Beatles photographer Astrid Kirchherr dies aged 81
Astrid Kirchherr, the photographer whose shots of the Beatles helped turn them into icons, has died aged 81.
The Beatles writer Mark Lewisohn confirmed the news on Twitter, writing: “Intelligent, inspirational, innovative, daring, artistic, awake, aware, beautiful, smart, loving and uplifting friend to many. Her gift to the Beatles was immeasurable.”
Kirchherr was born in Hamburg in 1938, and spent the second world war evacuated to beside the Baltic Sea. Back in Hamburg following the war, she trained as a photographer and stumbled across her most famous muses in a chance visit to the Hamburg nightclub where they were performing night after night in a concert residency. “My whole life changed in a couple of minutes,” she later said.
Kirchherr took the first photo of the Beatles as a group, at the city’s fairground in 1960, when the bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe, and the drummer, Pete Best, were still members. She dated Sutcliffe, and cut his hair into the “moptop” style that came to be a key look for the early Beatles, a style inspired by Kirchherr’s previous boyfriend. She and Sutcliffe soon got engaged, but he died in 1962 of a brain haemorrhage aged 21, alongside her in an ambulance.
She and the Beatles remained friends – she went on holiday with them in Paris in 1963 just after their first UK No 1 single – and took further acclaimed photographs of the band behind the scenes of the film A Hard Day’s Night. She photographed George Harrison for his 1968 solo album, Wonderwall Music. Her first marriage, to the Liverpudlian musician Gibson Kemp, also had a Beatles connection – he was the replacement for Ringo Starr in the band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.
Later in life she worked as a stylist and interior designer, and opened a photography shop. Sheryl Lee played Kirchherr in the 1994 film Backbeat, a biopic about the Beatles’ Hamburg days and her relationship with Sutcliffe, played by Stephen Dorff; Kirchherr advised on the film.
She was later married and divorced a second time, but had no children.