Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Late Great Terry O'Neill

Terry O'Neill, the photographer who took pictures of celebrities from The Beatles to Amy Winehouse, died yesterday, November 19 2019, at the age of 81. The cause was prostate cancer.

Terry O'Neill was born Terence Patrick O'Neill on July 30 1938 in Romford, London.  He had planned to become a priest, but was told “had too many questions and not enough belief." He then became a drummer before serving in the British Royal Navy. After his national service, Mr. O'Neill wanted to become a steward for British Overseas Airways Corporation so he could go to the United States to play jazz. Instead the airline made him an offer of an apprenticeship as a photographer, a position which he took.

It was in 1959 he took a photo of home secretary Rab Butler taking a nap among African dignitaries. The photo led to Mr. O'Neill getting a job at the Daily Sketch. He photographed such celebrities as Lord Laurence Olivier, Sammy Davis Jr., and Winston Churchill. In January 1963 he took photos of The Beatles in the backyard of Abbey Road Studios during the recording of their first album, Please Please Me. He would continue to photograph The Beatles for much of the band's history. Of course, The Beatles were not the only rock artists Terry O'Neill photographed. He also photographed The Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull, The Who, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Elton John, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, and AC/DC. He photographed several album covers, including the cover of David Bowie's Diamond Dogs, The Who's album Who Are You, and Elton John's album A Single Man.

Of course, Terry O'Neill photographed more than rock legends. He photographed model Jean Shrimpton, actress Raquel Welch, actor Michael Caine, actor Dustin Hoffman, actress Audrey Hepburn, singer Frank Sinatra, actor Steve McQueen, actress Brigitte Bardot, and many others. Among his most famous shots was one of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. Mr. O'Neill even photographed the royal family.

Terry O'Neill never set out to be a photographer, but he turned out to be one of the most talented. He had a particular talent for candid photographs, with an uncanny knack for capturing the moment. Of course, the artistry of his photographs also came about because of his diligence at his craft. He would take several photographs and then look through his contact sheets for the perfect shot. Unlike many photographers, Mr. O'Neill kept his contact sheets, which would later be used for multiple books featuring his photographs. Terry O'Neill was a singular talent as a photographer, and it is easy to understand how he had such a long and profitable career.

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