Terry O’Neill, whose images captured London’s swinging ’60s, dies

Terry O'Neill poses in front of his picture of Mick Jagger during a 2013 exhibition of O'Neill's work in Madrid.
Terry O’Neill poses in front of his picture of Mick Jagger during a 2013 exhibition of O’Neill’s work in Madrid.
(Kote Rodrigo / EPA-EFE/REX)

British photographer Terry O’Neill, whose images captured London’s swinging ’60s and who created iconic portraits of Elton John, Brigitte Bardot and Winston Churchill, has died.

O’Neill died Saturday at his home in London following a long battle with cancer, according to Iconic Images, the agency that represented O’Neill. He was 81.

“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.”

Born in London in 1938, O’Neill was working as a photographer for an airline at Heathrow Airport when he snapped a picture of a well-dressed man sleeping on a bench. The man turned out to be the British home secretary, and O’Neill was hired by a London newspaper.

In the early 1960s, he photographed the Beatles during the recording of their first hit single, and he captured the image of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill clutching a cigar as he was carried to an ambulance after a 1962 hospital stay.


O’Neill later said that when photographing the Beatles he placed John Lennon in the foreground because he thought that “it was obvious John was the one with the personality.”

English singer songwriter Elton John performing at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, 1975.
Elton John performs at Dodger Stadium in 1975 in a well-known image captured by photographer Terry O’Neill.
(Terry O’Neill/Getty Images)

Soon O’Neill was photographing the hottest stars of the mid and late 1960s: Bardot, Raquel Welch, Michael Caine, Steve McQueen, Diana Ross and Audrey Hepburn.

He photographed many other big names over the course of a career that spanned decades, including model Kate Moss, Queen Elizabeth II, singers David Bowie and Amy Winehouse and former First Lady Laura Bush.

O’Neill’s photos of Elton John remain among his most recognizable. One shows the singer, exuberant and sparkling in a sequined baseball uniform, with an audience of thousands in the background at Dodger Stadium.

“He was brilliant, funny and I absolutely loved his company,” John tweeted Sunday.

Another iconic O’Neill photo, this one from 1977, depicted actress Faye Dunaway lounging poolside the morning after winning a best actress Oscar for her performance in “Network,” the statuette sitting on a table and newspapers strewn on the ground.

Singer David Bowie wears a smart hat during the filming in L.A. of 'The Man Who Fell to Earth' in 1976.
Singer David Bowie wears a smart hat during the filming in L.A. of ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ in 1976.
(Terry O’Neill/ Iconic Images)

O’Neill was married to Dunaway for three years in the 1980s. The couple had a son, Liam Dunaway O’Neill. The photographer later married Laraine Ashton, a modeling industry executive.

In an interview with the Guardian last year, O’Neill discussed how he viewed his past photos.

“The perfectionist in me always left me thinking I could have taken a better shot. But now when I look at photos of all the icons I’ve shot — like Mandela, Sir Winston Churchill and Sinatra — the memories come flooding back and I think: ‘Yeah, I did all right.’ ”