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Remembering Herb Ritts

LOS ANGELES — Around 300 family members, friends, co-workers and celebrities attended a memorial service Saturday at the Paramount Theater on the Paramount lot in honor of the late photographer Herb Ritts, who died of complications from...

Herb Ritts

Herb Ritts

Jan Jarecki

LOS ANGELES — Around 300 family members, friends, co-workers and celebrities attended a memorial service Saturday at the Paramount Theater on the Paramount lot in honor of the late photographer Herb Ritts, who died of complications from pneumonia on Dec. 19, at the age of 50.

This story first appeared in the January 28, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

One simple flower arrangement, designed by Michael Daniels, was placed near the podium of the theater, which was filled with such guests as Anna Wintour and Shelby Bryan, Ben Affleck (the subject of Ritts’ last shoot, for the March Vanity Fair) and Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor, Debra Messing, Demi Moore, Elizabeth Taylor, Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jann Wenner, Jon Bon Jovi, Kim Basinger, Lucy Liu, Macy Gray, Madonna and Guy Ritchie with Lourdes, Naomi Campbell, Peggy Lipton, Peggy Moffett, Rita Wilson, Stephanie Seymour and Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. (Barbra Streisand and James Brolin, who were expected, were no-shows.)

After the late photographer’s mother, Shirley Ritts, spoke warmly about her son, many of his employers and photographic subjects talked about his generous spirit, and how he often developed close friendships with many of his editors and subjects. Wintour recalled a swimsuit shoot Ritts was doing for American Vogue in Anguila, where she wanted bright-colored bathing suits — and he was hell-bent on shooting suits in chocolate brown. There was a bit of an altercation, she recalled — until she saw the pictures. “In the end, Herb was right,” she admitted. “He was always right.”

Madonna, who couldn’t hold back her tears — and who reportedly was by Ritts’ side in the last week of his life —recalled her first meeting with him, on a shoot for Vogue when “Desperately Seeking Susan” was being released, and he shot her “with a pair of underpants on my head.”

K.d. lang and Tracy Chapman sang, with Chapman doing a simple rendition of “Stand By Me,” which was so moving it caused many in the crowd to cry — including her. “I’m sorry,” she apologized to the audience, choking back her tears.

The two-hour service ended with a short film of clips from Ritts’ videos for Janet Jackson, Madonna and others — and of Ritts and his surviving partner, Eric Hyman.