Guy Debord was a Marxist writer, who also made films and wrote criticism. His most known written work is probably, The Society of the Spectacle (1967). His was a leading voice in the Situationist movement, and Society of the Spectacle was, in many ways, centrifugal to the morale of this loose faction of European writers. The book traces the development of a modern society in which authentic social life has been replaced with its representation: "All that once was directly lived has become mere representation." Debord argues that the history of social life can be understood as "the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing." This condition, according to Debord, is the "historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life."
He was also involved with the Letterists, a Paris-based collective of radical artists and theorists between 1952 and 1957. It was founded by Debord as a schism from Isidore Isou's Letterist group. The group went on to join others in forming the Situationist International, taking some key techniques and ideas with it. He joined the Letterist International when he was 19. The Letterists were led dictatorially by Isidore Isou until a widely agreed upon schism ended Isou's authority. This schism gave rise to several factions of Letterists, one of which was decidedly led by Debord upon Gil Wolman's unequivocal recommendation. In the 1960s, Debord led the Situationist International group, which influenced the Paris Uprising of 1968. Some consider his book The Society of the Spectacle (1967) to be a catalyst for the uprising.
In 1957, the Lettrist International, the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, and the London Psychogeographical Association gathered in Alba, Italy, to found the Situationist International, with Debord having been the leading representative of the Lettrist delegation. Initially made up of a number of well known artists such as Asger Jorn and Pinot Gallizio, the early days of the SI were heavily focused on the formulation of a critique of art, which would serve as a foundation for the group's future entrance into further political critiques. The SI was known for a number of its interventions in the art world, which included one raid against an international art conference in Belgium during 1960 that included a large pamphlet drop and significant media coverage, all of which culminated in the arrest of various situationists and sympathizers associated with the scandal. In addition to this action, the SI endeavored to formulate industrial painting, or, painting prepared en masse with the intent of defaming the original value largely associated with the art of the period. In the course of these actions, Debord was heavily involved in the planning and logistical work associated with preparing these interventions, as well as the work for Internationale Situationniste associated with theoretical defense of the Situationist International's actions.
In 1972, Debord disbanded the Situationist International due to the fact that he had either expelled or lost all of the original members, including Asger Jorn and, in 1972, Raoul Vaneigem, who wrote a biting criticism of Debord and the International. Debord then focused on filmmaking with financial backing from the movie mogul and publisher, Gérard Lebovici (éditions Champ Libre), until Lebovici's mysterious death. Debord was suspected of Lebovici's murder. Distraught by these accusations and his friend's death, Debord took his films and writings out of production until after his death, when he agreed to have his films released at the request of the American researcher, Thomas Y. Levin. Debord's two most recognized films date from this period: a film version of Society of the Spectacle (1973) and "In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni" (1978).
After the dissolution of the Situationist International, Debord spent his time reading, and occasionally writing, in relative isolation in a cottage at Champot with Alice Becker-Ho, his second wife. He continued to correspond on political and other issues, notably with Lebovici and the Italian situationist Gianfranco Sanguinetti. He focused on reading material relating to war strategies, e.g.Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, and he designed a war game with Alice Becker-Ho.
Debord was married twice, to Michèle Bernstein and Alice Becker-Ho, however, these were open relationships. Debord had noted relationships with other women, including Michèle Mochot, the daughter of a surrealist. Bernstein produced a vaguely fictional account of intimate details of the open relationships Mochot and she had with Debord in her novel, All The King's Horses.
Debord's alcohol consumption became problematic for his health, giving him a form of polyneuritis brought on by his excessive drinking. Apparently, in order to end the suffering induced by this condition, he committed suicide, by shooting himself in the heart at his property in Champot, near Bellevue-la-Montagne, Haute-Loire, on November 30, 1994. Just before his death, he filmed (although did not publish) a documentary entitled, "Son art et son temps" (His Art and his Time), an "autobiography" that focused primarily on social issues in Paris in the 1990s. It has been suggested that this dark depiction of Debord's "time" was a suicide note of sorts.
On January 29, 2009, fifteen years after his death, Christine Albanel, Minister of Culture, classified the archive of his works as a "national treasure" in response to a sale request by Yale University. The Ministry declared that "he has been one of the most important contemporary thinkers, with a capital place in history of ideas from the second half of the twentieth century." Similarly, Debord once called his book, The Society of the Spectacle, "the most important book of the twentieth century.” He continues to be a canonical and controversial figure particularly among European scholars of radical politics and modern art.