NEW YORK — Bill Eppridge, an award-winning photojournalist who made his most enduring mark with a historic image of a mortally wounded Senator Robert F. Kennedy lying on the floor of a Los Angeles hotel in June 1968, died Thursday in Danbury, Conn. He was 75.
His wife, Adrienne Aurichio, said the cause was septic infection.
Mr. Eppridge, who was working for Life magazine at the time, had captured a number of
indelible moments of the 20th century when he volunteered to cover Kennedy’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. He had grown to like the senator on a previous assignment, he said.
Kennedy had just won the California primary and delivered his acceptance speech and was leaving the Ambassador Hotel through the kitchen when he was shot by an assassin. Mr. Eppridge was trailing directly behind him.
He knew immediately that he had a responsibility that went beyond journalism, he said in interviews. “I became a historian,” he said.
The picture shows a hotel busboy, Juan Romero, crouching beside the senator and cradling his head while looking up pleadingly. The image is in black and white but mostly black, except for a pool of light from an overhead fixture that sets off in stark relief the senator’s head and hand, the squatting busboy, and an extended, seemingly disembodied hand behind them.
Mr. Eppridge said he had to put aside his shock and distress and just do his job. “I think
that kind of situation has to be documented, it has to be told,” he said in an interview with NPR in 2008, “and it had to be told to people who do not understand the horrors we can face.”
Mr. Eppridge and his camera had been eyewitnesses elsewhere. He photographed Latin American revolutions, the Woodstock music festival, and the civil rights movement. After three civil rights workers were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi in 1964, he and a reporter lived with the family of one of the victims, James Chaney, for a day or two.
By his account they had walked up to the door, knocked, introduced themselves and bluntly asked, “Can we stay?” The Chaney family said, “Please do. Come in. Join us.”
Mr. Eppridge found the human side of big stories. To illustrate the ravages of drug addiction, he and a reporter spent months trailing two addicts who described themselves as “animals in a world no one knows.” The 1971 movie “The Panic in Needle Park,” starring Al Pacino and Kitty Winn, was based on their two-part series in Life. Mr. Eppridge was so good at fitting into what he called “the junkie world,” he said, that the police had almost arrested him as a lowlife who had stolen the cameras he carried.
Mr. Eppridge photographed Barbra Streisand as a rising star washing her clothes in a bathtub in her tiny apartment. When the Beatles first visited the United States, they called him “Mr. Life Magazine” and invited him to their hotel room and rehearsals. So he would not disturb his subjects, he used a flash as seldom as possible and tried to muffle the sound of the camera’s click.
“I think what makes a picture is a moment that is completely spontaneous and natural and
unaffected by the photographer,” he said.
Guillermo Alfredo Eduardo Eppridge was born to an American family in Buenos Aires on March 20, 1938. His father was a chemical engineer for DuPont. He was a boy when the family moved back to Delaware and 10 when a man came around taking pictures of youngsters on a pony and selling the photos to parents. Young Bill thought it would be fun to be a photographer.
“I would get to own a pony and everything,” Mr. Eppridge said in an interview with the Associated Press in 2005.
After abandoning the idea of being an archeologist, he earned a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri. A picture he took of a horse beneath a stormy sky won a national competition in 1959.
He was twice an intern at Life and joined its staff after a stint at National Geographic. After Life stopped publication as a weekly in 1972, he worked for Time and Sports Illustrated magazines. He shot Olympic Games, America’s Cup races and once, when sent to take pictures of swimsuit models in Thailand, managed to work in a photo feature of elephants playing soccer.
Mr. Eppridge’s work was shown at the Smithsonian, High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His many awards include the Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award, the highest honor of the National Press Photographers Association.
His work has also been featured in a half-dozen books, including “The Beatles: Six Days that Changed the World,” which he put together with Aurichio. Rizzoli plans to publish it in February.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Eppridge leaves his sisters, Terry Eppridge and Randi Norum. He lived in New Milford, Conn.
After Kennedy’s assassination, he quit photographing politicians, saying in an interview this year, “I could never find another Bobby.”
But he did cover the senator’s funeral train, hanging out a window to photograph the crowds who lined the tracks.