Called the «last of the adventurers», New York photographer Peter Beard was an artist and a naturalist to whom the word «wild» was roundly applied, both for his death-defying photos as well as his crazy playboy-esque lifestyle. He photographed African fauna at great personal risk, and well into old age could party until dawn. He had been missing for 19 days when he was found dead yesterday in Montauk at the age of 82.
In a statement shared on social media, his family states: «We are all heartbroken by the confirmation of our beloved Peter’s death. We want to express our deep gratitude to the East Hampton police and all who aided them in their search, and also to thank the many friends of Peter and our family who have sent messages of love and support during these dark days. Peter was an extraordinary man who led an exceptional life. He lived life to the fullest; he squeezed every drop out of every day. He was relentless in his passion for nature, unvarnished and unsentimental but utterly authentic always. He was an intrepid explorer, unfailingly generous, charismatic, and discerning. Peter defined what it means to be open: open to new ideas, new encounters, new people, new ways of living and being. Always insatiably curious, he pursued his passions without restraints and perceived reality through a unique lens. Anyone who spent time in his company was swept up by his enthusiasm and his energy. He was a pioneering contemporary artist who was decades ahead of his time in his efforts to sound the alarm about environmental damage. His visual acuity and elemental understanding of the natural environment was fostered by his long stays in the bush and the ‘wild-deer-ness’ he loved and defended. He died where he lived: in nature. We will miss him every day.»
I’ll Write Whenever I Can, Koobi Fora, Lake Rudolf, Kenya, 1965
It went for £55.200 at a Christie’s auction in 2008.
Peter Beard was world-renown for his beautiful and intimate images of Africa and African wildlife, and rose to fame for keeping diaries, filled with drawings, blood, and other materials, that were considered works of art unto themselves.
Young Peter Beard and Salvador Dalí
Born into privilege of railroad and tobacco fortunes, the extremely handsome young man led a bon vivant’s life, partying around the world, but always returning to his retreats in New York, including Montauk, as well as Kenya, where some of his most iconic wildlife photography was taken.
After studying at Yale University he went to Africa and documented the deaths of thousands of elephants and other wildlife in Tsavo National Park, which became the basis of his 1965 book «The End of the Game», which influenced a generation of artists as well as wildlife conservationists.
Sketches from the book «Peter Beard» that showcase how meticulously he kept his diaries.
In 1996, he was injured by a charging elephant that crushed him with its head. The incident left him with fractures in his pelvis and massive internal bleeding. After almost dying, he was put back together by Kenyan surgeons and eventually recovered.
Peter Beard & and his wife Cheryl Tiegs in the early ’80s
He was married three times, first briefly to Minnie Cushing Beard Coleman in 1967, then to supermodel Cheryl Tiegs from 1982 to 1986. He had affairs with Candice Bergen and Jackie Onassis‘s sister Lee Radziwill, babysat for John Kennedy Jr. and his sister Caroline, and was the man who discovered Somali model Iman, who went on to marry rocker David Bowie. He married his current wife, Nejma Khanum Beard, in 1986. They have a daughter, Zara Beard, who is 31.
Orphan Cheetah Triptych, 1968
It went for $662.500 at a Christie’s auction in 2012.
«I thought of Africa as a place where there was still plenty of room, where you could actually live life rather than have your life run by a world where you wake up in the morning to a traffic jam, rush to catch a bus, struggle to get to the office.» Peter Beard
Iman through the lens of Peter Beard
One of Beard’s most iconic photographs was of naked model Maureen Gallagher handfeeding a giraffe at his 45-acre Hog Ranch outside of Nairobi. He had wanted to use Iman but she bailed on him. One print sold for $662.500 in 2012.
Gallagher said she had a long affair with Beard, following the trip to Kenya. «I went there for three weeks and stayed there for three months,» she said. «I cancelled all my bookings. I was 22 and I was in love.»
Maureen Gallagher, Hog Ranch, 1987
It went for $43.750 at a Christie’s auction in 2013.
Veruschka von Lehndorff and Galo Galo Guyn, Hunting Block 29, Capturing Rhino for ‘Starvo’ National Park, 1963-1964
It went for $27.500 at a Christie’s auction in 2012.
Photo: Mary Ellen Mark
One funny anecdote that only happened in 2017, when his third wife, Nejma, had him placed in a psych ward at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital after he brought two Russian prostitutes to their home at the age of 79. She claimed he was suicidal when he stumbled back to their Manhattan apartment at 6am after a night partying in the city’s Meatpacking District. I have to admit this is quite a move to educate your husband!
Young Peter Beard – Half Byron, half Tarzan (1950s)
Despite his vibrant character, he will always be remembered for his extraordinary works of art, from his well-known images of threatened African animals to his fashion photographs and elaborate diary pages. He leaves a legacy and will be missed.
Rest in Peace, Peter Beard!
Photos: Via Getty, Wire, and Courtesy of the Beard Family