Peter Beard, the New York-born fashion icon, path-breaking wildlife photographer and forerunner of the ecological movement, has died at 82.
Beard, who suffered from dementia, was found dead inside Camp Hero State Park at the eastern tip of Long Island on Sunday, three weeks after going missing from his Montauk home, his family confirmed.
“We are heartbroken by the confirmation of our beloved Peter’s death… He died where he lived in nature,” the family said in a statement.
Blessed with movie star looks and a bottomless taste for adventure, Beard became famous worldwide back in the 1960s with the publication of his book, The End of the Game, a series of photos and texts documenting the final days of white hunter colonial Africa, while also chronicling the endangered wildlife of the continent.
Beard turned many of those very images into large photographic prints, finished with handwritten texts and often in diary form, handwritten in ink or even his own blood – bizarre and beautiful images that became much sought-after prints that nowadays grace the homes of literally dozens of designers. He also earned solo exhibitions in such hallowed spaces as the Center of Photography in New York and the Centre Nationale de la Photographie in Paris. Yet he was perhaps best-known as a diarist, sending his first writing back to Yale to complete his university thesis, his journals crammed with drawings, train tickets, images, scraps of wood, feathers and more of his own blood.
Born into privilege on the Upper East Side of New York, Beard was privately wealthy through his stockbroker father and great-grandfather, who founded the Great Northern Railway. Even so, he managed to combine a patrician air with an open and friendly manner.
His fame led to numerous photo shoots for Vogue and Elle, and he was an occasional front row fixture at the great runway shows of Paris and New York. He married one supermodel, Cheryl Tieg, and was alleged to have discovered another, Iman, claiming to have first met her in the African bush, while she insisted they met on the streets of Nairobi.
His life was definitely dissolute, as he was a denizen of Studio 54 and a recreational drug user. His life was also one of great danger. His single most famous image is one of himself lying on the ground, writing, with half his torso stuffed inside an enormous crocodile. Entitled “I’ll write wherever I can…”, it captured Beard in all his romantic glory.
That was posed, but an attack by a female elephant in the 1990s – who almost gored him to death – was not. Reportedly, he arrived at the local hospital without any pulse, and ended up needing 28 pins in his hip to be able to walk again.
In later life, he crusaded to save elephants long before the word "ecology" ever became commonly used, documenting the formers' deaths inside Tsavo National Park in Kenya. He owned his own 45-acre farm: Hog Ranch in Kenya, located beside Karen Blixen (the author of Out of Africa)'s coffee farm. She'd been a deep influence on Beard all of his life.
Beard was a friend of the Rolling Stones, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Grace Jones and Francis Bacon, the latter having painted his portrait. Aged 17, he first went to Africa with Quentin Keynes, the grandson of Charles Darwin, enabling the beginning of a long life of exploration. Mixed with lots of drama, like during the 1977 fire in his home in Montauk that destroyed most of his negatives, alongside paintings by Picasso, Bacon and Warhol. In a word, he managed to personify Out of Africa, mixed with all of the "Beautiful People" and the world of fine art all at the same time.
He is survived by his wife Nejma Beard and daughter Zara Beard, as well as his brothers Anson Jnr and Samuel.