Michel Roux, a French-born liquor executive who used a distinctive and witty advertising campaign to turn Absolut, a little-known Swedish brand, into the top imported vodka in the United States, died on April 30 at his home in Palm Coast, Florida. He was 78.
His death was confirmed by Jen Dillon, a family spokeswoman, who said the cause appeared to have been cardiac arrest.
The Absolut campaign, appearing largely in upscale magazines, started in 1980 when Roux was the No. 2 executive at Carillon Importers, which marketed and distributed Absolut in America.
Conceived by the agency TBWA, the ads imbued Absolut with a sophisticated image. “I want to make a fashionable business out of the booze-peddler business,” Roux told W magazine in 1988.
TBWA used Absolut’s squat, transparent bottle as its muse, with ads like “Absolut Heaven,” which pictured the bottle with angel’s wings, and “Absolut Perfection,” which placed it under a halo.
Roux, who became Carillon’s president in 1982, added to the campaign by commissioning Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Ed Ruscha and many other artists and photographers to reimagine the bottle in a long-running series of ads. Kurt Vonnegut drew himself playing with string — a nod to his novel “Cat’s Cradle” — with the bottle’s spout turned into a cat’s head.
Hiring Warhol — for $65,000 (about $157,000 today), a ceiling Roux would not exceed for any other artist — was a breakthrough in the campaign.
“I knew Andy Warhol very well,” Roux said in an interview with Chilled, a magazine about beer, wine and spirits. “He was a teetotaler; he didn’t drink. He made me believe he was using Absolut as a perfume.”
Michel Pierre Roux (pronounced roo) was born on Aug. 31, 1940, in Soyaux, France, to Emmanuel and Louisette (Lecocq) Roux. After graduating from the University of Strasbourg with a degree in hotel management and serving as a paratrooper in the French army, he emigrated to the United States in 1964 with the help of a family from Texas, who sponsored him.
He is survived by his wife, Kathleen (Hazlett) Roux, known as Kitty, and his sons, Dominique and Maximilien.