Mick Rock, Photographer of Bowie, Queen, the Velvet Underground, and More Dies at 72

Often referred to as “The Man Who Shot the Seventies,” an epithet not far from the truth, photographer Mick Rock, who photographed David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and the Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, the Ramones, Blondie, the SexPistols, R.E.M., and dozens of artists across all musical genres, has died. The cause of death was not revealed. He was 72. 

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A statement posted on Rock’s official Twitter and Facebook pages confirmed the photographer’s death on Nov. 18:

It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share our beloved psychedelic renegade Mick Rock has made the Jungian journey to the other side. Those who had the pleasure of existing in his orbit, know that Mick was always so much more than ’The Man Who Shot The 70s.’ He was a photographic poet — a true force of nature who spent his days doing exactly what he loved, always in his own delightfully outrageous way.

The stars seemed to effortlessly align for Mick when he was behind the camera; feeding off of the unique charisma of his subjects electrified and energized him. His intent always intense. His focus always total. A man fascinated with image, he absorbed visual beings through his lens and immersed himself in their art, thus creating some of the most magnificent photographs rock music has ever seen. To know Mick was to love him. He was a mythical creature; the likes of which we shall never experience again. 

Let us not mourn the loss, but instead celebrate the fabulous life and extraordinary career of Michael David Rock. While you do so in your own way, we must ask that the privacy of his nearest and dearest be respected at this time. Therefore, there will be no further comments.

Capturing some of the most iconic images in rock—Bowie and Mick Ronson on a train and Iggy Pop’s backbend on stage—beginning in the early ’70s, Rock, born Michael David Rock in London in 1948, started his career after borrowing a friend’s camera and shooting the local music shows. Studying photography at Cambridge University, Rock soon befriended former Pink Floyd frontman, Syd Barrett, before connecting with Bowie in 1972. Rock soon became Bowie’s official photographer and videographer, capturing his Ziggy Stardust era through his lens and directing the videos for “Life on Mars,” “John, I’m Only Dancing,” “Jean Genie,” and “Space Oddity.”

Throughout his career, Rock shot more than 100 album covers, first with friend Barrett’s solo debut Madcap Laughs in 1968 and later working on Queen’s 1974 release Sheer Heart Attack and Queen II—the latter influencing the concept around the band’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” music video—Lou Reed’s Transformer in 1972 and Coney Island Baby (1975), Iggy Pop and the Stooges’ Raw Power (1973), Joan Jett’s 1981 solo debut with the Blackhearts I Love Rock ’n’ Roll. Rock even shot the production stills for The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1975. 

Mick Rock (l) with Bob Gruen in 2018, New York City

Throughout his career spanning more than 50 years, Rock went on to shoot everyone from Madonna, Motley Crue, R.E.M., and most recently worked with Lady Gaga, Kings of Leon, Alicia Keys, Daft Punk, Snoop Dogg, Pharrell Williams, Cee Lo Green, Flaming Lips, Lenny Kravitz, Janelle Monae, and Miley Cyrus, whose 2020 album Plastic Hearts was also shot by the photographer.

Rock released a number of books documenting the stories behind some of his most iconic photographs over the past 20 years, including EXPOSED, The Rise of David Bowie, 1972-1973, and Classic Queen. When Rock released Psychedelic Renegades, a collection of photos of Syd Barrett in 2002, his longtime friend, who was reclusive at the time, signed 320 copies for the photographer.

In 2017, Magnolia Films also released a documentary on Rock called Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock.

“I’ve never felt like a voyeur, although I’ve certainly done plenty of looking,” Rock once told the London Times. “I work from the inside out. Like a cook, I gather all the ingredients and keep mixing and stirring and tasting until the kind of effluvia starts to rise, then I’m off to the races. It’s an addictive kind of a feeling that I need a regular shot of otherwise I don’t feel right.”

Main Photo of Mick by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for The Art of Elysium

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