he considered to be the culmination of his theoretical work. His books have been translated into over 20 languages and have sold millions of copies. The founding editor of what is now the journal Cultural Studies, John lectured widely throughout the world. He was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the University of Antwerp in 2008. His commitment to teaching and to his graduate students was perhaps his greatest contribution and gave him enormous pleasure and satisfaction.

Following his retirement from academia in 2000, he moved with his wife Lisa Freeman to a farmhouse in Vermont and embarked on his second career as an antiques author, editor, and dealer trading as Fiske & Freeman: Fine and Early Antiques and specializing in seventeenth-century English oak furniture. He became editor-in-chief of the New England Antiques Journal in 2004, and when the publisher decided to cease publication in December 2018, launched the online Digital Antiques Journal. Known for both his personal reflections (Yours Sincerely) and his deep insights into the meaning of antiques and the future of the antiques business (In My Opinion), he published several more books on seventeenth-century furniture including Living with Early Oak and When Oak Was New. His passion for the “humble history” that antiques offer had deep roots in his academic training and commitment to understanding the culture of everyday life.

In 2008, he and Lisa moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, where his love of antiques expanded to embrace historical preservation in the coastal New England town that claims more first period houses than any other in the United States. This led him to chair the Ipswich Historical Commission, persuade the town to adopt its first Architectural Preservation District, and embark on the restoration of the collection in the National Historic Landmark John Whipple House.

John is survived by his wife of 32 years, Lisa Freeman of Ipswich and Manhattan; his daughter Dr. Lucy Fiske of Sydney, Australia; and his cousin, Eric Saumarez of Guernsey. He was predeceased by his son Matthew. Contributions in lieu of flowers may be made to the John Fiske Memorial Fund of the Ipswich Museum, Ipswich, MA ( A celebration of John’s life will be held at a later date.


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47 Condolences

  1. David Bordwell on July 14, 2021 at 9:42 pm

    I wish Lisa and his family the best in this difficult time. But they may be consoled by the fact that he has left a rich legacy to so many people.
    John was a towering figure in media studies, a warm and good-natured colleague, and an inspiring teacher. He transformed the television division of our department at Madison into a vigorous enterprise studying media culture in all its forms. His gift to the field and to my university is incalculable; dozens of graduate students benefited from his passion and wide-ranging knowledge. I count myself lucky to have enjoyed his friendship.

  2. John Hartley on July 14, 2021 at 10:58 pm

    I’d like to send my love and best wishes to Lisa and Lucy, with whom I’ve been fortunate to share some happy moments — some of them at conferences on the other side of the world, others in a swimming pool at Kelmscott, here in Australia. John was a titan of our scholarly field, of course, but he was also a major influence in my own life. We co-authored the first book that either of us wrote. He mentored me all the way from callow research assistant to professional academic, and from Wales to Australia. John was full of energy, fun and daring, and loved to share provocative ideas at a time of intellectual, cultural and political turbulence. He made a permanent and positive impact on an emergent field of knowledge, and he will be much missed by us all. Vale, John!

  3. Graeme Turner on July 14, 2021 at 11:10 pm

    My best wishes to Lisa and Lucy at this time. John will be remembered within Australian cultural studies for the enormous energy, vitality, and optimism he generated — playing a major role in securing the establishment of cultural studies as a field of study and research here. Like many others, I owe him a great personal debt for his friendship and mentorship. He took me under his wing when he arrived at Curtin University in the early 80s, and guided me through the beginnings of my career in the most generous and supportive manner. I will remember him as a great friend, a tireless mentor, an inspiring teacher, and a wonderful model of what a publicly engaged academic should be. I was indeed fortunate to have had his interest and support and I will never forget that. Vale.

  4. Derek Kompare on July 14, 2021 at 11:17 pm

    As one of John’s students in the 1990s at Wisconsin, I’ll always appreciate his passion for ideas and the social functions of media, his enthusiasm for discussion, and his general joie de vivre. He was a model scholar and mentor, and leaves behind an enormous legacy in his work and in all the many students he helped develop. My condolences to Lisa and his family, and to all who knew and admired John.

