Legendary photographer Mick Rock dead at 72

Mick Rock next to a portrait of David Bowie and Mick Ronson
Mick Rock next to his famous portrait of David Bowie and Mick Ronson on a train to Aberdeen in 1973 (Image credit: J. Vespa / Getty Images)

Legendary rock photographer Mick Rock has died at the age of 72. The news was confirmed in a statement on his Twitter account authored by his daughter, Nathalie.

The statement read, "It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share our beloved psychedelic renegade Mick Rock has made the Jungian journey to the other side. Those who had the pleasure of existing in his orbit, know that Mick was always so much more than ‘The Man Who Shot the 70s.’ He was a photographic poet – a true force of nature who spent his days doing exactly what he loved, always in his own delightfully outrageous way.

"The stars seemed to effortlessly align for Mick when he was behind the camera; feeding off of the unique charisma of his subjects electrified an energised him. His intent always intense. His focus always total. A man fascinated with image, he absorbed visual beings through his lens and immersed himself in their art, thus creating some of the most magnificent images rock music has ever seen. To know Mick was to love him. He was a mythical creature; the likes of which we shall never experience again.

“Let us not mourn the loss, but instead celebrate the fabulous life and extraordinary career of Michael David Rock. While you do so in your own way, we must ask that the privacy of his nearest and dearest be respected at this time. Therefore, there will be no further comments."

Rock was born in Hammersmith, West London, in 1948, and took up photography as a hobby while studying Medieval and Modern Languages at Cambridge University. Amongst his iconic portraits were the covers of Syd Barrett's The Madcap Laughs, Iggy And The Stooges' Raw Power, David Bowie's Pin-Ups and Lou Reed's Transformer. 

"I had a degree in modern languages from Cambridge, and I had an obsession with crazy poets – Shelley, Byron and also the beats, Ferlinghetti, people like that," Rock told Classic Rock in 2004. "I aspired to that life – sex and abusive chemicals. I didn’t necessarily want to be a photographer, more a writer or a lyricist. But all that got thrown overboard when the chemicals showed up. I was just playing around with a camera and a young lady and it sort of rolled on from there."

Perhaps Rock's most famous work was the iconic cover of Queen's second album, which the band later recreated for the Bohemian Rhapsody video.   

Queen II was the second studio shoot I did with them, in February 1974," Rock told Classic Rock in 2016. "The brief was that it had to be a gatefold – which shows how ambitious they were, because they hadn’t sold any records yet. It had to feature the band, and it had to have a black and white theme on the cover and the other on the inner sleeve.”

“For the concept, I was feeding off the music and the band. They had no doubt they were going to make it big, so I felt it needed to have a certain grand quality. I’d come across a photo of Marlene Dietrich on the set of 1932’s Shanghai Express, and she was under a top light, with hood eyes, arms crossed, fingers spread. I showed Freddie the image and he loved it. So that was sold to the rest of the band as the basic idea.

“Freddie was ecstatic with it. But there was some debate over whether it should be the white or the black shot that went on the cover. Someone had accused the band of being pretentious. Obviously, Freddie couldn’t give a damn, but it had stuck a bit with the others, and they thought the black shot was too strong, because they were an unknown band, and the black cover made it look like they were already there. But if Freddie wanted something, he could twist the others into it, and eventually they went along with it. And I know they’re glad they did…”

As well as acting as David Bowie's official photographer – and later, videographer – Rock worked with Debbie Harry, Joan Jett, Motley Crue, Jane's Addiction, The Misfits, Queens of the Stone Age, the Black Keys and many more.  

No cause of death has been announced.   

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.