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Ron Galella, ‘Godfather of U.S. Paparazzi,’ Dies at 91

Photographer was barred from taking Jackie Kennedy’s photo and had his jaw broken by Marlon Brando

Ron Galella, an American freelance photographer dubbed the “Godfather of U.S. paparazzi” who famously hounded celebrities across a 6-decade career, has died. He was 91.

Galella died of congestive heart failure in his home in Montville, NJ on Saturday, his rep and editor of his most recent book “100 Iconic Photographs – A Retrospective” announced to the press.

The paparazzo famously was barred from photographing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis after stalking her throughout the 1970s and early ’80s, with Kennedy in a court case saying that she was under “constant surveillance” by Galella. And though many of his photo subjects would flip him the bird as he snapped his shot, Marlon Brando took it one step further and broke his jaw, leading to another lawsuit and a $40,000 settlement, according to Galella’s website.

Galella though has taken some truly iconic and influential photos in his career, including “Windblown Jackie” showing Kennedy in the afternoon on the street in a slight breeze, or an image of John Lennon with Mick Jagger that was one of the last photos taken of the Beatle before his death, an image that also graces the cover of his most recent book.

But his brand of chasing down celebrities in public, photographing them without permission and selling the images was a trend that Galella practically pioneered well before paparazzi became prolific in celebrity news and before smaller portable cameras and cell phones made such images ubiquitous. Galella would bribe doormen, stake out in bushes and turn the pursuit of snapping candid images of stars into an “obsession.” After Kennedy, he made it a goal to get stars like Robert Redford, Elizabeth Taylor, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Steve McQueen and Bob Dylan into his lens, and he even snapped some famous photos of Andy Warhol at the Bronx Zoo.

Galella’s work though has been reassessed late in his career and even displayed in museums such as the Museum of Modern Art, which owns five of his photographs and portraits, as well as other galleries. And throughout his career he sold photos to countless magazines including Time, Life, People and The National Enquirer.

In 1972, Galella was ordered by a judge to stay 25 feet away from Kennedy and 30 feet away from her children. And it wasn’t until nearly 10 years later of violating the order and still continuing to photograph the former First Lady that he finally agreed to never take another picture of them.

Galella has written numerous books featuring his photographs, including books about Andy Warhol, Donald Trump and Michael Jackson, among others. And he was also the subject of a 2010 documentary called “Smash My Camera.”

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