Terry O´Neill, the photographer who chronicled the people and events of the swinging Sixties, has died aged 81. O’Neill had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and was last seen in October at Buckingham Palace receiving a CBE for services to photography. The honour was presented to him by Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge.
A spokeswoman said: “It is with a heavy heart that Iconic Images announces the passing of Terence ‘Terry’ O’Neill, CBE.
“Terry was a class act, quick-witted and filled with charm. Anyone who was lucky enough to know or work with him can attest to his generosity and modesty. As one of the most iconic photographers of the last 60 years, his legendary pictures will forever remain imprinted in our memories as well as in our hearts and minds.”
O’Neill photographed some of the world’s most legendary stars and public figures, from Audrey Hepburn to David Bowie, Elton John, Winston Churchill and Frank Sinatra.
He also shot members of the Royal Family, including the Queen. Among his most recent works was an image of Amy Winehouse at the height of her fame in 2008.
It was Bowie whom O’Neill described as his “creative muse”, and whose ever-shifting artistry he captured over two decades – from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke.
O’Neill referred to the late artist as “charming and warm” in a recent interview with The Guardian.
“I treated David like a Shakespearean actor, as you never knew who was going to show up,” he said “He could look alien-like or female-like; it was always so exciting as everything he did was so unpredictable.”
He claimed that when he first arrived on the cultural scene of the Sixties, the media was not interested in capturing the flourishing arts movement taking place.
After being asked to photograph a “little band” called The Beatles at Abbey Road, he found work with the Rolling Stones. “I could go out and create my own world,” he said. “There was no other time like it.”
Terry O’Neill said in 1963: ” The very first pop picture I took, in the backyard at Abbey Road. I didn’t know what to do, nobody had photographed a group before so I just got them outside with their guitars, and Ringo with a cymbal. It was the only thing I could think of. The pictures are so naive. They didn’t know what to do either, but it was the beginning of everything. They were recording Please Please Me, and people didn’t know they’d be big. But they were four great personalities, it shone out of them. John was in charge, you can see that he’s the leader from the picture, he was definitely the stronger force. He wanted to be at the front. John and Paul were a great double act, not just on stage. Off stage they were clever young hustlers. John had the irony, Paul the charm. They were nobody’s fools. George was a brilliant musician, but shy and serious. Ringo was new to the band and was a very funny guy. An editor had asked me to photograph the emerging youth culture. They just seemed to sum up the changing mood of the times. They had hair that was long for the day, and their clothes were smart, but relaxed, almost casual. I took the pictures back to the paper. They sat in the editor’s in-tray but one day there were no train crashes or wars or sensational trials to put on the front page, so he put The Beatles on it – and there was this amazing response. The newspaper sold out. It was a revelation – young people bought the paper because a young unknown band was on the front page. A few weeks later the record was released and it went straight to No 1. In weeks, they were the biggest news in Britain; in months the biggest news in the world – and the Sixties took off”.