Celebrity photographer Herb Ritts, who directed videos for Madonna, ’NSYNC, Britney Spears and others, died Thursday morning of complications from pneumonia. He was 50.
In March, Ritts worked with Shakira on the video for “Underneath Your Clothes,” and last year he was responsible for the desolate apartment visuals in ’NSYNC’s heartbroken “Gone,” the saucy bounce of Jennifer Lopez’s “Ain’t It Funny” and the sandy, sexy beach scenery in Britney’s “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know.”
Two of Ritts’ other well-known videos similarly boasted a skillful blend of sand and sex appeal — Madonna’s “Cherish” and Chris Isaak’s breakthrough “Wicked Game,” one of two clips Ritts tackled for the crooner. “Wicked Game” and another Ritts clip, Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” won Best Male Video and Best Female Video at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards.
Herb Ritts was born in Los Angeles in 1952 and majored in economics at New York’s Bard College. Shortly after college, in the mid-1970s, Ritts taught himself photography, snapping pictures of friends.
One of his subjects was a friend’s boyfriend, then-unknown actor Richard Gere. His shots of the future star led Ritts into the world of celebrity photography with full force. He photographed everyone from Jack Nicholson to Michelle Pfeiffer to Mick Jagger, gaining unprecedented access with many of his subjects, including a paralyzed Christopher Reeve and a post-brain surgery Elizabeth Taylor.
Ritts’ work often appeared in magazines like Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone. He sat actress Brittany Murphy atop a child’s rocking horse for a recent Interview magazine cover.
His photos graced album covers, including Madonna’s True Blue (1986), and appeared in advertisements for companies like Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, the Gap and Giorgio Armani. He published books of his work and has been displayed in galleries and museums.
Ritts passed away at the UCLA Medical Center, according to his publicist. As of Thursday evening, a family gathering was being planned, with a larger public service to follow in January. Ritts is survived by his mother, Shirley Ritts; brother, Rory; sister, Christy Thrasher; and his partner, Erik Hyman.
The family has asked that in lieu of flowers donations be sent to the Herb Ritts Jr. Foundation, c/o Grant & Tani, 9100 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1000, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.