NEW YORK – Ron Galella, the photographer known for his visceral celebrity shots and his dogged pursuit of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who sued him and won a restraining order, has died at age 91.
Galella died Saturday at his home in Montville, N.J., said Geoffrey Croft, a spokesperson and the editor of Galella's most recent book “100 Iconic Photographs — A Retrospective.” The cause was congestive heart failure, Croft said.
Galella amassed millions of images in a career that began in the 1960s, earning sobriquets like the “paparazzo extraordinaire” for his up-close, candid shots of the rich and famous. His subjects included Hollywood icons like Ava Gardner and Greta Garbo, singers from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga and sports personalities including Muhammad Ali. His work appeared in magazines like Time, People and the National Enquirer and in 22 books that he put out.
Many of Galella’s subjects did not want to be photographed. Marlon Brando punched Galella in the face outside a New York City restaurant in 1973, breaking his jaw and knocking out five teeth. Elvis Presley's bodyguards slashed Galella's tires, and Sean Penn spat at him.
Onassis battled Galella in court for years, testifying that he had made her life “intolerable, almost unlivable, with his constant surveillance.” In 1972, a judge ordered Galella to keep 25 feet away from Onassis and 30 feet away from her children.
Galella confessed to an obsession with Onassis in the 2010 documentary “Smash His Camera,” directed by by Leon Gast. “I had no girlfriend,” he said. “She was my girlfriend, in a way.”
Despite his notoriety, Galella’s photos received accolades and have been collected by institutions including New York's Museum of Modern Art. One of the MoMA works, a striking image of Onassis walking on Madison Avenue in 1971 that Galella titled “Windblown Jackie,” is among the best-known photos of the former first lady.
“His work speaks for itself,” Croft said.