Legendary Bowie photographer Mick Rock dies aged 72

‘The man who shot the 70s’: Music world pays tribute to legendary photographer Mick Rock who has died aged 72… after taking some of the world’s most iconic portraits from David Bowie to Lou Reed and Freddie Mercury

  • Londoner, dubbed ‘the man who shot the 70s’, took the most famous pictures of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era 
  • He became Bowie’s photographer and confidante and was also great friends with Lou Reed and Syd Barrett
  • Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr said he was a ‘photographic poet’ and compared a shoot to ‘taking crack’
  • For 50 years he photographed biggest stars in music from the Rolling Stones to Queen and Daft Punk
  • Fought addiction to cocaine for 20 years until the 1990s – he would swap the drugs for yoga and acupuncture 

Legendary music photographer Mick Rock – who chronicled the lives of many of the world’s greatest rock stars over five decades including his soul mate David Bowie – has died aged 72.

The Londoner, dubbed ‘the man who shot the 70s’ and ‘the music world’s top snapper’, took the most famous pictures of the Ziggy Stardust era and became Bowie’s closest friend and confidante until the singer’s death in 2016.

He would also direct Bowie’s videos for Space Odyssey, Life on Mars, Jean Genie and John, I’m Only Dancing while the stars he photographed compared photo sessions with him to ‘taking crack’. In his heyday Rock would famously insist on standing on his head for 30 minutes before taking a single frame – saying the rush of blood, oxygen and the cocaine usually in his system improved his work.

Rock is survived by his wife Pati and their photographer daughter Nathalie, who today announced he had passed away but not the cause of death. He famously spent 20 years trying to beat an addiction to narcotics that began after meeting Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett when he studied at Cambridge – but later in life the photographer would swap hard drugs for yoga, massage and acupuncture.

In a 50-year career, Rock went on to create album covers for rock legends the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop the Ramones, Mötley Crüe and The Sex Pistols. Other subjects included Debbie Harry, rapper Snoop Dogg, Daft Punk, Debbie Harry, Ozzie Osbourne and most frequently his close friend David Bowie. Queen’s iconic video for Bohemian Rhapsody was a recreation of a photograph he took of Freddie Mercury and the band.

‘It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share our beloved psychedelic renegade Mick Rock has made the Jungian journey to the other side,’ his family said in a message posted on his Twitter page.

‘He was a photographic poet – a true force of nature who spent his days doing exactly what he loved, always in his own delightfully outrageous way. He was a mythical creature; the likes of which we shall never experience again.’

Photographer Mick Rock, pictured in LA in 2016 with one of his famous images of his great friend David Bowie, has died at the age of 72

Mick Rock with his wife Pati (left) and daughter Nathalie (right) at recent exhibitions

Rock was close friends with David Bowie and took most of the most  famous pictures of him during the 1970s. They were close until the star died in 2016

Rock photographed Bowie for covers and Iggy Pop. Queen’s iconic video for Bohemian Rhapsody was a recreation of a photograph he took of Freddie Mercury and the band. He also took the picture for Lou Reed’s iconic album Transformer (pictured top left to bottom right)

Mr Rock’s family released the statement revealing ‘the man who shot the 70s’ has died after an extraordinary 50 year career

Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr shared this image of a photo shoot with Rock, which he compared to ‘taking crack’

Johnny Marr, guitarist with British indie group The Smiths, led the tribute and tweeted ‘Goodbye for now my friend and comrade Mick Rock. The visionary poet,’ along with a picture of the pair.  

Mr Rock would famously insist on standing on his head for 30 minutes before taking a single frame.

Rock was born in west London in 1948 and graduated from the prestigious Cambridge University with a degree in Medieval and Modern Languages.

He developed an interest in photography while at university, shooting local gigs. 

Rock went on to create album covers for US rock legends Lou Reed and Iggy Pop along with country star Waylon Jennings.

Other subjects included rapper Snoop Dogg, Daft Punk, Debbie Harry, Ozzie Osbourne and close friend David Bowie – for whom he was the official ­photographer during much of the singer’s Ziggy ­Stardust days. 

Active in the music scene until his death, Rock’s recent subjects include Lady Gaga, Bono and Kate Moss. 

‘It was the cigarettes that killed David Bowie and Lou Reed,’ he said in a recent interview.

‘They chain-smoked for over 40 years, and gave it up for the last few years, but it was too late. David smoked constantly – you will see in all the pictures and videos, he’s got a fag on. I’ve talked to my own cardiologist about it. The damage was done’.

Speaking about his friendship with Velvet Underground lead singer Lou Reed, he said:  ‘Lou and I were very close. I did a book with Lou but he passed away before he could sign all the signature pages.’

Rock – his real surname – was Reed’s close friend and Bowie’s confidante from the early Seventies until his death in 2016.

A LA exhibition of Rock’s most famous pictures including of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and David Bowie

The famous cover shot of Lou Reed and a more recent image of his great friend Bowie

Photographer Mick Rock at The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust” book party at The National Arts Club in New York City in 2002 with one of his famous pictures

The star photographer pictured in Las Vegas with a famous picture of Blondie singer, Debbie Harry

Rock with his great friend Lou Reed in New York in 1995

A famous picture of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed taken by Rock

His photographs of the members of Queen would inspire the video for Bohemian Rhapsody

The lensman helped Bowie establish his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust during the glam era and Rock’s own extraordinary existence was turned into a documentary film.

Photographer Mick Rock uses a point and shoot camera in 2005

Shot! The Psycho Spiritual Mantra Of Rock, directed by Barney Clay, documented the photographer’s crazed life and near-death experiences as he searches for the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll image.

Rock also succumbed to the debauched lifestyle and entered into a spiral of addiction, penury and heartache. He became hooked on cocaine, spent the Eighties virtually penniless and lost many friends to drugs and disease.  

He befriended Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett at Cambridge and went on to photograph the cover of his first solo album, The Madcap Laughs, recorded after he had left the band.

By 1970, Barrett was already displaying symptoms of mental illness, exacerbated by reckless use of hallucinogens.

‘I did acid with him one time, and we had a lots of fun,’ Rock recalled. ‘People say, “Oh you took LSD with Syd Barrett, it must have been so heavy”. But we just laughed a lot.’

Social flexibility was key to Rock’s success. He was as comfortable working with bad lads like Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott as he was with Kate Moss.

Despite having walked on the wild side in the Seventies, Rock conquered a 20-year drug-habit and went clean in the 1990s.

‘I smoke a little marijuana now and that’s it, nothing else. My obsessions are kundalini yoga, massage and acupuncture’, he said recently.

Such are Rock’s heightened energy levels during a shoot, former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr likened a photo-session with him in the Shot! documentary to ‘taking crack’.  

‘It gives you incredible strength,’ Rock said. ‘Even in the cocaine years, if you stood on your head for half an hour, the combination of the drugs, the blood and the oxygen. Never mind taking photographs, you could make love to a gorilla for a month’.

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