Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Jeff Conaway

Actor best known as John Travolta's sidekick Kenickie in Grease, and Bobby Wheeler in the US sitcom Taxi

Jeff Conaway Rex
Jeff Conaway, front left, Olivia Newton-John, John Travolta and Stockard Channing in Grease (1978). 
In the late 1970s and early 80s, Taxi was one of the best American sitcoms. It won 18 Emmy awards and its stars, among them Jeff Conaway, who has died in hospital aged 60, became household names. Conaway played the narcissistic, "resting" actor Bobby Wheeler, one of the characters working for the Sunshine cab company, all hoping for better jobs to turn up. In a way, the role mirrored Conaway's own struggle for greater recognition as an actor, which was not helped by his having been addicted to alcohol, cocaine and analgesics since he was a teenager.
In Taxi, the handsome Conaway , sporting the feathered hairstyle popular in the 1970s, had to compete with more fascinating characters in the avuncular Alex Reiger (Judd Hirsch), obnoxious Louie De Palma (Danny DeVito), sexy divorcee Elaine Nardo (Marilu Henner), unvictorious boxer Tony Banta (Tony Danza), and English-impaired immigrant Latka Gravas (Andy Kaufman). Most of the cast of the popular show went on to bigger things, while Conaway's one moment of glory in the cinema was already in his past.
He first made an impact as Kenickie in Grease (1978), released a few months before his debut in Taxi. As John Travolta's sidekick in the high-school gang called the T-birds, Conaway is a finger-snapping, leather-jacketed greaser, a comb and a witticism always at the ready. He says things like "You're cruisin' for a bruisin' '' and "A hickie from Kenickie is like a Hallmark card, when you only care enough to send the very best!" He also does some nifty acrobatic dancing, especially in Greased Lightning, on top of a car – this resulted in a back injury that dogged him for most of his life. The cast were too old to play high-school students, but Conaway, at 28, was more convincing than most.
Conaway had already played the Travolta part in the Broadway production of Grease the year before, after starting as an understudy. In fact, Conaway had been on Broadway at the age of 10 in All the Way Home (1960) – based on James Agee's novel A Death in the Family – set in Tennessee in the early 1900s. The young Conaway, as a boy trying to come to terms with the death of his father in a car accident, was at the heart of the play. Although he was born in New York, the childhood summers spent with his South Carolina grandparents proved handy when auditioning for the part, because the director, Arthur Penn, wanted a boy with a southern accent.
He later enrolled in North Carolina School of the Arts, then studied drama at New York University. "I left three months before graduation," Conaway recalled. "There were hard feelings because I had the lead in a school production of The Threepenny Opera. But I was offered Grease on Broadway. Broadway! I couldn't turn it down."
After Taxi, Conaway was seldom out of work, though he found himself trapped in a vicious circle of trashy erotic thrillers in which he usually played a stud, and gradually, with age, detectives, fathers of teens (as in Jawbreaker, 1999) and strip-club owners as in Sunset Strip and It's Showtime (both 1993). His one directorial effort was Bikini Summer II (1992), a sex farce ending with a rock concert on the beach.
Conaway was much better served by TV, appearing in series such as Murder, She Wrote, Burke's Law and Matlock, and in 74 episodes of the science-fiction series Babylon 5 (1994-98) as Zack Allan, the tough security chief.
While he continued to act, Conaway was suffering from substance abuse problems, which came to a head in 1985 following his divorce from Rona Newton-John, the sister of Grease star Olivia, after five years of marriage. In 1990, he married Kerri Young, and had a subsequent fiery six-year relationship with Victoria Spinoza, a singer known as Vikki Lizzi. Earlier this year they filed restraining orders against each other, trading accusations of theft and violence, but were eventually reconciled.
Though Conaway sought treatment, he relapsed from time to time. In 2008 he appeared in the reality TV series Celebrity Rehab, in which he revealed his long-term addictions.
Conaway was found unconscious on 11 May due to a combination of legally prescribed painkillers to treat back problems and other medications. The adverse reaction caused him to contract pneumonia. He was put into a medically induced coma intended to aid his recovery, but was eventually taken off life support. He is survived by Vikki and his sisters Carla and Michele.

• Jeffrey Charles William Michael Conaway, actor, born 5 October 1950; died 27 May 2011

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Gordon McLennan

Former head of the Communist party of Great Britain
    Gordon McLennan
    Gordon McLennan on a pensioners' march in 2003. 
    Gordon McLennan, who has died aged 87 of cancer, was the penultimate general secretary of the Communist party of Great Britain. By the time he was elected to the post, in 1975, the party's glory days were behind it and the war between the traditionalists and the Eurocommunists was already well under way. McLennan saw it as his task to end the war and to pass the party on to his successor in good condition, and devoted himself to this objective throughout his 15-year leadership. He failed, not through lack of commitment, but because it was impossible. As soon as he was appointed, John Gollan, his predecessor as general secretary, confided a big secret: that ever since 1956, the party had been receiving money from the Soviet Union – wads and wads of banknotes, handed over in clandestine meetings between an embassy official and Gollan's deputy Reuben Falber. In the early days, it had been about £100,000 a year, but was now down to about £14,000. McLennan always insisted that he told Gollan he wanted the practice stopped, and thereafter assumed it had been, though in fact it carried on for four more years until 1979. The year after McLennan became general secretary, the CPGB sold its biggest asset, its substantial headquarters in King Street, Covent Garden, bought in the 1920s with money secretly sent by Lenin, and moved into more modest premises. Membership was declining, and, like the rest of the left at the time, the CPGB seemed to be engaged in a hideous struggle to strangle itself. What was McLennan to say when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan? Either condemning or defending was fraught with danger. In Moscow in 1981, he demonstrated greater independence than any previous British communist leader, condemning his hosts for trying to dictate policy to communists abroad. McLennan tried desperately to reconcile the two factions, deciding that if the party were to have a future, it must move cautiously in the Eurocommunist direction, which seemed like treachery to some of his old friends. But he could not control the communist newspaper, the Morning Star. The idea of distancing the paper from the party, which had seemed clever in 1946, meant that the paper could take its own line. McLennan was reduced to trying to get his supporters elected to the paper's management committee. He took on the battle with great courage. One of his allies told me about the meetings to elect the paper's management committee: "They were hissing and booing at Gordon, shouting traitor, all sorts of things. It was a generation that came through 1956 and Gordon was part of it and was working-class, so they were saying he should be on their side, not siding with these young intellectuals." McLennan found himself in charge of the offices and businesses controlled by the CPGB, but with the other side controlling the valuable Farringdon Road building that housed the Morning Star. He was reduced to conducting great Soviet-style purges of party members. During the 1984-85 miners' strike, McLennan feared that Arthur Scargill was leading the miners to disaster, and after the strike, McLennan and his industrial organiser Pete Carter met Scargill and Mick McGahey. McLennan told me it was a "discussion about how to win unity of the miners in the post-strike situation", but it was a furious row. He struck up a good relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, advising the Soviet leader to try to reach an understanding with Margaret Thatcher, and receiving advice on how to deal with his fractured party. He retired as general secretary in 1990, to be replaced by Nina Temple, who had long believed that McLennan's peace mission was doomed to failure. The party wound itself up the next year, and Temple and her supporters used its remaining assets to start an organisation called Democratic Left, which McLennan refused to join, throwing in his lot with the Communist party of Scotland instead. In retirement McLennan threw himself into work with the National Pensioners Convention, becoming a member of its national executive and chair of its branch in Lambeth, south London, where he lived. Born in Glasgow, McLennan became an engineering draughtsman, and joined the Young Communist League at the age of 15, serving on the YCL executive committee from 1942 until 1947, before becoming a full-time CPGB organiser in Scotland. He married Mary in 1950, beginning a strong, lifelong partnership, and rose within the party to become its national organiser in 1966. When Gollan was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1975, McLennan was the obvious candidate to replace him. In private life, he was a kindly, likable man, devoted to his family and determined to protect them from the pressures of his political life. Though he was attacked more stridently than most politicians, he never bore grudges, and treated everyone the same, whether Gorbachev, Gordon Brown or Lambeth pensioners. He and Mary were renowned for singing duets of Scottish songs at political and family gatherings. One of his sons, John, has Down's syndrome, and McLennan never allowed the pressures of his job to prevent him from giving John his time and love. He is survived by Mary, their three sons and one daughter, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. • Gordon McLennan, political organiser, born 12 May 1924; died 21 May 2011

