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Bill Cunningham, the New York Times street-style photographer who for decades captured the fashions of everyday New Yorkers with the same zeal that he pursued celebrities and designers, died Saturday in New York. He was 87.
The New York Times confirmed Cunningham's death. The New York Post first reported on Thursday that Cunningham was in the hospital recovering from a stroke — after faithful fans realized his weekly collection of photographs were missing from the pages of Sunday's New York Times.
"His company was sought after by the fashion world’s rich and powerful, yet he remained one of the kindest, most gentle and humble people I have ever met,” said Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., the publisher and chairman of The New York Times. "We have lost a legend, and I am personally heartbroken to have lost a friend.”
The New York Times obituary acknowledged that in his years of photographing fashion's elite, Cunningham —albeit reluctantly — became a celebrity himself.
In 2008, the French government awarded Cunningham with the Legion d’Honneur. The next year, Cunningham was named a Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. And in 2010, a documentary film, "Bill Cunningham New York," premiered, which followed the then-80-year-old around as he searched for subjects on his bike and worked in his studio.
His fame was unavoidable, but Cunningham had largely tried to remain out of viewfinders himself. While obsessed with the clothes and accessories on the people surrounding him, Cunningham usually donned a loose blue worker's jacket and khaki pants — allowing everyone else to shine.
And shine they did, especially when Cunningham was taking their pictures.
"You feel he’s the only one who notices or cares how you dress. ... And it’s always a flattering picture he chooses. He picks everything carefully, so you will look your best," Vogue editor Anna Wintour told The New York Times in 2002.
"We all dress for Bill," Wintour has said.
Cunningham was born on March 13, 1929, in Boston, according to the Times. His passion for clothing and style began at a young age.
As a boy “I could never concentrate on Sunday church services because I’d be concentrating on women’s hats,” he has said, according to Vogue.
In the late 1960s Cunningham started shooting for The Daily News and The Chicago Tribune, according to The New York Times, where he began working in the late 1970s.
Cunningham's columns "On the Street" and "Evening Hours" were hailed by The New Yorker as "New York’s high-school yearbook, an exuberant, sometimes retroactively embarrassing chronicle of the way we looked."
"I think fashion is as vital and as interesting today as ever," Cunningham wrote in The New York Times in 2002.
"I know what people with a more formal attitude mean when they say they're horrified by what they see on the street," Cunningham wrote. "But fashion is doing its job. It's mirroring exactly our times."