  5. Kevin Howley on July 15, 2021 at 12:35 am

    I never had the pleasure of meeting John Fiske in person. But my encounters with his insights and perspectives, through his writing and the generations of students he mentored, have informed my efforts as a media educator and scholar for well over a quarter century. My deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

  6. Aniko Bodroghkozy on July 15, 2021 at 12:52 am

    As one of John’s PhD students at UW-Madison in the early 1990s, I am so sorry to hear of his passing and send my heart-felt condolences to Lisa and Lucy. John’s work inspired me to apply to the programme at Madison and I consider myself blessed to have been among the inaugural group of “telecommies” who worked with John when he produced some of his most field-defining works. He was an inspiring, generous, caring, and challenging teacher, beloved by his students. His scholarly work continues to guide my own. His final works Media Matters and Power Plays, Power Works are so relevant to our current political moment. He modelled the politically engaged academic. He was also way fun to be around. He will be so missed. May his memory be a blessing.

  7. Jason Mittell on July 15, 2021 at 3:02 am

    I had the good fortune of stumbling into a class John was teaching as a visitor at University of Minnesota in 1993, and that inspired me to follow him back to Madison and get my PhD under his tutelage. He was a brilliant scholar, an even better teacher, and a kind & generous mentor. I know he spent a number of years in Vermont, and I try to keep his spirit alive in my classrooms at Middlebury. Much love and support to Lisa and Lucy, and rest assured that John touched so many people across multiple continents and careers!

  8. Lothar Mikos on July 15, 2021 at 9:07 am

    My best wishes to his family. I was glad to meet him in person at the first Crossroads in Cultural Studies conference in Tampere, Finland. At that time, for me as television scholar, his book “Television Culture” was a bible which had an enormous influence on my work. In Tampere I met a warm hearted, unpretentious man with whom I had several conversations. Finally, he agreed that my colleague Rainer Winter (Klagenfurt, Austria) and I could start the project to translate some selected works of John into German. Finally in 2001 the “Die Fabrikation des Populären. Der John Fiske Reader” was published. During the editing process we had many conversations about popular culture, the people, and the power bloc. Your voice will be missed in Cultural Studies.

  9. Dorothy Hobson on July 15, 2021 at 11:03 am

    I met John at the conference organised by Ellen Seiter in Blaubeuren Germany in February 1987. The book Remote Control published by Routledge tells the story of that conference. But the real story was the time spent with leading academics of whom John was one of the most famous and also the most warm and generous and charming man. He told me how much he liked my work and that was very important to me. For three days in deep snow we talked of television, it’s audiences and everyday culture. It was a special time and i felt privileged to meet John. My condolences to his family.

  10. Ken Hillis on July 15, 2021 at 11:24 am

    Officially, John was my ‘external’ advisor when I was a doctoral student in Geography at UW-Madison during the early-to-mid 1990s. He was, however, effectively my main advisor, so brilliant a teacher and advisor was he. His insight, knowledge and suggestions as to how to think about my future academic career shaped my thinking and practice as I integrated my twin foci of Geography and Cultural Studies, and his strong intellectual support and assistance led directly to the publication of my first book which, in turn, positively influenced the entirety of my future academic career. I am forever grateful for having known John and truly saddened to learn of his passing.

  11. Sweta das on July 15, 2021 at 11:27 am

    May your soul Rest in peace sir ✨ condolence to the family, take care

  12. Jennifer Slack on July 15, 2021 at 12:54 pm

    John contributed immeasurably to the field of media and communication. But it’s even more astounding that he had two very successful careers. I send condolences to Lisa and the rest of John’s family.

  13. Anshula Garg on July 15, 2021 at 12:58 pm

    May his divine loss rest in peace…May God give the strength to family to bear the loss.
    Big loss for the academics

  14. Julie Cupples on July 15, 2021 at 1:42 pm

    I married one of John’s former grad students, so his work has been a constant in our lives and our collaborative scholarship. I’ve encouraged many of my students to read his work too as it is so good for thinking geographically about media and popular culture. I met John at the Fiske Matters conference in Madison in 2010 and realized how amazing it must have been to have been one of his students. We had such a fun time in Madison and he outpartied all of us. Condolences to his family.

  15. Jim Warner on July 15, 2021 at 2:54 pm

    I didn’t know him as an academic or scholar. To me John was simply a friend and neighbor who liked walking his dog. I will miss him and his ever cheerful banter.