Monday, 23 May 2011

Jet Harris

The first and greatest bass guitarist of the Shadows, he also topped the charts with drummer Tony Meehan
    Jet Harris guitar
    Jet Harris in 1966.
    With their line-up of three electric guitars and drums, the Shadows were the archetypal British pop group, supporting Cliff Richard and making numerous hits of their own. Their first and greatest bass guitarist was Jet Harris, who has died aged 71 of cancer. Although his later life was blighted by alcoholism and littered with unsuccessful comebacks, he deserves to be remembered as a pioneer of the electric bass in Britain who explored its melodic as well as its rhythmic potential. He was born Terence Harris into a working-class family in Kingsbury, north-west London. His prowess as a sprinter at Dudden Hill secondary modern school earned him the nickname Jet. Leaving school at 15, he went to work with his father as an apprentice welder making milk churns at the Dairy Supply Company in Park Royal. As a child he played the clarinet, but his interest in bass rhythms was piqued by hearing records by the pianist Winifred Atwell. This inspired him to make his own double bass. In 1958, Harris joined the backing group of the singer Larry Page before going on tour with Tony Crombie and the Rockets, one of the first British rock'n'roll instrumental groups. Crombie got a Framus bass guitar for Harris, making him one of the first British exponents of the instrument. He later favoured the Fender Precision bass. After playing with the Vipers skiffle group and the Most Brothers, he was invited to join Cliff Richard's backing group, then called the Drifters, whose lead and rhythm guitarists were Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch respectively. In 1959, the quartet made their first recordings as the Shadows, a name change suggested by Harris, because of the prior existence of the American vocal group the Drifters. Jet Harris The 1961 film The Young Ones: left to right, Bruce Welch, Cliff Richard, Jet Harris and Hank Marvin.
      The Shadows' first and most memorable hit was Apache, which reached No 1 in 1960. Over the next two years, Harris played on more top 10 singles, including Man of Mystery, FBI and Kon-Tiki, before suddenly quitting the group in 1962. He later said that he had "just had enough of sleeping, drinking, eating and doing everything together, day in, day out". The most photogenic of the group, the moody-looking Harris was persuaded that he had a future as a solo star. He was immediately signed to a recording deal with Decca, releasing the top 30 hits Besame Mucho and The Theme from The Man With the Golden Arm, although the latter was banned by the BBC for the drug associations of Otto Preminger's 1955 film. With a backing group, the Jetblacks, he went on tour with Little Richard and the then unknown Liverpool group the Beatles. A triumphant 1962 ended with the award of the title top instrumentalist in the readers' poll of the New Musical Express. Harris next teamed up with the Shadows' former drummer Tony Meehan. As Jet Harris and Tony Meehan, they had big hits in 1963 with Diamonds – which reached No 1 – Scarlett O'Hara and Applejack. Among those Harris had inspired to take up the electric bass was the future Led Zeppelin member John Paul Jones, who was briefly a member of the Harris-Meehan touring band. By this time, Harris was also making news offstage. There were several court appearances involving drunkenness and violent behaviour before the partnership with Meehan came to an abrupt end in September 1963, when Harris was seriously injured in a car accident involving a vehicle in which he was travelling with the pop starlet Billie Davis. He later confessed that "The car crash shook me up horribly. I became a physical wreck and turned to the bottle … or rather two bottles of vodka a day." Six months later he attempted the first of several unsuccessful comebacks, failing to complete a brief appearance at the Edmonton Granada in north London. He subsequently took a variety of manual jobs ranging from bricklayer to hospital porter, getting back on stage occasionally during the summer season in Jersey in the early 1970s. The tabloid press periodically ran riches-to-rags-stories on Harris, at one point reporting him to be working as a bus conductor in Gloucestershire, and recording a live album in front of a captive audience in Gloucester prison. In the 1980s there was an abortive reunion with Meehan and sporadic tours of Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands. More recently, Harris had performed with Shadows tribute band the Rapiers and made occasional appearances with groups led by other veterans of 1960s beat music such as the drummers Clem Cattini and Bobby Graham. In the last decade, too, Harris released the albums Diamonds Are Trumps (2002) and The Journey (2007). Harris's significance as a pioneer of the bass guitar was recognised by Fender, who presented him with a lifetime achievement award in 1998, and by the Burns company, who gave him a special Jet Six instrument. He was appointed MBE for services to music in the 2010 New Year honours list. Harris's first marriage, to Carol Costa, ended in divorce, as did a second marriage, to Margaret, with whom he had three sons. His marriage to his third wife, Janet, ended in separation, and he is survived his partner, Janet Hemingway, and his sons. Peter Stockton writes: I first met Jet Harris in the 1980s, when he played a brilliant set at Lennon's Rock'n'Roll Bar, Covent Garden, central London, which I owned with Cynthia Lennon. He and I next met in 2008 on the Isle of Wight, and he asked me to manage him. The resulting show, Hit Parade Heroes, also featuring two singers, John Leyton and Mike Berry, whose chart success had come in the 1960s, proved popular at theatres from the south coast to Scarborough. After the diagnosis of Jet's cancer in 2009, fulfilling dates provided a focus for him, and last autumn he made 29 appearances with the Marty Wilde tour. In his last concert, on 5 February in Fareham, Hampshire, he was on brilliant form despite ill health. Buoyed by audiences keen to hear his music, he very much wanted to keep playing to them. Jet (Terence) Harris, guitarist, born 6 July 1939; died 18 March 2011

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Loleatta Holloway

Her voice made Ride on Time a smash hit in 1989
    Loleatta Holloway obituary 
    Loleatta Holloway had a string of disco hits in the 1970s and 80s.
    The biggest-selling pop record in Britain in 1989 was Ride On Time by Black Box. The highlight of the track was the piercing vocal sound, sampled by its Italian producers from a recording by the African American singer Loleatta Holloway, who has died from heart failure, aged 64. Born in Chicago, she joined the Holloway Community Singers, a 100-strong gospel choir led by her mother, as a child. From the age of five, Holloway was a featured soloist, although she later said: "I hated my voice because I sounded like a grown woman, not a child." After graduating from high school, she worked at various jobs, including bookbinding, while continuing singing gospel. After her mother's death in 1966, Holloway was recruited to the Caravans, America's leading gospel group, by its founder, Albertina Walker. Touring with the group, she met Aretha Franklin, with whom the Caravans performed in Las Vegas. When Walker disbanded the Caravans in 1972, Holloway turned to secular music under the tutelage of her future husband, the songwriter and producer Floyd Smith. She also appeared in the Chicago cast of the Broadway musical Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope. Smith took her to the Aware label in Atlanta, Georgia, where she recorded two albums, Loleatta Holloway (1973) and Cry to Me (1975). The title track of the latter, composed by Sam Dees, is a soul classic with impassioned vocals, as is her recording of another Dees song, Worn Out Broken Heart. In the late 1970s, with the Philadelphia producer Norman Harris, she recorded for Gold Mind. Among her disco hits were Run Away, Hit and Run (both 1977), Seconds (1982) and Love Sensation (1980), written and produced by Dan Hartman. Holloway said of the 1980 recording session that "it was the hardest song I ever sang, I had to do it so many times, I lost my voice. I couldn't even talk the second day, so I told him to get me some Vicks vapour rub. I swallowed it with some coffee and that's how I was able to hold the notes so long." She performed frequently at New York clubs, but also recorded soul ballads, enjoying a top 20 US hit in 1978 with Only You, a duet with Bunny Sigler. Digital sampling was in its infancy when the Italian production team Groove Groove Melody used Holloway's sound from Love Sensation for Ride On Time, which stayed at No 1 in Britain for six weeks. The sample was taken without permission, Holloway sued and settled out of court. However, she remained resentful, recalling that "there was a venue that had Black Box one night and then me the next week as 'the voice of Black Box' and they paid them more than me!" The success of Ride On Time encouraged legitimate sampling of Holloway. In 1991, Love Sensation was again mined for the US No 1, and UK top 20, hit Good Vibrations by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, with the future actor Mark Wahlberg. The following year, her voice featured on another Italian-constructed UK hit, Take Me Away by Cappella. And in 2009, her 1976 record We're Getting Stronger was sampled for Whitney Houston's Million Dollar Bill. During the 1980s and 90s, Holloway continued to perform at dance clubs and festivals and in 1998, the British group Fire Island invited her to appear on their track Shout to the Top, which made the top 30. In 1996, Holloway had a quadruple bypass operation, but returned to her musical career the following year. She is survived by three sons, a daughter and nine grandchildren. Floyd Smith died in 1982. Loleatta Holloway, singer, born 5 November 1946; died 21 March 2011

