Gail Sheehy, a journalist who plumbed the interior lives of public figures for clues to their behavior and examined societal trends as signposts of cultural change, died on Monday at a hospital in Southampton, N.Y. She was 82.
Her daughter, Maura Sheehy, said the cause was complications of pneumonia.
The family also announced the death on Facebook, writing: “In a terrible swift unexpected spin of the wheel, my mother died this afternoon, of a raging pneumonia, possibly Covid, that came on wildly after a lovely evening with her partner, Robert, and friends.”
Gail Sheehy, a lively participant in New York’s literary scene and a practitioner of creative nonfiction, studied anthropology with Margaret Mead. She applied those skills to explore the cultural upheaval of the 1960s and ’70s and to gain psychological insights into the newsmakers she profiled — among them Hillary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev and both Presidents Bush.
She was a star writer at New York magazine and later married its founder, Clay Felker, who encouraged her to write “big” stories. In one of her earliest articles, she traveled with Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign. She wrote presciently about subjects that marked turns in the culture, including blended families and drug addiction.
Ms. Sheehy caused a sensation with “The Secret of Grey Gardens,” a New York magazine article in 1972 in which she revealed to the world the little-known bohemian life of Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, an aunt of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Ms. Beale’s daughter, known as Little Edie.
Of her 17 books, the most famous and influential was “Passages” (1976), which examined the predictable crises of adult life and how to use them as opportunities for creative change. The Library of Congress named it one of the 10 most influential books of modern times.
“Whenever you hear about a great cultural phenomenon — a revolution, an assassination, a notorious trial, an attack on the country — drop everything,” Ms. Sheehy said in 2016 in a commencement speech at the University of Vermont, her alma mater.
“Get on a bus or train or plane and go there, stand at the edge of the abyss, and look down into it,” she declared. “You will see a culture turned inside out and revealed in a raw state.”
A full obituary will appear soon.