If you were someone, Ron Galella turned his lens on you.
The brave, fearless paparazzi who went above and beyond to snap photos of the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who took him to court, and Marlon Brando, who famously punched him in the kisser, has died. He was 91.
The famous photographer died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Montville, New Jersey on Saturday, his representatives told the Hollywood Reporter.
Known as the “godfather of US paparazzi culture” and “paparazzo extraordinaire,” the photographer photographed more celebrities during his six-decade career in photojournalism than perhaps any other photographer in America: John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Elvis Presley, Princess Diana, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Andy Warhol and many more.
Though iconic, some of the Bronx-born photographer’s shots got him into trouble — mostly because his subjects didn’t know he was photographing them.
His working methods, considered unethical by some or ingenious by others, eventually produced some of the most respected iconography — a testament to his keen eye — evident in “Windblown Jackie,” which infuriated the first lady, but Galella delighted.
“This photo of the defining moment, which I titled ‘Windblown Jackie,’ is my favourite, most published image and best selling print of all time in my art galleries worldwide,” he wrote in 2021. “It’s an outstanding image, like DaVinci’s most famous Paintings, the Mona Lisa. It embodies all the qualities of my paparazzi approach: exclusive, unrehearsed, unprepared, spontaneous, no dates – the only game.”
Galella’s Jackie O portraits, obtained during a years-long pursuit across New York City, while memorable, got him into a free speech trial in 1972. Onassis said he had made their life “insufferable, almost uninhabitable” with his constant surveillance, and a restraining order was imposed on the paparazzi.
“Jackie was my favorite subject,” he told the Post of the 1979 shot. “I had to be 25 feet from her, but at the museum I broke it.”
After being caught violating the restraining order four times, Galella was fined and ordered not to photograph Jackie and her children. His first book, Jacqueline (1974), sold over 10,000 copies.
“To this day I can’t shoot Caroline,” he told The Post in 2019. “Actually, I could, but it’s a risk. The injunction is still in effect.”
He prided himself on getting “unrehearsed, spontaneous images of real moments,” many of which included the middle finger of A-listers who were furious that he’d caught them live.
And he certainly saw anger personified. Galella, who studied photojournalism at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, was famously crushed by Brando while following him in Chinatown. While it ended up losing five teeth, he got a $40,000 settlement — not to mention incredible stills.
Nor was it the only time Galella had faced violence for his methods. Richard Burton’s bodyguard also knocked out one of Galella’s teeth — despite losing a suit and being jailed in Cuernavaca, Mexico as a result — while Elvis Presley’s security guards slashed Ron’s tires.
However, Galella, who was an Air Force photographer during the Korean War, had a few fans, including Andy Warhol, who called Galella his “favourite photographer.” We had “the same social illness,” Ron said of her celebrity obsessions.
With photos aplenty, Galella and his wife Betty Burke Galella formed Ron Galella Ltd Corporation in 1992 to protect his extensive photo library which was featured in the 2010 documentary Smash His Camera. Galella also published several books featuring his work including Disco Years with the grim face of Grace Jones covering the photo art book.
However, all of his photos were not taken using controversial methods. Galella told the Post that Cher was “so kind” when asked to take a picture of her with their new baby in 1976.
“I knew where she lived,” Galella said. “I buzzed and she said, ‘Come back tomorrow at 5.’ And I have the picture.”