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Elizabeth Taylor

Child actor who became a Hollywood film star known for her dazzling beauty and her eight marriages
    Elizabeth Taylor
    Elizabeth Taylor in 1954. 'That girl has true glamour,' said Richard Burton. 'If I retired tomorrow, I'd be forgotten in five years, but she would go on forever.' 
    The film star Elizabeth Taylor, who died of heart failure aged 79, was in the public eye from the age of 11 and remained there even decades after her last hit movie. She managed to keep people fascinated, by her incandescent beauty, her courage, her open-natured character, her self-deprecating humour, her eight marriages (two of them to the actor Richard Burton), her many brushes with death, her seesawing weight, her diamonds and her humanitarian causes, all of which often obscured the reason why she was famous in the first place – she had a tantalising screen presence, in films including A Place in the Sun (1951), Giant (1956), Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Butterfield 8 (1961), Cleopatra (1963) and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Taylor was born in Hampstead, north London, of American parents. Her mother, Sara, was a former stage actor and her father, Francis, an art dealer. As soon as she could walk she was given ballet lessons, and at the age of three she danced with her class in front of the royal family. In 1939, a few months before the outbreak of war, the family moved to Hollywood, where her father opened an art gallery much patronised by the film colony. The beauty of the owner's dark-haired, violet-eyed young daughter won almost as much praise as the paintings on the walls, and she was soon making her screen debut, at the age of 10, in There's One Born Every Minute (1942), at Universal. But it was MGM who launched her career proper with Lassie Come Home (1943), and for whom most of her films were made. When Sara Taylor heard that the studio was looking for a young girl to play Velvet Brown, who wins the Grand National disguised as a boy in National Velvet (1945), she brought her daughter to see the producer Pandro S Berman. He thought her too thin and fragile for the part, although she could ride well. But three months later, after rigid training from her mother, she was able to change Berman's mind. Her performance, in which she radiates youth, is enjoyed perennially. Meanwhile, she was struggling to get an education at the Hollywood school, where she developed a crush on an older pupil, John Derek, the first recorded instance of her interest in the opposite sex. At 17, she was despairing about getting much schoolwork done while making Conspirator (1949), in her first "adult" role. "How can I when Robert Taylor keeps sticking his tongue down my throat?" When the eccentric RKO boss Howard Hughes became interested in her, he sent his lawyer to Mrs Taylor with an offer of $1m to arrange a marriage with her daughter. At being told of the offer, Elizabeth laughed out loud. Her debut marriage was to Nicky Hilton, the 23-year-old playboy son of the hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, in 1950. It seemed a fairytale romance, ideal fodder for the glossy fan magazines, as both were young, attractive, rich and pampered. MGM took advantage of Hollywood's biggest wedding of the year by releasing Vincente Minnelli's delightful comedy Father of the Bride (1950), in which Taylor played the bride and Spencer Tracy was the father, at around the same time. After the genuine marriage ceremony, Taylor whispered to her mother, "Oh, mother! Nick and I are one now, for ever and ever." "For ever and ever" turned out to be eight months. According to her testimony at the divorce proceedings, Hilton had ignored her during their long European honeymoon, drank heavily and abused her in public. He complained, "I didn't marry a girl. I married an institution." The "institution", still in her teens, in ravishing close-ups, was now driving Montgomery Clift to murder his pregnant girlfriend in George Stevens's A Place in the Sun. "Liz is the only woman I have ever met who turns me on," remarked the gay Clift. They were to become close friends and, during the making of Raintree County in 1957, she was the first on the scene of Clift's car crash, pulling a dislodged tooth out of his throat to stop him choking. Two years later, she insisted that the scarred and drug-addicted Clift be cast with her in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), an adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play. In due course, she met the sophisticated British actor Michael Wilding, 20 years her senior. She was playing Rebecca in Ivanhoe (1952) in England when she proposed to him. Ironically, MGM had given her the role abroad as a means of breaking up her affair with the director Stanley Donen. Taylor and Wilding were married in 1952, at a London registry office. Her sons, Michael and Christopher, were both born by caesarean section, in 1953 and 1955 respectively. By 1956 the marriage began to totter. She was 24, and becoming one of the most sought-after stars in Hollywood, especially after her performance in Stevens's Giant, during which she formed warm relationships with her co-stars, Rock Hudson and James Dean. Wilding was middle-aged and his career was fading, although she got him an MGM contract. Clearly the age gap, which Taylor had insisted was unimportant at the outset, played an important part in the break-up of the marriage, and they agreed to an amicable divorce. Ironically, the man she was to marry next was five years older than Wilding. But the flamboyant impresario Mike Todd (real name Avrom Goldbogen), the begetter of Around the World in 80 Days (1956), was noted for his youthful spirit and his abundant energy. At their wedding in Acapulco in 1957, Mike's lifelong friend, the crooner Eddie Fisher, was best man, and Eddie's wife, Debbie Reynolds, was the matron of honour. In the same year, a daughter, Liza, was born, also by caesarean, and both mother and child nearly died. Taylor was advised never to have another baby. A mere seven months later, Todd's private plane, Lucky Liz, in which he was flying to New York, crashed in a storm near Albuquerque leaving no survivors. Taylor had wanted to accompany her husband on the flight but she was persuaded to stay at home because of a flu virus. On hearing of the crash, she screamed so loudly that neighbours a few doors away could hear her, and she had to be drugged to prevent her from taking her own life. Gradually, Taylor came out of seclusion and completed Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, another Williams adaptation, which she had already been filming when Todd was killed. Despite, or because of, her state of mind, she gave one of her most finely wrought performances as the sexually frustrated Maggie. Her voice, never her strong point, seemed to have gained in power, and she matched Paul Newman and Burl Ives blow for blow. The film's box-office potential was increased further by the gossip surrounding Taylor and Fisher. Taylor, who had been cast as the grieving widow, now found herself in the role of the vamp who wrecked the Fishers' apparently idyllic marriage. The outraged moralistic public was unaware that the Fisher-Reynolds marriage was already in tatters. In 1959, Taylor, who had converted to Judaism when she married Todd, married Fisher at a synagogue in Las Vegas. Taylor was in London where she was completing Suddenly, Last Summer (in which she brilliantly played Katharine Hepburn's mentally-disturbed niece), when the producer Walter Wanger offered her the title role in Cleopatra. The star half-jokingly told him that she would do it for $1m against 10% of the gross. To everyone's astonishment, 20th Century-Fox agreed to her terms, making her the highest-paid performer for a single film in the history of Hollywood to that date. As she said, "If someone's dumb enough to offer me a million dollars to make a picture, I'm certainly not dumb enough to turn it down." When filming on Cleopatra started at Pinewood studios, Peter Finch was Julius Caesar and Stephen Boyd was Mark Antony, although neither of them was to see their leading lady for more than a month. Taylor was first stricken with a cold, then a fever, then an infected tooth. In March 1961, she was rushed to a London clinic with lung congestion. She was given a tracheotomy that helped her breathing, but for days she was on the danger list. After some time in a coma, she began to rally. Her physicians announced, "She has made a very rare recovery. Miss Taylor is a woman of great courage. She put up a wonderful fight." In the spring, Taylor won her first Oscar, after three consecutive nominations for best actress in a leading role (in Raintree County, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly, Last Summer), for her role as a high-class hooker in the 1960 film Butterfield 8, an adaptation of John O'Hara's novel. Overnight, she had regained the affection of the fickle industry and public. Taylor herself thought the Oscar was a consolation prize for not dying and that the film "was a piece of shit". As for Cleopatra, the whole project was shipped to Rome, and Finch and Boyd were replaced by Rex Harrison and Burton. Taylor arrived in Rome with a large entourage consisting of one husband, three children, five dogs, two cats, various secretaries and dozens of servants, and settled at the Villa Pappa, a 14-roomed mansion off the Via Appia. "There comes a time during the making of a movie when the actors become the characters they play," Wanger noted in his diary. "The cameras turned and the current was literally turned on. It was quiet and you could almost feel the electricity between Elizabeth Taylor and Burton." After the first "electric scene" they performed together, Burton, who was married, frequented the villa in the evenings. On one particular occasion, while Burton was regaling the guests with stories, Fisher went to the piano and started playing and singing loudly. Finally, Taylor yelled, "Shut up, Eddie! We can't talk!", whereupon the jealous crooner slammed down the lid of the piano and strode into the next room. A few moments later, Fisher's records were blasting through the house. Taylor covered her ears while the guests departed, diplomatically. "I'm afraid at first it was lust, and then I got to know her and it was love," Burton recalled. Throughout the shooting, to avoid the constant prying of the paparazzi, the celebrated couple would escape to a cheap one-room apartment on the beach. Finally, weary of subterfuge, they decided to be seen publicly in the Via Veneto. The Vatican talked of "this insult to the nobility of the hearth", and Ed Sullivan on his TV show said, "You can only trust that youngsters will not be persuaded that the sanctity of marriage has been invalidated by the appalling example of Mrs Taylor-Fisher and married man Burton." After Cleopatra, Burton and Taylor announced that they would make another film together, originally to be called International Affair. The title was changed to The VIPs. During the filming in London, Cleopatra opened to mixed reviews. Audiences were disappointed that the love scenes between Taylor and Burton that had been the talk of modern Rome were not repeated with so much passion in those of ancient Rome. But public interest in the couple's private lives still made the film a top earner of 1963. The affair continued in the public eye, while both Fisher and Sybil Burton held out for the best possible divorce deals. Finally, Sybil Burton gave in, claiming cruelty and that her husband was "in the constant company of another woman," which Newsweek called "the throwaway line of the decade". Burton and Taylor were married in March 1964 by a Unitarian minister at the Ritz-Carlton in Montreal. She wore a pale yellow Irene Sharaff gown, and a $150,000 emerald and diamond brooch that Burton had bought her at Bulgari in Rome. The bride and groom gave their respective religions as Jewish and Presbyterian. The scandal over, public interest in them only seemed to increase. The world's most famous couple had become celebrities rather than actors. "I want to be known as an actress," Taylor told the New York Times in 1964. Unfortunately, their reputations as serious actors were not much enhanced by the next film they made together, the limp soap opera The Sandpiper (1965). After their three less than convincing films together, it was fortunate that their credibility as performers was soon brilliantly restored by Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for which Taylor won her second Oscar, playing the bitter, 52-year-old, vulgar wife of a self-loathing professor (Burton). It was Taylor's ability to get into the skin of the character, more than the padding and a tousled salt-and-pepper wig, which transformed the legendary beauty into a blowsy virago. Following the film, the couple appeared on stage, without payment, at Oxford University, for five sold-out performances of Christopher Marlowe's tragedy Dr Faustus, the proceeds of which were to go to build an Oxford University Theatre Centre. Burton played the title role, while Taylor was the four-minute wordless apparition of Helen of Troy. Burton continually claimed that Taylor had taught him how to act on film: "That girl has true glamour. If I retired tomorrow, I'd be forgotten in five years, but she would go on forever." Despite their genuine affection for one another, their open quarrels earned them the nickname of "the Battling Burtons" throughout the 1960s. This was cleverly exploited when they fought lustily – she as Katherina, he as Petruchio – through Franco Zeffirelli's bustling, colourful version of The Taming of the Shrew (1967). They also co-starred in The Comedians (1967, from Graham Greene's novel) and Boom (1968, another Williams adaptation) which allowed them to work in West Africa (standing in for Haiti in the former film) and Sardinia. As the Taylor-Burton circus moved from country to country, their way of life, which the New York Times likened to the court of Louis XIV, became ever more lavish. In the consciousness-raising late 1960s, younger people especially began to find them vulgar and frivolous, and their films irrelevant. Taylor's elder son, Michael, would become a hippie and live in a commune in Wales "in order to get away from all those diamonds", according to the Daily Mirror. "Those diamonds" included the 33.19-carat Krupp diamond that Burton bought Taylor for more than $300,000 in 1968; a $1.5m Cartier diamond set in a necklace of smaller diamonds, and the much-publicised heart-shaped diamond pendant Burton gave her for her 40th birthday. It had first been given by the Emperor Shah Jehan (the builder of the Taj Mahal) to his young bride in 1621, engraved with the message "Eternal Love Til Death". In fairness, the Burtons were equally generous in giving vast sums to worthy causes. In 1966, Taylor established a heart disease research foundation in memory of Clift and endowed it with $1m. While Taylor's looks and spunky performances still gathered praise in films such as John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Burton, who was now drinking heavily, became an object of derision. The marriage broke down and, in June 1974, Taylor divorced Burton in Switzerland. "There were too many differences. I have tried everything," she told the court. Yet they were reconciled in August 1975, attracting as much attention as ever. On a visit to South Africa in the autumn, an X-ray of Taylor's chest showed two spots on her lungs. Terrified, Burton and Taylor clung to each other all night, she gave him valium, and he whispered poetry in her ear. In the morning, she was told she did not have cancer. In his joy, Burton proposed remarriage. The ceremony took place on the banks of a river in Botswana. A few months later, they were again filing for divorce. Taylor soon met John Warner, former secretary of the navy to President Gerald Ford, and they married in 1976. She became a political wife, campaigning hard to get her husband elected to the Senate by attending endless charity benefits, shaking hundreds of hands, and speaking at public functions. "It was so boring. That's why I put on so much weight," she confessed. She therefore decided to return to acting, on Broadway, as the vixen Regina Giddens in Lillian Hellman's drama The Little Foxes, which she also played at the Victoria Palace theatre, London, in 1982 to mixed reviews. But, with her career in full swing again – and solo – she was not content to be kept down on the farm in Virginia. She and Warner divorced in 1982. After creating a minor sensation by appearing in several episodes of a daytime TV soap opera called General Hospital, opposite a new beau, Tony Geary, the unsinkable double act of Burton and Taylor resurfaced again. They starred together in Noël Coward's Private Lives in New York at a fee of $7,000 a week each, making the ticket prices the most expensive in Broadway history for a non-musical. The long-running romance ended at Burton's death in August 1984. Taylor stayed away from his funeral so as not to turn it into a media circus. But a few days later, she stood stricken with grief at the graveside of the man with whom she had shared the limelight for more than two decades. In 2010 she allowed love letters between them to be published and said: "Richard was magnificent in every sense of the word. We were always madly and powerfully in love." How different was her marriage in 1991 to Larry Fortensky, a construction worker 20 years her junior whom she met while being treated at the Betty Ford clinic. The vast differences between them doomed the marriage from the start, but Taylor always claimed that, with very few exceptions, she could not have sex with a man unless she was married to him. Five years later, she was a single woman again and threw herself into charitable work, especially her campaign for Aids awareness, motivated by her affection for Hudson, who died of an Aids-related illness in 1985. In 1997, Taylor's health again hit the headlines when she had an operation for a brain tumour, and had to shave off her hair. She survived because of "her will to live, and her millions of fans willing her to do so", according to her friend Michael Jackson, who was at her bedside. In 2005 she was a vocal supporter of Jackson during his trial on charges of sexually abusing a child, of which he was acquitted, and after his sudden death in 2009, she said, "My life feels so empty. I don't think anyone knew how much we loved each other." Although there were recurring rumours that she was to marry her constant companion Jason Winters, she dismissed them, saying she would never marry again. Taylor, who was made a dame in 2000, is survived by her brother, Howard; two sons, Michael and Christopher, from her marriage to Wilding; her daughter, Liza, from her marriage to Todd; her and Burton's adopted daughter, Maria; and 10 grandchildren. • Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, actor, born 27 February 1932; died 23 March 2011

