Bill Eppridge chronicled the 1960s for Life magazine with a series of memorable images, including one of presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy as he lay mortally wounded. Eppridge spent eight years with Life, covering many of seminal events, including the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, the Beatles’ arrival in the US and Woodstock.
His most searing images came from his coverage of Kennedy’s campaign to win the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. He followed the candidate across the country, and on 5 June, after Kennedy had won the California primary he addressed a crowd of supporters in the early morning hours at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
Eppridge was about 12 feet behind Kennedy when he heard gunfire, and saw Kennedy lying on his back, his arms outstretched. “I was suddenly realised that what I was seeing there was an icon, almost. It was almost like a crucifixion.”It was 25 years later, when he was preparing the first of two books about Kennedy, before Eppridge could bear to look at his contact sheets.
He was born in Buenos Aires, where his American father was a chemical engineer with DuPont. He returned with his family to the US as a child and began taking photographs in high school. After graduating in 1960 from the University of Missouri. He went on a nine-month trip around the world for National Geographic, then freelanced before joining Life.
One of his first assignments was to spend six days with the Beatles on their first trip to the US in February 1964. A collection of his photographs of the time, most of them never before seen, will be published next year in The Beatles: Six Days That Changed the World.
Eppridge was an expert in equipment, lighting and other technical elements, but a greater talent may have been the way he immersed himself in a story and earned the confidence of his subjects. In the summer of 1964, he approached the family of James Chaney, one of three civil rights workers killed by white supremacists in Mississippi. He attended Chaney’s funeral, taking a picture of the tear-stained face of his younger brother as he leaned close to his mother.
One of Eppridge’s most remarkable stories came in 1965, when he and Life reporter James Mills spent more than two months with a married pair of heroin addicts on New York’s Upper West Side. The story was the inspiration for the 1971 film The Panic in Needle Park, starring Al Pacino.
After Kennedy’s assassination, Eppridge retreated from the world of politics and conflict. Helater worked for Time and Sports Illustrated.