  16. Lisa Parks on July 15, 2021 at 2:59 pm

    John was my mentor in graduate school at UW-Madison. Not only was he an intellectual powerhouse, he was a gentle soul. He would lecture on complex topics and theories without a single note. He had a great sense of humor and a twinkle in his eyes. He was always up for a post-colloquium beer at the Red Shed or the Terrace. He cared deeply about social justice. John was a dear friend and without him I would never have had an academic career. John also fully thrived in his second career as an antique dealer and reveled in the histories of objects. He will live on in the work, dreams, and mischief of his students. My heart hurts. We will all miss him. Lots of love to Lisa and John’s family and friends.

  17. Julie D'Acci on July 15, 2021 at 5:07 pm

    John Fiske was an unsparingly generous colleague and friend. Not only brilliant and pathbreaking as a teacher and scholar, but warm, hilarious, irreverent, and kind. He enlivened my mind and heart during our years together at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I will miss him and his ever-present twinkle tremendously. I offer many condolences to Lisa who was also a strong and important presence in my life. In solidarity with all John’s colleagues, students, family and friends, Julie

  18. Martin Flanagan on July 15, 2021 at 5:21 pm

    Sorry to hear this; John’s work gave a lot to me, particularly when I was working on Bakhtin, and at the start of my teaching career in Film Studies. Wishing love to Lisa and John’s family and friends.

  19. Madhumita Das on July 15, 2021 at 6:03 pm

    Deep condolences from India….

  20. Joseph R Perrone on July 15, 2021 at 10:46 pm

    My 17th century oak hero.

  21. Minna Aslama Horowitz on July 15, 2021 at 11:46 pm

    The best teacher and scholar I have known. When I had the privilege to study with him at UW Madison he opened my eyes to the beauty, and importance, of cultural analysis. But his wisdom and kindness as a professor were equally, if not more, impressive. I idolized him. I still do. This is no cliche: his work changed the course of my life. Thank you, Professor Fiske.

  22. Marcia Cole Huffman, co owner founder of on July 16, 2021 at 1:43 am

    His journal was excellent. During my brief dealings with him personally, in a collaboration to help antique dealers during COVID, I found him to be generous and a delight in person as well as in his articles. The antique ‘world’ will miss him.
    My condolences to all.

  23. David Neligan on July 16, 2021 at 1:54 am

    I will miss reading John’s well researched and always interesting articles .
    He had such an obvious passion for what he did and made the most of his time on this planet. His inquisitiveness was contagious and his fact filled articles were always fascinating. My sincere sympathies to his family.

  24. Bill and Judy Castor on July 16, 2021 at 3:17 am

    My wife and I acquired a wonderful early valuables chest from Mr. Fiske several years ago. We stopped by his shop in Ipswich. We made a phone call to Mr Fiske and he was at his shop in ten minutes. We loved the chest and an early pewter dated charger.
    We were on our way to Antiques Week in NH, and told him we think about those two wonderful items..It wasn’t long while in NH that we knew we wanted both items. We called Mr. Fiske and he said he would be glad to bring them to the New Hampshire Antique Dealer’s Show for us. He was so informative and considerate. A very gentle spirit. John Fiske was a rare and very civil man.

  25. Steven Classen on July 16, 2021 at 7:47 am

    John did what the best mentors do, encouraging the best in their students with a marked grace, good humor and generosity. That’s what he offered me and so many others in his years at UW-Madison. He not only shaped me as a student but showed me how to teach, and I will always be grateful. May peace be with Lisa and the family.

  26. Ansar Hussain on July 16, 2021 at 9:58 am

    May the deceased soul rest in peace. His work will remain always there, that he did in the field of academics and humanity.

  27. Barta and Lee Hathaway on July 16, 2021 at 11:36 am

    The news of John’s passing brought sadness to our hearts. Every interaction we had with John were filled with wit, warmth, wisdom and insight. He was thoughtful and eloquent in is presentation on any subject or dilemma in his time with the Historical Commission and work with the Ipswich Museum. Always the thought provoking “teacher”. He shared his link to Antiques Journal and we would look forward to his introductions and “In My Opinion” and it became a staple in our reading. John and Lisa personified warmth and elegance as a couple. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Lisa and John’s family and friends

  28. Tom Pickett on July 16, 2021 at 12:50 pm

    Although I never got a chance to meet John in person I had several conversations with him over the years as a customer of his wonderful antiques , He was a remarkable knowledgeable friendly man, My deepest condolences

  29. Judy Penz Sheluk on July 16, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    As Editor in Chief to my Senior Editor at New England Antiques Journal from 2008 until 2018, John became my mentor, friend, and was always the voice of reason. Working with John was the best possible job – one that never felt like work for a moment, and that is to his credit. He was a wonderful man and I am heartbroken at this news. Lisa, my sincere condolences on the loss of your husband, and Lucy, on the loss of your father. I know he was so proud of both of you and was always so happy when Lucy came to visit.