Friday, 20 May 2011

Alex Higgins

Winner of two world snooker titles whose mercurial talent did much to popularise the sport on television
    Alex Higgins
    Higgins, pictured in 1995, was disparaging of more recent world snooker champions, saying: ‘I had a much faster brain and was always several shots ahead, as if I had satnav round the table'
    The snooker player Alex Higgins, who has died aged 61, led a life clouded by drunkenness, drug abuse, gambling, violence and tempestuous personal relationships. Yet for many of his fellow players and millions of fans, hooked on snooker with the advent of colour television, he will be forever viewed as a flawed sporting genius whose rock'n'roll lifestyle and brushes with officialdom made him all the more appealing, while a sometimes astonishing natural talent allowed him to brush aside more staid opponents and carried him to two world snooker titles. He was a man who would bet on virtually anything, and frequently did. His prodigious thirst for alcohol took him into more scrapes than he would ever be able to recall, while friends and enemies alike spoke of his volcanic temper, irrational outbursts and dark mood swings as he struggled, in his declining years, to cope with the ravages of throat cancer that had left him an emaciated figure living out his final days where he began, in the snooker halls and bars of Belfast. Yet most would prefer to remember Higgins as the one-time boy snooker hustler, nicknamed "Hurricane" because of the speed of his play, who became a sporting superstar. In his prime, whomever he might have been playing, he was able to command the spotlight in a manner no other snooker player has – Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan included. A waif-like figure, with his shirt left open-necked as he openly flouted the rules of the time that insisted bow ties should be worn, with a cigarette and strong drink invariably by his side, when Higgins began a break the nation seemed to collectively hold its breath in anticipation. Higgins, would sniff, twitch and fidget at the table, while careering around it with a near manic zeal, speed and an almost comic Chaplinesque gait. Yet, when he set himself to pot balls and build a break, no other player can have shown a greater natural aptitude, nor can any have taken more delight in the moment of victory. Like George Best, a contemporary Belfast wild boy, Higgins may never have understood how he achieved his brilliance, but his presence at a snooker table was often nothing short of mesmerising. Born in Belfast, Higgins grew up with three sisters in the staunchly Protestant Sandy Row neighbourhood in the south of the city. The son of a wheel tapper and a mother who augmented the family's meagre income by working as a cleaner, Higgins was a reasonable student at school. However, his life changed forever when he was 11 years old and began to visit The Jampot, a rundown snooker hall where he learned the rudiments of the game and began to earn money by challenging and beating his seniors. He recalled spending three or four hours every day after school practising and playing – and sometimes he missed school altogether. Soon, the prodigious nature of the young Higgins's talent became the talk of the community, even if he always seemed able to crank his game to another level as soon as a sizeable sidestake was up for grabs. Higgins always loved to gamble, and most of all on his own ability. The young Higgins had also cherished ambitions to become a jockey and went to England aged 14 to work for the Berkshire trainer Eddie Reavey. But he was unable to control his weight, lost his job having never ridden competitively, and returned to Belfast to pursue his love of snooker. By the time he was 16 years old, he had compiled his first maximum 147 break and, in 1968, confirmed a burgeoning talent by becoming the All Ireland and Northern Ireland amateur snooker champion. Professionally, snooker had long been dominated by figures such as Joe and Fred Davis, and John Pulman, while by the early 1970s John Spencer and Ray Reardon were the men to beat. Victory over Spencer in a challenge match – as ever, in Higgins matches, with a sizeable sidestake on the table – helped to prompt Higgins to turn professional. It was a decision that would be quickly vindicated when he became the 1972 World Snooker champion in a marathon final, played against Spencer at the Birmingham's Selly Oak British Legion Club, and making Higgins the youngest-ever champion at the time, aged just 22. For his 1972 success, Higgins earned £480, an insignificant sum when set against the estimated £4m he would earn throughout his career, but Higgins was beginning to announce himself to a wider public. To an ever-larger audience, coming to understand the sport through the BBC programme Pot Black, and through a proliferation of tournaments broadcast by BBC and ITV, Higgins was a totally different figure from the seemingly staid, besuited gentlemen with whom the sport had been synonymous. In constant demand to travel the country performing exhibitions when he was not involved in tournaments, Higgins did not have the playing consistency of rivals such as Reardon and, later, Steve Davis, but he was unquestionably the sport's biggest draw. As he made lightning fast breaks, performing brilliant trick shots and defeating all comers before sell-out crowds in working men's clubs across the country, often while consuming frightening quantities of alcohol, he captivated a new and altogether more raucous audience. He finished as runner-up to Reardon in the 1976 world championship and was once more defeated in the final four years later, by the Canadian Cliff Thorburn. The crowds willed another Higgins success, to the extent that Davis once reflected that he felt as though he was playing the crowd as well as Higgins, but it remained elusive until 1982, when he had begun styling himself as "the people's champion". After claiming the final frame of the final against his old rival Reardon to win 18-15 with a brilliant 135 clearance, the sight of a tearful Higgins embracing his second wife Lynn and their baby daughter became one of televised sport's most emotional and enduring images. Higgins was an inspiration to White, who became a close friend and was his playing partner when they won the World Doubles championship of 1984. Davis credited Higgins with snooker gaining pre-eminence as a television sport and once observed: "What people forget about Alex is that he had incredible bottle and fighting spirit. You watched him and wondered how he did it, with the way he played, but the public loved him and we all benefited as a result." Ronnie O'Sullivan, perhaps the player who comes closest to emulating Higgins in terms of style, was a boy of six when Higgins became world champion for a second time. While some would rank O'Sullivan as the greatest of all talents, he disagrees, saying: "Alex Higgins was one of the real inspirations behind me getting into snooker in the first place. He is a legend and should be remembered as the finest ever snooker player. The way he played at his best is the way I believe the game should be played. It was on the edge, keeping the crowd entertained and glued to the action." Statistics do not back up O'Sullivan's observations. Although Higgins was a five-time Irish professional champion and won 24 professional titles over a period of 19 years, including the 1983 UK Championship, the lack of prestigious "ranking" tournament successes beyond his 1982 win at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre suggest he was a lesser player than some of his contemporaries. But there is little doubt that a dissolute lifestyle contributed to his sometimes erratic form and to a long period of decline. He was in effect a spent force as a tournament player long before his time. He was twice married, first to Cara and then Lynn, with whom he had a daughter, Lauren, and son, Jordan. Both marriages were dissolved, and he is survived by the two children. Perhaps it was the breakup of his marriage to Lynn that prompted his decline. Lurid headlines accompanied their many disagreements, and Higgins had to recover from an overdose of sleeping tablets he took after a row while the couple had been on holiday in Majorca. The marriage came to an end in 1985, and Higgins's life seemingly began to unravel. In 1986, when asked to take a drugs test during the UK Championship, Higgins headbutted the official who made the request, which earned him a £12,000 fine and five-tournament ban as well as a court appearance, where he was handed a £250 fine for assault and criminal damage. Money worries were escalating as Higgins's gambling continued unchecked, and he was banned for an entire season after punching another official in the stomach in 1990 after losing a second-round match in the World Championship around the time he threatened to have his Northern Irish Catholic rival Dennis Taylor killed, saying: "I come from Shankill and you come from Coalisland, and the next time you are in Northern Ireland I will have you shot." As his form got worse, whenever he lost, Higgins would seem to search for an excuse in either the standard of refereeing, the table, the cloth, the temperature of the arena – anything other than an objective assessment of a decline that seemed more linked to his lifestyle. A heavy smoker since his youth, Higgins was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1997. As the wins became ever more sporadic, despite attempts to return as a player, and the money he earned from exhibitions largely dried up, Higgins relied ever more on cash handouts from friends and strangers alike. Returning to Belfast, where he lived in sheltered accommodation close to his childhood home, Higgins endured years of cancer treatment, becoming a near-skeletal figure who would still attempt to hustle in snooker clubs for money and drinks. His teeth had fallen out, and he was reduced to living off baby food. But still he dreamed of making a comeback to competitive snooker, and managed to play in a recent legends tour organised by the promoter Barry Hearn. In one of his last interviews, Higgins had confessed to feeling suicidal over the past winter, but had not taken his own life because of the hurt it would have caused those around him. He had watched, but not enjoyed, this year's World Championship, describing it as "very predictable", and he added: "I think the difference between me and them is that I was a much quicker thinker. I had a much faster brain and was always several shots ahead, as if I had satnav around the table. I had such a quick evaluation, and that's why I had the speed." Taylor, the man Higgins would once have had shot, said: "Alex was unique. He did a lot for the game, playing the game differently from how anyone had seen before. What happened between us is water under the bridge. We made it up. He battled right to the end, and that is what he did in his entire snooker career."   Alexander Gordon Higgins, snooker player, born 18 March 1949; found dead 24 July 2010

