The words "celebrity" and "photographer" never fit together so well as with Herb Ritts, who passed away Dec. 26 of complications of pneumonia.
The openly gay Ritts, 50, published many books of his images ranging from Madonna to the people of Africa. His work was also featured in countless magazine photo spreads, including for Vogue, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Interview, Tatler, Vogue Hommes, French Vogue, and L'Uomo Vogue.
Ritts was also a supporter of charitable causes, including for AIDS groups.
Among his survivors are entertainment attorney Erik Hyman and his mother, Shirley.
Photography started as a hobby in the 1970s when Ritts connected with Richard Gere through a friend. A steamy shot of Gere was used after the actor's career took off, and Ritts' own career path also began to rise. He soon left the sales job he had in his family's furniture business.
"He could get people to do things that they were reluctant to do, because in the end it would make a great photograph," David Fahey, co-owner of the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles and Ritts' exclusive gallery representative, told The New York Times.
Among those he photographed, in addition to Madonna and Gere, were Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Jackson, Bill T. Jones, George Clooney, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dizzy Gillespie, Sandra Bernhard, Annette Bening (pregnant), Jack Nicholson, Glen Close, Tina Turner, Nelson Mandela, Edward Norton, President Reagan, Stephen Hawking, the Dalai Lama and many more. A few days before his death he had photographed Ben Affleck for a Vanity Fair cover.
Lesbians will remember one of his most famous shots--a Vanity Fair cover with Cindy Crawford pretending to shave the face of the singer k.d. lang.
He also shot for top fashion designers and for album covers--he even directed commercials and music videos, including for Janet Jackson and Chris Isaak.
Among his published works: Africa, Vol. 1; Animal: Dolce & Gabbana; Body Art; DKNY: Modern Souls; Die Neuen Pirelli Kalender 1994-1999; Duo; Graphis Nudes, Issue No. 1; Herb Ritts; Herb Ritts: Pictures; Herb Ritts: Work; Kazu; Men Without Ties; Men and Women; Notorious; Pictures; Pirelli Calendar Classics: 100 Photographs from the 1st 30 Years; Rock and Royalty; The Leg; Versace: Rock and Royalty; and Work.
[Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia is an opportunistic infection which has killed many people with HIV or AIDS, especially in the early years of the epidemic. However, Ritts' spokesmen did not indicate if his pneumonia was related to AIDS.]