It’s been said that if wildlife photographer and adventurer Peter Beard hadn’t already existed, Hollywood would have had to create him.
Ruggedly handsome with a matinee-idol charisma, Beard, an heir to a fortune long before his photographs began selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece, was equal parts legend and tall tales.
Beard, who suffered from dementia and ill health at the end of his life, wandered from his Montauk, Long Island, home at the end of March. His body was found by a hunter in a densely wooded area in Camp Hero State Park in Montauk Point. Beard was 82.
The word “wild” was aptly applied to Beard’s life.
He became famous for his wildlife photography but he was also known for photographing some of the world’s most beautiful women for leading fashion magazines. He was also married for a time to super model Cheryl Tiegs. His private life was hardly that. Beard was known for his man-about-town escapades.
“The last thing left in nature is the beauty of women, so I’m very happy photographing it,” Beard told the British newspaper The Observer in 1997.
But it was nature that first enthralled.
At 17, Beard accompanied the explorer Quentin Keynes (great-grandson of Charles Darwin) on a trip to Africa to produce a film on endangered wildlife. Beard entered Yale University as a pre-med student in 1957, but he ultimately switched his major to art history, and one of his mentors there included Joseph Albers, a German-born American artist and educator whose work, both in Europe and in the United States, formed the basis of modern art education programs of the twentieth century.
In lieu of a traditional senior thesis, Beard traveled to Kenya and mailed back his diaries. In 1965, he received a special dispensation from President Jomo Kenyatta to acquire a ranch, but with the requirement that he chronicle, in words and pictures, the nature, wildlife and communities of the area. The result was his landmark book, “The End of the Game.”
Through text and photographs, “The End of the Game,” first published in 1965, captured the vanishing fantasy of Africa and the tragedy of the continent’s endangered big game, particularly the elephant. Working at Tsavo National Park, he photographed and documented the demise of 35,000 elephants and other wildlife.
Through the years he collaborated with such artists as Andy Warhol, Andrew Wyeth, Francis Bacon, Truman Capote and Salvador Dali. Through the years he received solo exhibitions at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, the Centre National de la Photographie in Paris and elsewhere.
“We are all heartbroken by the confirmation of our beloved Peter’s death,” the family said in a statement, adding, “He died where he lived: in nature.”