Rock photographer Richard E Aaron, who shot some of the most iconic acts in music, including David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, The Sex Pistols, The Who and members of The Beatles, died Thursday at age 67.
Aaron, who was perhaps best known for shooting both Peter Frampton’s iconic Frampton Comes Alive album cover and Paul McCartney on the first rock cover ever of Time magazine, had been battling kidney disease for several years, according to his longtime friend, music manager Jeff Jampol, whose Jam Inc. handles The Doors, Janis Joplin, Rick James, Otis Redding and many other great acts.
“Richard had kidney disease for a long time and he was on the list, he needed a kidney transplant,” Jampol says. “At first he was considered outside the safety zones and outside the weight zone, so he lost like a hundred pounds. Then he went on dialysis and just watching him wait and wait in vain for a kidney, which started affecting his other organs and body, but through it all he kept his chin up and kept a really wonderful, positive attitude. He was a real example for me.”
While Jampol, whom Aaron asked to handle his archives in the event of his death, became friends with the photographer, affectionately known as “Thunder thumbs,” he started off as a fan.
“Richard was one of the most prolific and talented photographers of the ’70s and ’80s and he had some of the most iconic shots in the history of pop culture — the Frampton Comes Alive album cover, this really great shot of George Harrison with a Muppet on top of his head, John Belushi, some of the greatest Led Zeppelin shots ever, what I think is one of the ultimate Freddie Mercury shots, one of the ultimate James Brown shots, my favorite Keith Richards shot, just thousands and thousands — he was everywhere,” Jampol says. “So I really came to know him and appreciate him and respect him through his work and then later to appreciate and respect him and love him as a human. We worked very closely together over the years. I would always advise him and help him and come to him for advice and help on certain issues. He was one of the sweetest, gentlest, most beautiful people I ever met.”
Fans who want to check out the incredible who’s who of music Aaron shot can go to his website. The scope of the artists he worked with, sometimes very closely, as he toured West Africa with Fleetwood Mac, is mind-boggling. From Bruce Springsteen and Dolly Parton to the Ramones and U2, Aaron was constantly on the frontlines watching rock and roll history. And what impressed Jampol was Aaron watched as a fan first.
“His legacy and his work and his art will live on, hopefully for generations if I have anything to say about it. Richard, as an artist, was first and foremost and ultimately a fan of the music and the artist,” he says. “He had this kind of wonderfully pure way of looking at art, music and performance and I think it came through his camera. So, amongst all photographers, I look at a Richard Aaron photo and immediately I feel completely connected to the artist as a fan because Richard was a fan. To me, many of the photographers from the pop culture era were documentarians. They would capture a moment, a time, a performance, perhaps uniquely Richard Aaron’s photos captured the connection between the fan and the performer.”