Astrid Kirchherr, Who First Photographed the Beatles, Dead at 81

Astrid Kirchherr, the German-born photographer who first captured the Beatles, has died at the age of 81.

German newspaper Die Zeit confirmed Kirchherr’s death, noting the photographer died of a “short, serious illness.”

“Intelligent, inspirational, innovative, daring, artistic, awake, aware, beautiful, smart, loving and uplifting friend to many,” Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn tweeted (via NME). “Her gift to the Beatles was immeasurable. She died in Hamburg on Wednesday, a few days before turning 82.”

After attending performances by the Beatles — then John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, drummer Pete Best and bassist and “fifth Beatle” Stuart Sutcliffe — performing in her native Hamburg, Germany in 1960, she convinced the the band to accompany her to a nearby fairground where the first, now-iconic photos of the then-quintet were taken.

“They were all so young and I was so different. I was a few years older, I had my own flat, my own car, my own career. They hadn’t met anyone like me before,” Kirchher once said of meeting the Beatles. “In some ways I was more like a mother figure.”

After their initial meeting, Sutcliffe and Kirchher soon began relationship and became engaged in November 1960. By June 1961, Sutcliffe left the Beatles to attend the Hamburg College of Art to pursue painting. However, Sutcliffe died of a cerebral hemorrhage in April 1962 at the age of 21. Sutcliffe and Kirchher’s relationship is the focus of the 1994 film Backbeat, about the Beatles’ Hamburg days.

Kirchher is also credited with giving the Beatles their mop-top look — “Astrid was the one who influenced our image more than anyone else. It made us look good,” Harrison once said — but the photographer dismissed that claim, noting that many German art students at that time — including her ex-boyfriend and longtime Beatles collaborator Klaus Voormann  — had that hairstyle.

In 1964, Kirchher reunited with the Fab Four to serve as set photographer on the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night film. Three years later, she married drummer Gibson Kemp, who was Ringo Starr’s replacement in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes after Starr replaced Best in the Beatles. Kirchher also photographed the Harrison portrait featured within 1968’s Wonderwall Music, one of the last photographs Kirchher snapped before changing her profession to interior design.

“Absolutely stunned to hear the news of Astrid passing,” Pete Best tweeted Friday. “God bless you love. We shared some wonderful memories and the most amazing fun times.”

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