  30. Catherine Saunders-Watson on July 16, 2021 at 1:18 pm

    As a fellow editor at a competing publication, I always admired John immensely for his scholarship and knowledge. He had a gift for communicating with warmth, passion and wit. Farewell, John, and thank you for teaching the next generation.

  31. Laura Geggis on July 16, 2021 at 3:15 pm

    I will deeply miss John. I can still hear his kind voice. Lisa, you are in my thoughts.

  32. Jonathan Gray on July 16, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    John’s impact on the Department of Communication Arts and the field was huge. It was Understanding Popular Culture and Reading the Popular that got me into the field in the first place — I’d lived next to Cottesloe Beach as a kid, and his reading of it in Reading the Popular energized and inspired me with how one could “read” everyday life, its systems, power structures, and inner workings. I only knew UW-Madison was a thing/place because of him, and now I’m a prof in his old department and program. Media and Cultural Studies at UW is thriving, still running in part on the impressive momentum he played a massive role in initiating. The field has been missing him since 2000, but we’ll now miss him all the more. My condolences to all his family, friends, mentees, and other loved ones.

  33. Inderjeet Singh on July 16, 2021 at 7:14 pm

    About a decade ago, as a student of JournaIism, I came to know about him through his books. His books helped me in having a foundational understanding of the realm and that also benefitted when I joined academics few years later. Though I never got a chance meet him in person but I engaged with him through his works and he has been a guiding light through out. His influence on Media studies is immense and he shaped understanding of millions, or probably billions in the field. His contribution to the field of Cultural studies will always be remembered. I pay homage and tributes to the in-absentia teacher of many like me. He will always be missed. Adios John!
    I also send my sincere condolences to the family of a great personality. May you all have strength to bear the loss.

  34. Kaarle Nordenstreng on July 17, 2021 at 8:36 am

    John Fiske lives for ever in the paradigmatic history of media and communication studies everywhere, including Finland where he visited impressing all and where his introductory texbook in local language became a bestseller. RIP.

  35. Nusratullah Karimi on July 17, 2021 at 9:57 am

    I wasn’t lucky enough to meet John Fiske in person but I have been very lucky to meet his lovely and wonderful daughter Dr. Lucy Fiske.
    My deepest condolences are with the Fiske family and particularly my dear friend Lucy. May you all have the strength to bear this huge loss.

  36. Jon T Ording on July 17, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    John was for me that rare patron who wanted to know, not just where and when old things were made, but how they were made and used. I remain grateful that he entrusted to my hands so many wonderful objects over the years. I learned much from our collaborations because he so generously and ably shared his knowledge. He was deeply drawn, perhaps idealistically so, to a view of material culture in which domestic things balanced, in equal measure, stern purpose with vivifying beauty.

  37. Lawrence Apps on July 18, 2021 at 11:03 am

    John was like a breath of fresh air at Curtin University. Perhaps more like a gale. He had a transformative effect on the curriculum and many of the staff, including me, although perhaps his giant intellect was not always appreciated. I also appreciated his kindness and support for me personally.

  38. Carol Eppel on July 18, 2021 at 2:57 pm

    Lisa, It is always with great fondness that I think of you and John, and amazing that of the many people you meet in your life, some remain in your memory for a long time. I am very sad to hear of his death.
    Every time I drive up 3rd Street in Stillwater and pass your old
    house I remember you both. When I clean my living room and
    dust an old piece that I purchased from John, I remember. I
    loved his knowledge, and working with him at Mulberry Point
    Antiques. When he painted the booth, and in his very British
    accent, said the color was “Avocado Mash”…. He was a very
    special man.
    His articles will be missed, but it’s with loving memory that
    I think of you both.