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Bob Litherland

Leftwing Labour MP for Manchester Central for 18 years
    Bob Litherland
    Bob Litherland believed Labour had to persuade voters through its policies. 
    As for many other members of the politically aspirational working class in the 20th century, it was reading Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists as a young man that fuelled Bob Litherland's socialism. The former Labour MP, who has died aged 80 from cancer, went to work in the printing industry when he left school at the age of 15, but later embarked on a course of self-education through Labour party correspondence courses. Throughout his life, he was a left-wing member of the party he joined as a youth of 16, espousing a number of radical causes, but he never departed from one of the primary messages of Tressell's seminal work in putting the need for socialists to work together to achieve their political ends above the luxury of purist ideology. He believed that Labour had to pursue policies that persuaded the electorate to support them. "You can't do anything without power," he used to say. "It's no good being in a powerless minority." Litherland was born in a terraced house in Collyhurst, Manchester, in an area that Friedrich Engels drew upon as illustrative for his 1844 study The Condition of the Working Class in England, and was hugely proud when he came to represent the area as MP for Manchester Central after the 1979 election. He won the first byelection in that parliament, shortly after Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government took office, succeeding Labour's Harold Lever, who had done a deal agreeing to resign in exchange for a seat in the House of Lords. There was never going to be much doubt about Litherland's politics. His father, Robert, an engineer, had been brought up in an orphanage – not because his parents were dead but because they could not afford to keep six children. His mother, Mary, was a mill worker. The boy was educated initially at Brookdale Park, Newton Heath, before going to North Manchester grammar school. He trained in book-binding and as a guillotine operator, and then became a print sales representative. His political and trade union sympathies developed speedily. Elected to Manchester council in 1971, he believed strongly in the potential for municipal socialism. He became chairman of the council's direct works committee, which was heavily engaged in slum clearance in the 1970s, and Litherland's pride in the improvements in Manchester's council housing was reflected in his maiden speech in the Commons. He was the first MP to be sponsored by his union, Sogat, which represented print workers. Litherland was not a firebrand MP, but maintained a consistent leftwing position. He thought Harold Wilson and James Callaghan could have been bolder as prime ministers, joined the Tribune group and then, during the party's internal strife in the 1980s, the Campaign group. He was delighted when Michael Foot became party leader, sponsored Tony Benn for the deputy leadership in the acrimonious election in 1981 and subsequently supported Eric Heffer and John Prescott in their abortive leadership bids. He was a member of CND, voted against sending the taskforce to the Falklands and made a controversial visit to Kabul with two other leftwingers in 1981. He was never afraid to speak his mind, but was widely liked and respected for his decency. Although he did not share Tony Blair's politics, he forgave him quite a lot for being able to win elections for Labour. Litherland stood down as an MP when he reached retirement age, leaving the Commons in 1997. Despite a diagnosis of cancer 10 years ago, the last years of his life were happy ones as he pursued, among other interests, a love of watercolour painting. He is survived by his wife, Edna, whom he married in 1953, his children, Neil and Joy, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Gerald Kaufman writes: Bob Litherland was Manchester through and through. A member of the city council before entering parliament, one of his roles was chief whip. Graham Stringer [Labour MP for the Manchester constituency of Blackley and Broughton] tells me that, when a rookie councillor, he intended to vote against council-house rent increases. Bob suggested to Graham that they pop out of the council chamber for a chat. By the time the chat was over, so was the vote. In parliament, Bob did not mince his words. He denounced Michael Howard, Conservative employment secretary from 1990 to 1992: "The right honourable and learned gentleman is Dr Goebbels incarnate. This is a squalid statement by a squalid minister." He supported Michael Foot as Labour leader in the period up to the 1983 election. At the traditional rally at Trafford Park, he asked me: "Do you believe the opinion polls?" Those polls were terrible, and my one-word answer, "Yes", left him crestfallen. In his 18 years in parliament, Bob never got to sit on the government side of the house. Yet no one could have served his city more loyally or stood up for his constituents more staunchly. • Robert Kenneth Litherland, politician, born 23 June 1930; died 13 May 2011

