Photographer Bill Jones, Who Trained His Lens on Black Stars, Dies at 81

He portrayed celebs from Muhammad Ali to Rihanna.

Bill Jones and Patti LaBelle at the premiere of Lions Gate Films' Diary of a Mad Black Woman at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome, Los Angeles, in 2005. Photo Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan.
Bill Jones and Patti LaBelle at the premiere of Lions Gate Films' Diary of a Mad Black Woman at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome, Los Angeles, in 2005. Photo Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan.

His photographs a fixture of magazines like Ebony and Jet, photographer Bill Jones died June 25 at the age of 81. Since taking up photography in the 1960s, Jones portrayed luminaries including Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Michelle Obama.

The cause was Alzheimer’s disease, his granddaughter Latoya Jones told the New York Times. His dementia was believed to be caused by a brutal and unprovoked attack by a neighbor in 1997.

“Don’t feel sorry for our family,” Latoya Jones told the Los Angeles Sentinel. “He’s definitely in heaven, getting his million-dollar shot.”

Jones photographed stars including Aretha Franklin, shown here in a photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images.

Jones photographed stars including Aretha Franklin, shown here in a photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images.

“He specialized in capturing the essence of black celebrities,” his friend Malcolm Ali, a fellow photographer, told the Los Angeles Times. “He made them look good with his camera and he had a unique way of capturing them in a full-length profile that showed the good that was in them.”

Jones broke into a largely white field of photographers at red-carpet events by creating a rapport with black celebrities, who sought him out to pose for him. His first celebrity image was of boxer Muhammad Ali, whom he shot while on duty with the Air Force, reports the L.A. Times.

“As a black man, it was very difficult at the time when I started,” he told his hometown paper, the Mansfield News Journal, in 2006. “It was tough to get a space in what we called ‘the line,’” he said,

Jones also photographed political leaders such as Nelson Mandela, shown here in a photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images.

Jones also photographed political leaders such as Nelson Mandela, shown here in a photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images.

referring to the scrum of photographers trying to get snaps of celebrities.

Born in Mansfield, Ohio, in 1934, Jones studied at the London School of Photography while stationed there with the Air Force. He was a longtime Los Angeles resident.

The stars below form a small sampling of the celebrities Jones has photographed throughout his career.

 


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