Kevyn Aucoin

”Today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it,” celebrity makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin mused in an April 19 website message to his fans. ”To embrace the fear of not knowing, of not having control over much of anything except my reaction to it.” The famed stylist’s thoughts were sadly prescient. On May 7, Aucoin, 40, died in Valhalla, N.Y., of complications from a metabolic disorder. (He had been treated for a pituitary brain tumor earlier this year.)

Aucoin — who prettified nearly every Hollywood A-lister, including Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Janet Jackson — was perhaps best known for the transformations in his best-selling books Making Faces (Little, Brown, 1997) and Face Forward (Little, Brown, 2000). The tomes (lushly photographed by Aucoin and others), which featured the likes of Martha Stewart as Veronica Lake and Calista Flockhart as Audrey Hepburn, sold more than a million copies combined, with Faces debuting at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. Aucoin was also visible on the media circuit, penning a column for Allure and appearing on such shows as Good Morning America and Oprah — he even had a cameo on Sex and the City.

The openly gay Aucoin was raised in tiny Lafayette, La., where he endured so much discrimination that he quit high school. ”I would find death threats in my locker. I had rocks and bottles thrown at me,” he said in 1994’s The Art of Makeup. He moved to New York in 1983 and landed a job at Vogue soon after, eventually building a career that made him one of the most sought-after artists in the business. But it was Aucoin’s generous nature and activism (in 1999 he received an honorary diploma from the Harvey Milk School for his ongoing support) that resonated with his loved ones. ”He was a brilliant artist and a marvelous human being,” says Gena Rowlands, who wrote the intro to Face Forward. ”And I will miss him dearly.”