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Bert Stern, who shot '62 Marilyn Monroe portraits, dies

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Friday, June 28, 2013 - 8:07 am

NEW YORK – Bert Stern, a commercial photographer best known for his images of Marilyn Monroe in what became known as "The Last Sitting," has died in New York City. He was 83.

Stern died Wednesday at his Manhattan home, said Shannah Laumeister, 43, a filmmaker who said the two were secretly married in 2009. She said the reason for keeping it secret was private.

Stern shot thousands of pictures of Monroe at the Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles in 1962 for Vogue magazine just weeks before her drug overdose death. They included nude and semi-nude images.

"He was an enormously innovative photographer, both as a commercial photographer and a photographer of celebrities and fashion models. And one of the great people in his field," said Bruce Barnes, director of the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., which this summer is presenting Stern's only documentary film, "Jazz on a Summer's Day," made in the late 1950s about the Newport Jazz Festival.

The 2,500 images, including ones Monroe rejected, were published in a 1982 book titled "The Last Sitting," and a second book, "Marilyn Monroe: The Complete Last Sitting," that came out in 2000.

In "Bert Stern: Original Madman," a documentary Laumeister made of the photographer, Stern said, "It was a one-time-in-a-lifetime experience to have Marilyn Monroe in a hotel room, even though it was turned into a studio."

He photographed many other celebrities too, including Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Truman Capote.

He also was a big advertising photographer, launching his career with an ad campaign for Smirnoff Vodka that featured a V-shaped glass of vodka set in the front of an Egyptian pyramid.

"He'll be remembered as someone who loved women and loved taking pictures and putting things he felt strongly about in the camera," Laumeister said. "His images will live forever and wow generations to come."

The Monroe images "go beyond the photograph and become a work of art," she added.

Born in Brooklyn, Stern was among a generation of photographers including Irving Penn and Richard Avedon known for their uncluttered and alluring images.

"He's not quite as well known but fits into that group for revolutionizing the way celebrities were photographed," said Jessica Johnson, assistant curator at the George Eastman House.

Stern and Laumeister had been scheduled to appear at the photography and film museum in August for a screening of Laumeister's documentary, Barnes said.

Laumeister said Stern spent a few days in the hospital recently after feeling sick but returned home "when they couldn't find anything."

A funeral service is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Frank E. Campbell funeral chapel.