Renowned photographer Eppridge dies at age 75

Photo of Ken Dixon

Bill Eppridge's shocking 1968 photo of a dying Robert F. Kennedy for Life magazine became an iconic image of the 1960s.

The violence and heroism of Vietnam; Latin American revolutions; the aftermath of murder during the Civil Rights movement; frolicking in the mud at Woodstock; the mop-topped Beatles; even New York drug abusers were subjects for his prolific work.

But it was Eppridge's charming personality and tenacious professionalism that won him access behind the scenes, from inside U.S. Sen. Kennedy's ill-fated presidential campaign, to the Beatles' antic residency at New York's Plaza Hotel.

And, like that June night in a California hotel when an assassin's bullets tore through Kennedy, Eppridge kept clicking the shutter of his Nikon cameras, piling up images in a career that stretched from his Virginia childhood until his recent hospitalization.

Along the way, millions of readers of National Geographic, Life, Sports Illustrated and other publications were taken to places by Eppridge's images that they never would have otherwise visited.

Eppridge's dedication to teaching the craft resulted in training thousands of young photographers over more than 20 years.

Eppridge, 75, of New Milford died Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 after a brief illness, just months before the scheduled release of a collection of previously unpublished photographs "The Beatles: Six Days That Changed the World. February, 1964" (Rizzoli).

He is survived by his wife, Adrienne Aurichio.

Born in Buenos Aires on February 20, 1938, William E. Eppridge was a self-taught photographer who as a 15-year-old covered sports for the Wilmington Star, a Delaware newspaper, according to the nonprofit organization Echo Foundation of Charlotte, N.C.

Inspired by the World War II photos in Life magazine, the immediacy and emotion of photojournalism became his life's work.

While attending the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Eppridge was twice named college photographer of the year and, in 1959, was awarded first prize in the National Press Photographers Association contest for a photo of a horse caught beneath a stormy sky.

It was around that time he had his first association with Life, obtaining a coveted internship.

After his graduation in 1960, Eppridge embarked on a nine-month world tour for National Geographic, then became a contract photographer for Life, first following the Beatles around the country; then traveling to Mississippi, where he photographed the funeral of slain civil rights activist James Chaney. He followed Kennedy for two years, developing a personal bond that gave him behind-the-scenes access.

Eppridge became a staff photographer on Life until it closed in 1972, then moved over to Sports Illustrated, where he covered the Olympics and America's Cup sailing.

In his around-the-world journeys, Eppridge also photographed Mount St. Helen's eruption in Washington State in 1980 and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March of 1989.

For more than 20 years, he trained photographers in the Missouri Photojournalism Workshop and the Eddie Adams Photography Workshop.

His work has been shown in the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and Visa Pou L'Image in Perpignan, France.

His book on Kennedy, "A Time It Was -- Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties," was published by Abrams in 2008.

John Ellard Frook, who was the Los Angeles bureau chief for Life from 1968 until 1972, said in a forward to the book that Eppridge and Kennedy "saw something in each other. They became and remained, if not friends, then familiar and comfortable with one another."

In a prologue to the book, Eppridge said the tragedy of Kennedy's death at the hands of Sirhan Sirhan's .22 caliber handgun remains with him.

"Reporters listen, photographers look," Eppridge wrote. "If you are doing your job seriously as a photojournalist, your sight must be the primary sense that you use at all times."

Eppridge is represented by the Monroe Gallery of Sante Fe, New Mexico. He received a career award from the National Press Photographers Association and the Missouri School of Journalism's medal of honor.

For more photos, visit www.newmilfordspectrum.com.

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