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Michael Ward

News and portrait photographer with an eye for the unexpected and the authentic
    Conversation Piece, a photograph taken in Belfast in 1977 by Michael Ward 
    Conversation Piece, a photograph taken in Belfast in 1977 by Michael Ward
    Michael Ward, who has died after a long illness, aged 82, was a news photographer for almost 40 years and once calculated that his archive of prints and negatives covered 5,500 assignments, mainly though not exclusively for the Sunday Times. And yet he came late to his career and never felt confident that he completely understood it. Towards the end of his life, after half a century with a camera, he wrote that he knew "as much or as little about the processes of photography as a decent amateur". Technically, he knew he was far from accomplished. Aesthetically, he was never sure what separated a good picture from an indifferent one. He had several exhibitions – the venues included the National theatre and the National Portrait Gallery – but he always remained suspicious about photography's claim as art. Nevertheless, many of his pictures are sympathetic and memorable. He had an eye for the unexpected and authentic, and as a portrait photographer he brought out the best in people; whatever their terror of the camera, few of Ward's subjects could resist his good looks and reckless, self-mocking charm. Performance was a family inheritance. Ward was born in Streatham, south London, to parents who were prominent on the West End stage. His father, Ronnie Ward, had equal billing with actors such as John Gielgud, Rex Harrison and Edith Evans (who became Michael's godmother). His mother, Peggy Willoughby, danced and sang in the chorus line of revues that starred Gertrude Lawrence, Jack Buchanan and Noël Coward. The marriage quickly became inconvenient to both partners, who were self-absorbed and serially adulterous (one of Ronnie's many conquests was Tallulah Bankhead) and in their son's words "quite spectacularly careless" as parents. Aged three, he was sent to a boarding school in Ealing which, like those that followed, did little for his education. He never lived in a settled family environment until his early middle age. Photographer Michael Ward 
    Few of Ward's subjects could resist his good looks 
      Music became and remained a genuine passion. He won a piano scholarship and studied for three years at the Trinity College of Music in London, but decided he would never play well enough to make it his career. Acting seemed the obvious alternative. He joined the repertory theatre in Bromley and his looks began to win him small parts in films. He took Theo Ward as his professional name after his paternal grandfather, who was a musician and music-hall artiste, changing it subsequently to Lawrence Ward and, finally, to Rhett Ward. In 1952, the American director Bernard Vorhaus gave him a break in a film called Fanciulle di Lusso (The Finishing School), which was shot in Rome. It was his first and last star part, though he married his leading lady, Susan Stephen, and persevered on the fringes of the British cinema for the next half-dozen years, acquiring friendships and connections that later helped establish him as a photographer. His first published picture appeared in Women's Own magazine in 1958 and showed Stirling Moss's wife, Kate, watching the race in which her husband won the British grand prix – shot on a Rolleiflex that the poorly equipped Ward had borrowed from the driver. Freelance commissions followed and Ward began to work regularly for the Evening Standard's show-business pages. He joined the Sunday Times in 1965 and stayed with the paper until he retired 30 years later. He broadened his range to include news stories such as the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Aberfan colliery disaster in south Wales and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, as well as continuing with his portraits of musicians, visual artists, writers and actors – a tremendous variety stretching from Gary Cooper through Julie Christie to Hugh Grant. Any reporter who worked with him was always glad to hear his cheerful "Hello there, Number One", a nautical greeting that had been inspired by his brief appearance in the 1957 film Yangtse Incident. In fact, his only line (on the bridge of HMS Amethyst, shortly before it was blown up) turned out to be "Aye, aye, sir." Ward's abiding enthusiasms included elegant cars and powerful motorbikes. He owned several Rolls-Royces and taught his editor, Harold Evans, the best way to balance and ride a BMW. These were expensive hobbies to sustain on a staff photographer's salary, but Ward had a carefree approach to money. He was often in love and married five times: as a 19-year-old to a professor of music, Lettice Laird-Clowes; to Susan Stephen; to the model Fay Brooke; to Lisa Heseltine, with whom he had two daughters, Sam and Tasha; and finally, in 1976, to the actor and dancer Elizabeth Seal. In 2006 he published a courageous memoir, Mostly Women, which disclosed that as a teenager he had had an affair with his mother. In Ward's description, she was a "sexually voracious woman" and he had no idea how to resist. What had taken place in Willoughby's Soho flat over several weeks in 1945 remained a traumatic secret until Ward eventually confided the facts to his wife. "At first she was shocked," Ward wrote, "and then she gave me such love by saying it wasn't my fault; I became physically lighter." He saw his final marriage as a personal salvation. He is survived by Elizabeth, his daughters and six grandchildren. Michael Ronald Ward, photographer, born 15 January 1929; died 17 April 2011

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Hazel Dickens

Bluegrass pioneer who sang of miners and the downtrodden
    Hazel Dickens
    Hazel Dickens performing in 2009.
    Of all the voices raised since the death of Woody Guthrie that have told the stories of American working men and women, few have been more passionately eloquent than that of Hazel Dickens, who has died aged about 85, though she allowed it to be thought that she was 10 years younger. Herself a child of hard times in the West Virginia coalfields, she devoted much of her life to singing about, and for, coalminers and their families, whose hardships she encapsulated in compositions such as Black Lung and They'll Never Keep Us Down. The latter was written in 1976 for Barbara Kopple's Harlan County, USA, a chilling documentary about the Brookside Mine strike in Kentucky in the early 70s. Hazel's strident, heart-piercing delivery perfectly crystallises the spirit of the film, and when she sang at previews for the strikers themselves, as the folklorist Ralph Rinzler recalled, "she found a deep, responsive chord. They trusted her, they were strengthened by her, she was one of them". Born in Mercer County, at the southern tip of West Virginia, the eighth of 11 children, Hazel learned her music from her father, a Baptist minister, and from country music radio shows such as the Grand Ole Opry and the WWVA Jamboree from Wheeling, West Virginia. By the 50s she and some of her brothers had moved to Baltimore in search of work, and from her wages at a factory making tin cans she bought a bass so as to join them in a bluegrass band playing for other Appalachian emigres. Around that time she met other devotees of old-time mountain music including Mike Seeger and Alice Gerrard, with whom she began to work in the mid-60s. Their first recordings, for Folkways, offered the unprecedented sound of a female duet singing bluegrass, but it was their Rounder albums Hazel & Alice (1973) and Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard (1976), containing songs by Hazel such as My Better Years, Ramblin' Woman and Working Girl Blues, that caught the imagination of young female folksingers everywhere, among them Emmylou Harris. Twenty years later, when the albums were reissued on CD, the country singer Naomi Judd named them as her and her daughter Wynonna's first musical influence: "Their raw, hard-edged voices were so distinctive and true." Hazel herself described her singing simply as "that old mountain stuff where you just rear back and let it go – beltin', as some people call it". Now living in Washington, she contributed songs to the LP collections Come All You Coal Miners (1973) and They'll Never Keep Us Down: Women's Coal Mining Songs (1984), and appeared in John Sayles's powerful film dramatisation of a West Virginia coal strike, Matewan (1987). "Whether she is singing on a picket line, in a concert hall, or at a national convention of the United Mine Workers," wrote Rinzler, "Hazel puts herself and her music to work for the benefit of people faced with struggle – for wages, for rights, for their very survival." But she was much more than an activist of the coalfields, and in the first of her three solo albums, Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People (1981, the title borrowed from Guthrie), she epitomised the spirit of old-time mountain music and the men and women to whom it mattered. Through the 70s, 80s and 90s, Hazel was regarded by many of her contemporaries as the finest female singer in hardcore bluegrass, and she performed with bands such as the Johnson Mountain Boys and the Nashville Bluegrass Band, and wrote songs such as Mama's Hand and You'll Get No More of Me. In 1994 she was the first woman to receive a merit award from the International Bluegrass Music Association, and in 2001 she received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In the same year her story was told in the documentary Hazel Dickens: It's Hard to Tell the Singer from the Song. Her autobiography, Working Girl Blues, written in collaboration with the country music historian Bill Malone, was published in 2008. Hazel's music inspired the San Francisco financier Warren Hellman to create an annual festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, in Golden Gate Park; she was on the first bill in 2001 and every year thereafter. Her last public performance was in March at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, where, her friend and frequent musical partner Dudley Connell says, "she pinned them to the wall". Her marriage to Joseph Cohen ended in divorce in 1970. She is survived by her brother Robert and numerous nieces and nephews. Hazel Jane Dickens, singer and songwriter, born 1 June 1924 or 1925; died 22 April 2011

