Bob Flanagan

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Bob Flanagan
Born (1952-12-26)December 26, 1952
New York City, US
Died January 4, 1996(1996-01-04) (aged 43)
Long Beach, California, US
Occupation Performance artist

Bob Flanagan (December 26, 1952 – January 4, 1996)[1] was an American performance artist, comic, writer, poet, and musician.


Early life

He 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 19, 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. He studied literature at California State University, Long Beach and the University of California, Irvine. He 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.[2]


On January 4, 1996, he died of cystic fibrosis, aged 43.[3]

He was the subject of the documentary SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (1997), a film by Kirby Dick,[1] which covers the final years of Bob's life and does not shy away from detailing his masochistic activities.


While some of his performances were notable for acts of extreme masochism (on at least one occasion he hammered a nail through his penis, while cracking jokes), he also wrote humorous songs, many of them intended as much for children as adults.

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

His 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 videos

File:Happiness in Slavery video.jpg
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.[1] 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 he 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.

He 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 performances

A Matter of Choice In collaboration with Sheree Rose; LACE, July 1992[4]

Bob Flanagan at the Movies Artists Television Access, San Francisco, April 18, 1992[4]

Bob Flanagan's Sick Art in the Anchorage, New York, August 1991[4]

Tell Me What to Do: An Improvisational Reading and Performance Beyond Baroque, Venice, August 14, 1987[4]

Partial bibliography

  • 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)
  • The Book of Medicine (manuscript, never published)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Terminals
  2. bob flanagan, 1952–1996
  3. Bob Flanagan: brief biography on Terminals, UCLA. Accessed October 14, 2006.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Flanagan, Bob (1993). Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist. San Francisco, CA: Re/Search.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links