November 04, 2013 at 6:00 AM, updated November 04, 2013 at 8:14 AM
The staff and curators here at the Springfield Museums were saddened to learn that Time Life photographer Bill Eppridge had passed away on October 3. Bill had recently paid us two visits, both in conjunction with our recent exhibit, The Beatles: Backstage and Behind the Scenes. Bill’s work comprised the majority of that exhibit, and we were honored to have him join us just prior to the opening.
On a cloudy day in March, I met Bill and his wife, Adrienne Aurichio, at the D’Amour Museum for a quick meeting before he was due to tape an interview on WGBY’s Connecting Point. Our brief “hello” turned into an impromptu guided tour of the photos by Bill himself. As a Beatles fan, it was truly amazing to hear his recollections of meeting the Fab Four after their arrival at JFK airport, and how they charmed the press corps with their energy and enthusiasm– a far cry from the “drug fiends” that Bill and his colleagues were told to expect. Seeing a potential bigger story to tell, Bill quickly asked his editors at LIFE if he could stay on and photograph the group. Luckily, they agreed, and Bill’s photographs from those first weeks in the U.S. captured a critical moment in our national and cultural history.
Bill charmed all of us in that first meeting, stopping to chat with staff and even taking a picture with some lucky photography students from Sci-Tech who happened to be attending the exhibit. He, in turn, was transfixed by the Indian Motocycles and Rolls-Royces at the Wood Museum; he had always dreamed of owning a vintage Indian.
Bill returned to the Museums in April for a special talk in conjunction with the exhibit, during which he recalled his time with the Beatles and his many other major assignments. He seemingly covered every major news stories of the time – from the Civil Rights Movement to Vietnam, and from Woodstock to Apollo 13. His photos from even one of those assignments would have been the peak of any photographer’s career, but they were all eclipsed by Bill’s haunting photo of Robert F. Kennedy, mortally wounded by an assassin’s bullet, his head cradled by a busboy. Bill spoke with obvious emotion about his time covering RFK’s campaign for president in 1968, and how the candidate inspired a truly diverse group of supporters. On that fateful day in Los Angeles, Bill was only steps behind Kennedy when the shots rang out. Bill was clearly proud of that picture, was haunted by it, and recognized its place in this country’s history.
In an industry where we meet many interesting and inspiring people, Bill truly stood out as one of the most memorable. Wherever he went, he was gracious and accommodating, and he always had his camera at the ready, fully prepared for that next great shot. We at the Museums mourn Bill’s passing, and we feel blessed to have had the chance to not only display his work and meet one of the true legends in his field but also to introduce him to our amazing city and community.
A selection of Bill Eppridge's photographs will be featured in the exhibition "The LIFE Photographers", Monroe Gallery, November 29 - January 24, 2014.
Related: Bill Eppridge: An American Treasure