Celebrity photographer Bill Jones died Saturday June 25 while in hospice care. He was 83. According to his granddaughter LaToya Jones, he had been a longtime sufferer of Alzheimers due to a violent attack he suffered in 1997.
Jones was born in Mansfield, Ohio and attended Mansfield High School where he was active in sports. He graduated and moved on to Ohio University but decided to put his studies on hold to join the U.S. Air Force. While there, he studied accounting and became pen pals with his future wife Reva Ochier, a young woman whom he had met at a church a few years prior. They were married January 7, 1956. They had four children Bill, Jr., Michelle, Nattile and Nina.
Jones became interested in photography while stationed in England and began to study at the London School of Photography. It was there he snapped his first celebrity photo of Muhamed Ali.
“He was a pioneer,” said Jones’ mentee and fellow photographer Malcolm Ali.
“Before cell phones, before digital, there was Bill with his camera. There will never be another one like him.”
Jones eventually settled in Los Angeles where his brother lived and where the stars lived. He attended one of the California State Universities and received a degree in Sociology. But he still wanted to make a living as a photographer his life-long dream.
He started working for African American teen magazine, Right On and after a few years moved on to freelance for Jet. While there, he met Hal Jackson of The International Talented Teens who hired him to shoot a talent contest, which included future celeb Jada Pinkett Smith.
“Bill was making his mark with his camera and was known for capturing the positive energy of everyone he shot,” said Los Angeles photographer Ian Foxx, who had been close to Jones.
“For many years, he was one of few African American photographers on the red carpet and had experienced unfair treatment but he didn’t let biased treatment deter him. He treated his subjects honorably and they responded greatly seeking him out at events and posed for him voluntarily…”
He soon became one of the most published celebrity photographers on the Hollywood scene contributing to Jet,
Ebony, Right On and Sister to Sister magazines and many others, Foxx said.
Aldore Collier, West Coast Bureau Chief Ebony/Jet Magazines said Jones’ photos were a staple in the in both publications, particularly in Jets “Week’s Best Photos”.
Ron Brewington, former cheif for American Urban Radio Networks said Jones had been a mentor and a friend to countless entertainment photographers and reporters, often taking them on assignments helping them establish contacts needed for success in the field.
“He was well loved and respected by his peers,” Foxx said.
Many of his favorite subjects such as Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, Magic Johnson, Quincy Jones and Sidney Poitier credit Jones with taking some of the most important photos in their careers. The Academy Awards invited Jones to photograph the annual awards show for Black publications, making Jones the first to have that honor. Still, the walls of his home where he resided over 50 years in South Los Angeles with his wife and children are covered with his work…photographs of him with Nelson Mandela, Lena Horne, Astronaut Mae Jamison and countless others.
His career almost came to a halt in 1997 while washing his car in his driveway he was brutally attacked by a neighbor and lapsed into a coma for over three weeks. Berry, a very good friend had organized and held a vigil outside of King Drew Medical Center at the time.
For over 50 years, Jones crafted a career documenting some of the most important events in the History of Hollywood, Foxx said.
Said his granddaughter, “don’t feel sorry for our family, he’s definitely in Heaven getting his million dollar shot.”
Funeral details had not been announced as of press time.