  39. Amy Rampoldt on July 19, 2021 at 6:34 pm

    Lisa, you have been in my thoughts since I learned of John’s passing. Though i didn’t know him personally, I enjoyed seeing his grin while passing behind you during our remote work sessions. I know the strength and power of your love brought him great joy, happiness and comfort. I am so very sorry for your loss. There is nothing that can be said to ease your pain but please know that you are in my thoughts.

  40. Amy Rampoldt on July 19, 2021 at 6:34 pm

    Lisa, you have been in my thoughts since I learned of John’s passing. Though i didn’t know him personally, I enjoyed seeing his grin while passing behind you during our remote work sessions. I know the strength and power of your love brought him great joy, happiness and comfort. I am so very sorry for your loss. There is nothing that can be said to ease your pain but please know that you are in my thoughts.

  41. Gail McLeod on July 21, 2021 at 4:37 pm

    Sending condolences to Lisa and the family from England on hearing this very sad news.

    I have so much enjoyed the many exchanges with John through our long collaboration at Antiques News & Fairs/NEAJ.

    A true gentleman and an academic. His articles were always a joy and we shared many of them on our pages over time.

  42. Khalil Payeez on July 25, 2021 at 12:59 am

    My condolences and best wishes are with Fiske family. I feel myself so lucky to meet Dr. Lucy Fiske, I wish I could meet John Fiske. His mission, his hardwork and the incredible contribution he has for the people and the world will always remain alive.
    I wish the best for his family and friends in this difficult time.

  43. Ivor Hughes on August 16, 2021 at 12:08 pm

    I remember John joining New England Antiques Journal. Three or four editors had left in rapid succession. He brought a scholarly stability that turned NEAJ into one of the very best antiques and antique lifestyle magazines worldwide. But, like so many others, it folded due to an imbalance between revenue and expenditure. The parent publisher, Turley, had to let it go. John was able to create a successor, Digital Antiques Journal, and keep it online until he passed. John Fiske’s health issues and mature years were no obstacles to this achievement. My condolences go to his family, his colleagues at DAJ and the community he tirelessly served.

  44. Virginia (Gina) Sapiro on September 18, 2021 at 1:20 am

    I stumbled across this and I am so sad to hear of John’s passing. I have thought of you both so often over the years … we have lived so close and yet never reconnected. Lisa, shall we try to get together? It has been 30 years since our first hilarious meetings….

  45. Graham Findlay on October 24, 2021 at 12:40 pm

    I was one of John’s students at the BA Communication Studies course at the Polytechnic of Wales. It was 1979 and I was in the second cohort of what was a radical new degree that John had set up, combining cultural studies, semiotics, psychology and linguistics.
    Fiske and Hartley’s seminal book Reading Television had just been published and as a mature student I found the whole academic area fascinating and sometimes somewhat baffling!
    I recall John’s lectures with great fondness. He made complex notions about Saussure, signs and semiotics understandable and fun, for someone like me with no academic penchant. I still remember some of the phrases he used!
    I left the degree course with a First, no doubt due to John’s skill and enthusiasm in priming me during that first, fun year.

  46. Victor Saumarez on February 6, 2022 at 12:48 pm

    I just found out and was very saddened by the news. Although a second cousin, I knew John from early childhood so he felt like close family. Sincerest heart-felt commiserations to loved-ones he leaves behind.

  47. Tom Gordyn on July 10, 2022 at 6:04 pm

    Many years ago John gave me an opportunity to write for the publication. How awesome is that .. it was a great privilege …. His kindness was ever present in our communications and for that I will be forever grateful. I am truly sorry its been a year without me knowing or extending sympathy.

    Footprints … for John ..

    One night I dreamed a dream.
    As I was walking along in the museums / historical places with my Lord.
    Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life and those of others past.
    For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the hallways,
    One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
    After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
    I looked back at the footprints in the hallways.
    I noticed that at many times along the path of my life and those I studied,
    especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
    there was only one set of footprints.

    This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
    “Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
    You’d walk with me all the way on this journey.
    But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
    there was only one set of footprints in the hallways and world.
    I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

    He whispered, “My precious child John, I love you and will never leave you
    Never, ever, during your trials and testing’s, now or always.
    When you saw only one set of footprints,
    It was then that I carried you.”

    Mizpah is Hebrew for “watchtower”. May it comfort you Lisa and Lucy until you meet again. God is the watchtower. Sending Warm thoughts to comfort you … Peace and Blessings Always … Tom Gordyn, Strathroy, Ontario, Canada

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