Monday, 16 May 2011

Susan Collier

Inspirational textile designer whose patterns are known all over the world
    Susan Collier 
    A born subversive, Susan Collier challenged the rules of mechanical patterning
    For 50 years the work of Susan Collier, who has died of cancer aged 72, patterned houses and garments, haute couture and high streets. The most famous patterns are in every textbook as exemplars of the art, and many readers would recognise their mother's curtains, their aunt's scarf and their wedding-present sheets, but be unaware of the partnership of Collier and her sister Sarah Campbell, who created them. Cloth was Collier's medium, and pattern was the way she told a story, conversed, manifested her philosophy, and entered people's visual memories. When her retrospective exhibition opens at the National theatre later this month, there will be as much of her work on the visitors as on the walls. She attributed her gifts, including her sensitivity to colour, to her parents: her mother, the actor Patience Collier, who painted Susan's chair the peculiar red and yellow she requested, and gave her paper and brush; and her father, the pharmacologist Harry Collier, who took her on walks to stare hard at nature, spending hours peering at butterfly wings. Susan was born in Manchester. Wherever they lived, Collier's parents planted flowers, and she was excited by their intense shades. Her formative encounter, aged around five, was with "my lifelong friend Matisse", through a book of reproductions with his name printed in a "fantastic, special blue ink" on its cover. She wanted to be a painter, but "knew I wasn't Matisse". What she could be, she realised when she shopped for fabrics in the department store Derry & Toms, and found them all morose, was a painter of textile designs. Collier was self-taught, dogsbodying for the freelance designer Pat Albeck and selling her own initial sketches to the scarf brands Richard Allan and Jacq- mar. In 1961, she approached Liberty with a portfolio; if they bought two images, this would be her career. They bought six, and commissioned more. Susan Collier's Cote d'Azur print 
    Matisse for the masses ... Susan Collier's Côte d'Azur print. 
     As a born subversive, she challenged the rules of mechanical patterning, which from block to roller-cylinder print overorganised design, in what she described as a "plonkity-plonk" manner. Her motto was "cheat the repeat". "I was politically motivated to produce beautiful cloth for the mass market," she said. She enjoyed laundering and ironing too, all part of a textile's life-cycle. She wanted her prints to be painterly, the brushmarks left in – visibly hand-created though mass-produced, not an easy effect to achieve through machines. When you see her art work, gouache creamy as custard, thin brush squiggles all over, you hear the indrawn breath of a printer about to say: "Are you sure you want it done like that?" Liberty retained her from 1968, her speciality being lively blossoms on Tana cotton lawn. She had married a noted pharmacologist, Andrew Herxheimer, in 1961, and they had small children, so she trained up her younger sister Sarah as an assistant. She helped in school holidays, went to art college, and joined her at Liberty in 1968. As the firm approached its centenary in 1975, its prints on natural fibres were perfect for a time when printed cloth was the fashion, summers of flowers and winters of paisleys. Liberty prints had been produced in limited runs, but when Collier took over as company design consultant in 1971, she determined to supply the wholesale quantities wanted for couturiers' new ready-to-wear collections, and do the same for furnishings. The sisters also formed the independent Collier Campbell (C-C) studio, their eventual escape in 1977 from life within Liberty: Collier was the ebullient partner, seldom seen in less than seven yards of assorted patterns. They were a co-op and did not specify who did what, but a tranquil rendering of a difficult line was probably Campbell's, while a rose with heart and guts would be Collier's. "Pleasure sliding across the eye" was her intent, and you got an eyeful of C-C everywhere for almost two decades. Yves Saint Laurent had bespoken a range for his launch of off-the-peg collections ("we sang and danced painting the sketches"); Jean Muir and John Bates settled for special colourways; London independents (including Jaeger) mixed and did not match patterns; Bill Gibb used a print the wrong way up. On a sunny day you could spot the bright graphics of the clothes C-C sold by post, through magazine adverts. When fashion tired of distinctive prints, there were furnishing commissions from Habitat, Marks & Spencer's first home collection (1985), and the US bedding giant Martex. The print Côte d'Azur (a window on the Mediterranean, Matisse for the masses) from a 1983 collection that won a Design Council award, was so ubiquitous worldwide that I used to send Collier postcards from far away recording sightings – as curtains above the Arctic circle, a cushion in Kyoto. The cards went to her Queen Anne house in Clapham Old Town, which she had bought derelict in 1969 – grass was growing in its basement kitchen – and restored, planting a secret garden at the back. She stayed there until the late 90s, when the formerly dozy local pubs attracted young hordes. The last straw was a drunk girl passing out on her front path, wearing less than a metre of mangy cloth. She sold up and made ambitious gardens for two subsequent south London homes. The world had changed. C-C were textile converters as well as designers, managing the supply of raw greige fabrics and printing processes, a business that toughened brutally with globalisation. Collier never wanted to be a big-name brand, which she felt meant fewer fresh ideas plastered over ever more objects; C-C did open a short-lived boutique in Mayfair, but it was just as the luxury trade was investing in anything but the small, chic shop. Although the business harshened further, there has seldom been a year without fresh C-C designs, and Collier was working fiercely almost until her death on a range to coincide with the half-century exhibition. Her marriage to Herxheimer, and a later marriage to the broadcaster Frank Delany, ended in divorce. Her sister, daughters, Sophie and Charlotte, and grandchildren survive her. Susan Collier, artist and designer, born 12 October 1938; died 7 May 2011

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Tim Hetherington

An outstanding photojournalist and film-maker, he defined a generation of reportage
    Tim Hetherington
    Tim Hetherington in 2007 in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, during the filming of Restrepo.
    The photographer and film-maker Tim Hetherington, who has been killed at the age of 40 while covering the escalating violence in Misrata, Libya, was a leading light of his profession. The canon of work he bequeaths defines a generation of reportage. His eye and ability for capturing on film some of the most disturbing events of the past decade was as relentless as it was unsurpassed. With a great sense of self-deprecation and humanity, Hetherington was driven repeatedly to explore the ragged, violent margins of society to bring back portraits of people profoundly affected by conflict. Never an end in itself, for Hetherington the purpose of working in war was to understand better the lives of the civilians and soldiers caught up in it. Fundamentally a humanitarian, he worked not only for news organisations and magazines, but for human rights organisations, and undertook extensive projects for the US-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch. In Misrata he wanted to record the plight of civilians. He died with them: an explosion on the town's mortally dangerous Tripoli highway – the frontline in the battle between forces loyal to the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and the rebels trying to unseat him – killed him and his friend, the US photographer Chris Hondros. At least eight other civilians were killed in fighting that day, a fact Hetherington would have been at pains to ensure was not forgotten. Careful not to be pigeonholed as a photographer or a film-maker, Hetherington worked across different, mixed visual media. His interest lay in creating diverse forms of visual communication and his work ranged from multi-screen installations, to fly-poster exhibitions, to handheld device downloads. Known for his long-term documentary work, Tim lived and worked in west Africa for eight years, reporting on social and political issues worldwide. As a film-maker, he worked as both a cameraman and as a director and producer. Liberia: An Uncivil War (2004), the first documentary he worked on – as an assistant producer and cameraman – was also his first experience of filming warfare. Surviving repeated firefights and close-quarter combat, Hetherington captured iconic images of the Liberian rebels fighting to overthrow then-President Charles Taylor. When a rebel commander threatened to execute a doctor tending to injured rebel soldiers, suspecting him of espionage, Hetherington put himself in front of the condemned man and pleaded for his life, physically grabbing the pistol from the incensed commander. On that occasion humanity prevailed, and the doctor's life was saved. An assistant producer and cameraman on the BBC's Violent Coast series (2004), about west Africa, cameraman on The Devil Came On Horseback (2007), about attacks across the border with Chad by Sudanese militia, and a producer/director on Channel 4's Unreported World – Nigeria: Fire in the Delta (2006), he made his debut as director of a documentary feature film with Restrepo (2010) – a cinematic release made with his fellow director Sebastian Junger about a platoon of forward-deployed US soldiers over the course of a year in Afghanistan's isolated Korengal Valley. At times almost constantly in combat, and deeply affected by his time in Afghanistan, Hetherington said of his experience there: "When I'm filming, I'm very focused … You don't really have time to start examining your emotions when you're in the middle of this kind of situation. You kind of push them to a deeper place in your mind and examine them later. But war is traumatic. I've seen a lot of traumatic things happen in the Korengal Valley when we were there … I was with people who got killed and that was a very sad and upsetting thing to go through." Awarded the Rory Peck award for features (2008) and the grand jury prize at the 2010 Sundance film festival, Restrepo was subsequently nominated for an Academy award. The film gave an unprecedented insight into the lives of US soldiers fighting and dying on that war's least reported frontline. Originally conceived as a short news piece for ABC News Nightline, it ultimately served, perhaps more than any other film from Afghanistan, to create an enduring connection between the US public and the experience of the US soldier. His most recent film, Diary, is a highly personal experimental short currently playing at film festivals. Born in Liverpool, into what he described as a "normal, working-class family", Hetherington moved around the country, attending both state and private schools – including Stonyhurst college, a Catholic boarding school run on Jesuit principles, near Clitheroe, in Lancashire, before going to Oxford. He graduated from Lady Margaret Hall in classics and English in 1992, broke. But then, in a final gift to her grandson and, inadvertently to the wider world, Hetherington's grandmother left him £5,000 in her will with which to escape Britain's economic recession and travel for two years in India, China and Tibet, feeding his curiosity for the lives of others in unfamiliar circumstances. Particularly impressed by Mount Kailash, the Himalayan peak in Tibet that has religious significance for several faiths, he went on to Dharamsala, in northern India, where he met the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan exiles. Though brought up as a Catholic, Hetherington developed a Buddhist sensibility: his friend Piers Dunn recalls that, without any specific sense of mission, he took a thoughtful, considered view of everything he saw. Of his desire to become a photographer, Hetherington wrote: "I had the epiphany when I came back [from India] and realised I wanted to make images. I then worked for three to four years, going to night school in photography before eventually going back to college." Returning to full-time education under his own steam when he was 26 to study photojournalism at Cardiff (1996-97) paid off: he found immediate employment as a staff photographer with the Big Issue, the magazine produced for sale by London's homeless. Its editor Becky Gardiner was soon impressed by the way he captured a church service for blind-deaf people, conducted by signing into each other's hands. The Snapshot page of the magazine showcased street-based photography: Hetherington and his colleague Lena Corner wandered round London, stopping people to ask them for their photo – for which Hetherington showed real flair. Corner recalls him talking endlessly about "imagery, technology and how he had managed to rig up some sort of screen or other contraption in his flat, in his eternal search for new ways to present his pictures. He was really ahead of his time. Back then, he recognised the power of the moving image as well as the still. I remember him telling me he simply couldn't understand photographers who didn't want to capture the things they were witness to without a movie camera as well." From the Big Issue he moved to the Independent as a regular freelance photographer. Soon a member of the photographic agency Network, he joined a small, dedicated, group of photojournalists often reporting on the world's trouble spots. In 1999 he went to Liberia – his first assignment in Africa. By 2002, he had also worked in Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali and Sierra Leone – developing a project about young men and political conflict in west Africa. Awards followed – including World Press photo of the year 2007 for his portrait of an exhausted US soldier in Korengal while working on assignment for Vanity Fair. His project Healing Sport was published as part of the group project Tales from a Globalizing World (2003). Long Story Bit By Bit: Liberia Retold (2009) narrates recent history by drawing on images and interviews made over a five-year period. Infidel (2010), about a group of US soldiers in Afghanistan, continued his career-long examination of young men and conflict. His work with the Milton Margai school for the blind in Freetown, Sierra Leone, was very important to him, and he was fascinated by the possibilities of braille photos. He was also a member of the UN panel of experts on Liberia. Hetherington had recently moved to Brooklyn, New York. He is survived by his partner, Idil Ibrahim; his siblings, Guy and Victoria; and his parents, Alistair and Judith. The troubled corners of the world into which he shed the light of his lens are brighter because of him; the work he leaves is a candle by which those who choose to look, might see. • Timothy Alistair Hetherington, photographer and film-maker, born 5 December 1970; died 20 April 2011

