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All Rights Reserved. Terms of use and Your privacy. When famed photographer Herb Ritts died suddenly at 50, the media never mentioned the A-word, let alone his heroic battle against blindness. Gay critics cried coverup.

Even his friends were upset. This is the real story they say Ritts wanted told. For Herb Ritts, Friday the 13th of December, , started routinely enough. Leaving his Hollywood Hills home about 8 a. The seemingly limitless lake-bed, with its flat, cracked earth, appealed to his minimalist aesthetic: In this desolate landscape, Ritts found that the clean lines and gleaming flesh of his subjects stood out all the more dramatically.

When Ritts arrived, his person crew was already busy creating sets and placing lights. The morning was cold, just above freezing, and as the day wore on, the wind kept picking up. This was a photographer who held a virtual trademark on golden California sunlight.

By mid-afternoon, Affleck was tearing around the lake-bed on a motorcycle. At one point, Jennifer Lopez, accompanying her fiance du jour, jumped on the back of the bike. He insisted on working right through the worsening weather. Herb ignored it. His focus was on getting the shots, come what may. Heading home, Ritts was literally covered in dust. Many of the people on that ill-fated shoot developed flu-like symptoms. His condition quickly grew dire. By Tuesday, with his heart rate spiking, he was hooked up to a respirator.

He got sick so quickly with this crazy harsh pneumonia. He was definitely trying to hang in there. He was a fighter. He was But for many years, the openly gay Ritts had had HIV—which he had never publicly disclosed. But even in death, at first nothing about his HIV status was revealed. From that silence, quite a din has emerged. The publicist said yes. Pugnacious gay pundits Andrew Sullivan and Michelangelo orile had immediately weighed in. And do newspapers have some responsibility to tell us which? It seems to me that when an openly gay guy dies at 50 of pneumonia, any decent editor would ask a simple follow-up.

Or are they still colluding in the shame that some still attach to an HIV diagnosis? He was publicly out there. Ritts was never afraid to have his name associated with the disease. Still, the mainstream media excepting some gossip columns ignored the controversy because covering it at all entailed reporting that Ritts, in fact, had HIV. At least one magazine, Vogue , allegedly was at great pains to avoid the topic.

First, why did a man with access to the best care die so suddenly? And why were the press writing the first draft of his history with HIV expunged? Was it out of shame or fear or respect for his wishes? What were his wishes? And what about our wish—the activist one—for Ritts to have come out as a PWA at the height of his powers? Ritts, however, clearly did not want the relentless scrutiny that comes with being a celebrity role model.

Cindy Crawford, whom he once shot for Vanity Fair shaving an in-drag k. They strongly deny, though, that he had something to hide. But Ritts did not want his condition widely known in his business life, especially in the pre-protease days. Ritts had disclosed his status, however, to a select group of close pals over the years, including many boldface names, such as Richard Gere, Cindy Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor and k. In interview after interview, these stars and other friends attest that there was just one simple reason that Ritts had kept his illness private for so long: to shield his mother from worry.

He wanted her to enjoy his last days with her—and she did. Ritts and his mother, Shirley, were exceptionally close. Friends describe her as a sharp, sophisticated, socially ambitious lady. The photographer, who grew up in the well-to-do Brentwood section of LA, is also survived by three siblings; his father, Herbert, died in But for Ritts and his mother, homosexuality was anything but off-limits.

He had come out to her as gay while in college, and she had embraced him. I brought it up many times and we would talk about it. You have to respect what people wanted. Shriver bore the burden. But with the newspapers already calling the hospital for a comment that afternoon, Steven Huvane explains, he could not delay putting out a statement. Herb would do anything he could to help the AIDS cause. A spokesperson for AP, however, disputes this. So, yeah, I agree it might not have been the best thing in the world. At one point he had only four CD4 cells.

It took Ritts a long time to battle back. Although the meds gave his immune system a respite, the damage had been done. Doctors told him he was in danger of losing his eyesight. For Herb, his eyesight? Ritts had implants in his eyes to deliver CMV medication and, for five years, a pick in his arm. His CD4 cells were up near Even better, he and Hyman were eagerly looking forward to the new year:Ritts had long had to swear off swimming, a beloved activity, in order to avoid the risk of infection.

But the pick was finally scheduled to come out in January No one recalls Ritts being sad, mad or bad as a patient with HIV. Right to the end, it seems, he played his part as the cheerful stoic. He just kept everything light and simple with people. Herb needed to see beauty in the world—and he would find it. You get on with your life while you have it. David Wojnarowicz, who died in , did self-portraits showing a head buried with dirt all over the face, as if he himself has already been buried in the ground.

But the fact that Ritts found hope even in one of the angriest images ever made about AIDS suggests how much more there was to him—and his work—than meets the eye. And HIV is only one part of that. Herb Ritts, one of the top photographers of the last 50 years, was essentially self-taught. We used to go to the beach looking for people who looked great and then we would just approach them. Ritts shot Gere in a beefcake pose—arms behind head, cigarette dangling from his lips—at a gas station in the desert while having a flat tire fixed. And work he did, shooting countless covers for the leading celebrity and fashion magazines of the day.

He had a genius for capturing what was essential and emblematic about the famous that seemed to frame them for all time. And whether it was Madonna in Mickey Mouse ears, Jim Carrey in a mermaid tail or Monica Lewinsky in the American flag, he did it with a warmth and wit that were unique in an age of irony, when cool is king.

It was only in his striking nudes that Ritts turned abstract, seeing the buff and beautiful human body as exquisite sculpture. In his year career, there were many milestones. He published eight big-selling books, including Duo, a celebration of love featuring two musclemen, and Africa, documenting 14 weeks with the Masai tribe. He even persuaded lang to slip into an evening gown for Vogue.

Ritts died in full mid-career glory, and in the months after his death, his cover shots continued to hit newsstands. We can only guess how aging—and, yes, surviving HIV—would have enriched his vision. You have been inactive for 60 minutes and will be logged out in. Any updates not saved will be lost. Home Basics. Putting On The Ritts When famed photographer Herb Ritts died suddenly at 50, the media never mentioned the A-word, let alone his heroic battle against blindness.

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