The obituary photo: A life summed up in a single image

July 17, 2012

By Fred Prouser

In recent days, there has been a spate of celebrity deaths – with each story about the celebrity’s life accompanied by a photograph I took in the past. From Andy Griffiths, producer Richard Zanuck, Sylvester Stallone’s son Sage to Oscar winning actress Celeste Holm, their lives were summed up in a single photograph.

Most often the death is unexpected, so preparations made well in advance of the persons demise come in to play. Aside from a good headshot from a premiere or other event, acquisition of stills from the person’s movie career are a must. It then becomes a mission of online research to locate an appropriate photograph, which could be from the publicist, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, various Halls of Fame or sometimes reaching out to the celebrity’s fan club for that elusive photograph, to get the photo as quickly as possible to go with the story.

Since I began shooting entertainment for Reuters in 1992 in Hollywood, I was able to cover the tail end of the Golden Age of Hollywood stars, including Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Cyd Charisse. I felt it an honor to have captured the spirit and essence of these stars and at times have my photograph used with their obituary story. Of the thousands of images shot during a long career, to capture the quintessential smile, glance or scowl – and have it be the image to sum up a life – that’s the job of the humble obituary photograph.

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