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Ira Cohen

Doyen of the Beat generation feted for his psychedelic photos from the underground
    Jimi Hendrix
    Ira Cohen's surrealistic photograph of Jimi Hendrix, taken in the late 1960s in the Mylar chamber at his loft in New York. Photograph: Ira Cohen
    Ira Cohen, who has died of renal failure aged 76, participated in the 1960s artistic counterculture as a poet, publisher, film-maker and raconteur. In the middle of the decade, he took up photography seriously. At his loft in Jefferson Street, New York, Cohen built a chamber with walls and ceilings made from sheets of Mylar, a reflective polyester film. Inside this chamber, he took portraits of William Burroughs, Jimi Hendrix, Alejandro Jodorowsky and the steady stream of hipsters who visited the loft. Rather than photograph his subjects directly, he took pictures of their distorted reflections on the chamber's walls and ceiling. The surrealistic and psychedelic results were described by Hendrix as "like looking through butterfly wings". The photographer and film-maker Gerard Malanga called the Mylar chamber "a kaleidoscope where the reflections being photographed constantly changed". Life magazine, in its final issue of the 1960s, praised how close Cohen's photographs came to "explaining the euphoric distortions of hallucinogenics". Cohen was born to deaf parents, Lester and Faye, in the Bronx, New York. He learned sign language before he could read and write. He attended Horace Mann school and Cornell University, where he took writing classes from Vladimir Nabokov. At Columbia University, he became involved in the jazz and avant-garde scenes of New York's Lower East Side. In 1961 he boarded a freighter to Morocco where he spent time with Burroughs and the writers Brion Gysin and Paul Bowles. He embarked on publishing a literary magazine, Gnaoua, centred on the Beat scene in Tangier. In 1964, the only volume of Gnaoua was published, with contributions including a preview of Burroughs's cut-up novel Nova Express, photographs by Jack Smith and Allen Ginsberg's reflections on totalitarianism. A copy of Gnaoua can be seen on the cover of Bob Dylan's album Bringing it All Back Home. Ira Cohen Cohen embodied a bohemian intent on doing his own thing. Photograph:
      In 1966, having returned to New York, Cohen edited and published – under the nom de plume Panama Rose – The Hashish Cookbook, with recipes ranging from cakes and puddings to soups and drinks. He also produced Jilala, an album of Moroccan trance music. Cohen was a pioneer of the loft scene in the Lower East Side, where the low rents and vast spaces attracted artists, musicians, actors and writers. Happenings were organised in lofts, and he became part of the burgeoning underground which was successfully commercialised by Andy Warhol. Cohen himself was never able to deal with art or writing in any commercial way. He advocated that artists and poets should have patrons and be supported. One story typifies Cohen's haphazard luck. Having disturbed a burglar at his loft, he struck up a conversation, explaining the Mylar chamber and his lifestyle. The burglar left but soon returned with a Bolex 16mm film camera and a box of prism lenses, which he sold to Cohen for almost nothing. In 1968, using the Bolex, Cohen made the film The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda, a psychedelic romp that features the Mylar chamber and scenes inspired by the work of Julian Beck's Living Theatre company. He also produced a documentary about the Living Theatre's US tour of the play Paradise Now, which involved audience participation and scenes of mass nudity, leading to arrests for indecency. In 1970 Cohen's Mylar chamber photographs were used on the cover of the album Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus by the psychedelic rock band Spirit and on the jacket of the first novel by Burroughs's son, William Jr, entitled Speed. Cohen then departed to Nepal with the Living Theatre actor Petra Vogt and began a small press, Bardo Matrix, publishing books and broadsheets on handmade rice paper, including works by Bowles, Gregory Corso and Angus MacLise. He also published his own poetry, including the collections Gilded Splinters and Poems from the Cosmic Crypt. Cohen later directed the film Kings With Straw Mats (1998), a documentary about the Kumbh Mela gathering in India, and released the album The Majoon Traveller, featuring the music of MacLise, Ornette Coleman and Master Musicians of Joujouka, mixed with his readings. In his later years, he was feted by a new generation of the counterculture, as The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda and Paradise Now were released on DVD. In 2006, the Whitney Museum of American Art's biennial featured his photographs of Smith. I first met Cohen in 1992 when he participated in a Burroughs and Gysin exhibition in Dublin, displaying his Mylar images and other work. He took a central role in the event, hosting daily readings. When it came to publishing, he was enthusiastic and generous. On being asked for a contribution for a book, he was likely to also offer a piece by Bowles or Anne Waldman which had been left over from one of the many publications he had edited. In his personal attire (such as his long kaftan and bead-strewn beard) and his manner, he always embodied a bohemian intent on doing his own thing. In the mid-1950s he married Arlene Bond, with whom he had two children. He later married Carolina Gosselin, with whom he had a daughter. Both marriages ended in divorce. He also had a son from another relationship. He is survived by his children and his sister, Janice. • Ira Cohen, photographer, poet, publisher and film-maker, born 3 February 1935; died 25 April 2011

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Chris Hondros

Award-winning US photographer lauded for his images of the world's war zones
    US Troops Mistakenly Kill Iraqi Civilians
    Chris Hondros, below, and one of his most dramatic images, above, taken in Iraq in 2005. The child’s parents had just been killed by US forces. Photograph: Getty
    Chris Hondros, who has died aged 41 from injuries sustained in a grenade attack by Libyan government forces in Misrata, was one of the world's leading contemporary war photographers. His dramatic images from conflicts in Kosovo, Angola, Afghanistan, Iraq, the West Bank and Libya appeared regularly in Newsweek, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. In 2004, his dramatic reportage from Liberia earned him a Pulitzer prize nomination. He was awarded the Robert Capa gold medal by the Overseas Press Club in 2005 for his "exceptional courage and enterprise" while covering the Iraq war, and, in 2007, American Photo magazine named him "Hero of Photography". Chris Hondros 
    Hondros took what was perhaps his most dramatic series of photographs on 18 January 2005, while embedded with US-led forces in the town of Tal Afar in northern Iraq. At dusk, he captured the shooting of an Iraqi family after their car had failed to stop at an army checkpoint. Both adults, Hussein and Camila Hassan, were killed, but the six children travelling with them survived. In the most famous image from the series, a young girl screams in terror, her clothes and the ground around her feet splattered in blood. She is bathed in a beam of light from a torch carried by the soldier standing guard over her. That photograph was published and broadcast around the world, causing a considerable outcry. It has since become emblematic of the suffering inflicted on civilians caught up in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most seriously injured Iraqi child, a young boy, was later flown to America for treatment. In a statement, the army extended condolences to the family for the "unfortunate incident". When interviewed about the pictures by the Columbia Journalism Review, Hondros said: "Almost every soldier in Iraq has been involved in some sort of incident like that or another. Their attitude about it was grim, but it wasn't the end of their world. It was, 'well, [I] kind of wished they'd stopped. We fired warning shots. Damn, I don't know why the hell they didn't stop. What're you doing later, you want to play Nintendo? OK.' Just a day's work for them. That stuff happens in Iraq a lot." Hondros was born in New York, where his parents, both child refugees from the second world war, had settled. He grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, graduating from Terry Sanford high school in 1988, before studying English literature at North Carolina State University. He obtained a master's degree in visual communications at Ohio University and then began working on the Fayetteville Observer in 1996. "He was highly intellectual, and he connected with people," said Johnny Home, the picture editor who hired him. "Not all photographers make that connection, but the best do, and he was the best. You don't get the picture he got without making that connection." In 1998 Hondros moved to New York, where he lived until his death, and started working as a freelance. As well as covering conflicts abroad, he famously photographed the aftermath of the 11 September attacks in New York in 2001, John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, and the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. It was as a war photographer, though, that Hondros excelled, often illustrating, at considerable risk to himself, Capa's famous dictum: "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough." During the civil war in Liberia, he captured an unforgettable image of a militiaman leaping in the air with joy after firing a grenade at rebel forces from the rocket launcher he is brandishing victoriously. That image helped him earn the Pulitzer nomination. In 2005, he returned to Liberia and found the man in that photograph, who was living in poverty with his wife and young family. The photographer raised money for a laptop computer so that the ex-soldier could pursue his dream of higher education. Hondros took what would become his final photographs among the anti-government rebels in the midst of the fighting in the battle for Misrata in early April 2011. One series of dramatic, close-up shots depicts rebels attempting to take a house occupied by loyalist snipers who are firing from an upstairs room. Again, Capa's famous quote comes to mind and, with it, the risks that war photographers continue to run to capture dramatic images from the frontline of today's war zones. Hondros was killed alongside his friend, Tim Hetherington, a lauded British war photographer and film-maker. They were the first western journalists to be killed in Libya. Once, when asked about his expererience of war photography in Iraq, Hondros said simply: "I went and covered what was in front of me, and did what I could to help people understand what was happening – even when I didn't really understand it myself." He is survived by his mother, Inge, his brother, Dean, and his fiancee, Christina Piaia. The Chris Hondros Fund has been set up to provide scholarships for aspiring journalists and raise awareness of issues surrounding conflict photography. • Christopher Eric Hondros, photographer, born 14 March 1970; died 20 April 2011