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Bill Cunningham Dead at 87: ‘New York Times’ Fashion Photographer Dies After Suffering a Stroke

Bill Cunningham
Bill Cunningham in 2012. Carlo Allergie/Reuters

Legendary New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died in New York on Saturday, June 25, days after he was hospitalized for a stroke. He was 87.

Cunningham, who worked at the Times for nearly 40 years, was best known for his photo essays, which “memorialized trends ranging from fanny packs to Birkin bags, gingham shirts and fluorescent biker shorts,” according to his NYT obituary.

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The photographer was famous for his simple uniform — a blue jacket, khaki pants and black sneakers — and often expressed that he preferred finding subjects rather than being the subject.

“We all dress for Bill,” Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour said in a 2002 Times article. “You feel he’s the only one who notices or cares how you dress. I wonder if Bill will like this. And it’s always a flattering picture he chooses. He picks everything carefully, so you will look your best. He’s a very seductive guy.”

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Bill Cunningham
Bill Cunningham photographing in the street, in ‘Bill Cunningham New York,’ a film by Richard Press. A Zeitgeist Films release

Although Cunningham was profiled in the 2010 documentary film Bill Cunningham New York, he didn’t own a television or go to the movies. He lived a very simplistic and traditional life, eating breakfast at the same café nearly every morning and sleeping on a cot in his studio apartment above Carnegie Hall until 2010.

“He was a hugely ethical journalist,” New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet said. “And he was incredibly open-minded about fashion. To see a Bill Cunningham street spread was to see all of New York. Young people. Brown people. People who spent fortunes on fashion and people who just had a strut and knew how to put an outfit together out of what they had and what they found.”

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The cameraman started working regularly for The New York Times in the late 1970s, but he “declined repeated efforts by his editors to take a staff position” in his first two decades at the newspaper.

After Cunningham suffered a stroke earlier in the week, supermodel Iman, who was married to the late David Bowie, tweeted a photo of herself with the photographer. “Speedy recovery for my dear friend and famed photographer Bill Cunningham,” she wrote.

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