Terry O’Neill, the acclaimed photographer who worked extensively with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and others, died at the age of 81 on Nov. 16, a spokesperson confirmed. He’d been fighting cancer for some time.
O’Neill was a leading name among those who documented the cultural changes of the ‘60s. He was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 2004 and given a C.B.E. award (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for services to photography last month.
“It is with a heavy heart that Iconic Images announces the passing of Terence ‘Terry’ O’Neill, C.B.E.,” read a statement. “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.”
Elton John paid tribute by tweeting, “Terry O’Neill took the most iconic photographs of me throughout the years, completely capturing my moods. He was brilliant, funny and I absolutely loved his company. A real character who has now passed on.”
“It is with great sadness that we heard of the passing of our dear friend, photographer Terry O’Neill,” the Who said. “Terry worked with the Who for many years.” Tributes also came from Jimmy Page and Ringo Starr, among others.
Speaking earlier this year, O’Neill said he was in the right place at the right time – and, importantly, of the right age – to achieve his ambitions. “I remember I was asked by an editor to go photograph this ‘little band’ called the Beatles at Abbey Road Studios, then that led to me working with the Stones,” he told the Guardian. “All the old timers didn’t want to take these photographs on and almost looked down on them. It meant us youngsters could jump in and take up the opportunity. I could go out and create my own world. There was no other time like it. It was just so much fun!”
O’Neill also called Bowie his favorite subject. “I loved that he had all these characters and took charge of our sessions and told me exactly what he wanted,” he said. “It meant that our pictures had a purpose. I guess with most of the other pop stars I shot, it was sometimes very aimless. With David, you never had to coax things out, they just came naturally.”
He noted that “at the time, I just carried on taking pictures. When I worked with Frank [Sinatra], he told me to be a fly on the wall, and that’s what I was. I never realized that these photos would live on for as long as they did. Bowie’s name is going to live on forever and if, by extension, that means my photographs do too, then that’s a really incredible thought.” O’Neill is survived by his three children and his wife, Laraine Ashton.