RIP: Lensman William Claxton

Steve McQueen and Peggy Moffitt by William Claxton

One of the architects of the birth of cool will point and shoot no more.
William Claxton, whose photographs of jazz artists Chet Baker and Charlie Parker, stars Steve McQueen and Frank Sinatra and muse and wife Peggy Moffitt defined an unabashed style, died early Saturday. It was the day before his 81st birthday.

Bill was a photographer and friend whose soulful work and love affair with wife Peggy inspired Andy and me to no end. We often joked that we wanted to be them when we grew up. And seeing them together at their dual birthday party last year, hosted by Benedict and Lauren Taschen and attended by the legendary likes of Burt Bacharach and Irving Blum, reinforced our admiration of this incredible couple, who lived and created together as husband and wife, artist and muse, for 49 years. Along with designer Rudi Gernreich, the trio collaborated, bravely and feverishly, on crafting a vision of modernity that three decades later remains innovative, edgy and provocative. Generations of artists, from fashion and graphic designers to models and musicians, continue to riff on their influence. I posted not too long ago the short film Bill directed, starring Peggy looking as wildly chic as ever in her signature kabuki make-up and even more theatrical posturing dressed in Rudi’s out-of-this world wares. The 1967 piece called "Basic-Black" is considered the progenitor of all fashion and some music videos which followed.

Chet Baker by William Claxton

There was an honesty in his black and white photographs, likely what endeared him to otherwise reclusive icons such as Steve McQueen, Barbara Streisand and, most recently Bob Dylan, all who granted intimate access to this gentle man with the Leica.
Of course, it’s his sometimes graphic, yet always sensitive photographs of the jazz world, from Miles Davis and Duke Ellington to stolen moments inside the clubs and outside in Los Angeles’ twilight, that reveal Bill’s genius. He understood jazz, and he understood the artists who lived and died by it, and he was, thankfully, right there at the right time.

Bill died from complications of congestive heart failure early Saturday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
My dear LVER readers, I never imagined I’d be posting obits so frequently here of friends lost. First Paul Starr. Now William Claxton.
Their departures are the result of bodies just giving out, a reminder of the transience of life. Of course, both these beautiful men will live forever through their masterful work, and through the legacies of their generous spirits.

Me and Bill and La Dolce Vita in 2006
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