British photographer Terry O’Neil, known for his iconic photographs of Elton John, The Beatles, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, and many others, passed away on Saturday, November 16, 2019, at the age of 81.
The acclaimed photographer died at his home in London following a long battle with cancer, announced Iconic Images, the agency that represented O’Neill. His death comes a mere five months after he was named a commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to photography.
“Terry was a class act, quick-witted and filled with charm,” the agency said in a statement posted to its website.
“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.”
When he was 24-years-old O’Neill was sent to EMI’s studio on Abbey Raod by his editor at the Daily Sketch to snap a photo of a “little band” recording their first album. The photographer led the as-yet-unknown group to a bricked-in area outside the studio taking what is often described as The Beatles’ first portrait and is certainly one of the earliest images of a pop band to appear on the front page of a national British publication.
After the Beatles issue sold-out, the editor sent him on a quest to “go and find the next group.” So he did. Months before their first album was even cut, he lined the group up outside London’s Tin Pan Alley Club for a photo. Not appreciating their look, his boss described the group as “prehistoric monsters”…we know them as the Rolling Stones. See other images of the Stones by O’Neill in the tweets below.
Not only did O’Neill chronicle pop culture, but he also helped to influence and even define the aesthetic of London in the “swinging ‘60s” – contributing culture-defining images to such publications as Vogue, Life, and Rolling Stone.
Some of the iconic photos snapped by O’Neil include Elton John at his historic two-day concert series at Dodgers Stadium in 1975 and David Bowie in his transformation from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke.
He photographed many other big names over the course of a career that spanned decades, including Raquel Welch, dressed in a fur bikini and tied to a cross; model Jean Shrimpton with actor Terence Stamp, cheek-to-cheek during their famous romance in the mid-’60s; an ailing Winston Churchill being carried on a stretcher-like chair; singer Amy Winehouse; all the James Bond actors from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig; and Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, during a 1992 visit to Sandringham House.
Many of O’Neill’s photography subjects took to social media to express their condolences and share memories as well as photos.