Canadian photographer Douglas Kirkland, whose intimate shots of Marilyn Monroe taken a year before her death earned him the trust of many Hollywood stars, has died aged 88.

The Ontario-born artist’s wife, Françoise Kirkland, confirmed that her husband died at their home in Los Angeles on Sunday. A cause was not given.

Born August 16, 1934 in Toronto, Kirkland spent much of his early life in Fort Erie, Ontario, where his father ran a small costume store. In a 2017 interview with the National Museum of American History, Kirkland said his dream of becoming a photographer began by looking at Life magazines his father brought home from that store.

After commuting from Fort Erie to Buffalo, NY, to attend Seneca Vocational High School, Kirkland moved to the United States full-time. He worked in a print studio in Richmond, Virginia, before spending time as an assistant to photographer Sherwin Greenberg from 1957 to 1958.

WATCH | Douglas Kirkland on the experience of photographing Marilyn Monroe:

“She was just under that white silk sheet with nothing on it”: Douglas Kirkland on his iconic shoot with Marilyn Monroe

The Canadian photographer known for his celebrity portraits tells the story of his famous 1961 photo shoot with Marilyn Monroe to CBC’s Deana Sumanac-Johnson.

He would later join Life magazine, but his career really began when he was assigned to a photo shoot with Monroe as a young photographer for Look magazine in 1961.

These images, which showed Monroe seductively wrapped in white sheets and which took place months before her death, have become some of her most memorable.

A photo of Marilyn Monroe by Douglas Kirkland is displayed at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, March 19, 2009. ‘We need a bed, a white silk sheet, Dom Perignon champagne and records Frank Sinatra. We don’t need anything more. That’s what Marilyn Monroe said to young Douglas Kirkland, leading to the iconic 1961 photo. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

He would go on to photograph other legends of the day, including Audrey Hepburn, Jack Nicholson, Coco Chanel, John Lennon and Margot Kidder in his 1976 Playboy photo shoot.

Kirkland has also worked as a photographer on film sets for some major Hollywood films – working on more than 100 in his career. There he captured footage of The sound of music, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Titanicand Red Mill. He captured some of his most iconic images from the edges of those shoots – including an experience with actress Elizabeth Taylor.

During the filming of Cleopatra in 1963, Kirkland went to an interview that Taylor had agreed to give to Look magazine in Las Vegas – on the condition that there were no photos. Kirkland was sent in case she allowed him to photograph her.

Elizabeth Taylor in 1963, photographed by Douglas Kirkland (Douglas Kirkland/Izzy Gallery)

After describing himself as new to the magazine, Kirkland was able to convince Taylor to sit down for a few photos. He described it as the true beginning of his life as a photographer.

“The photographs ended up launching my career,” Kirkland said in an interview with Toronto Life. “After they got on the cover and in the magazine, they were syndicated around the world and I became a real celebrity photographer.”

He received numerous honors later in life (although he did not have a Canadian exhibition dedicated to his work until 2016), including an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards at Toronto in 2019. At that event, Kirkland said even as he was continuing to produce photography.

Actor Jack Nicholson is seen here from a 1975 photograph by Douglas Kirkland (Douglas Kirkland)

“I love it and I’m still working out. I’m in my 80s,” Kirkland told CBC News energetically, “and I’m still working out every day and enjoying it.”

Kirkland is survived by his wife, Françoise, whom he met in Paris while photographing Audrey Hepburn in 1966. He is also survived by his son Mark Kirkland, the longtime filmmaker and director of The simpsons.


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