I got a call late last night from a friend that LeRoy Neiman passed away yesterday at age 91. For those of you that don’t know Neiman, look him up. He’s a legend.
I was fortunate to meet LeRoy while working on a cigar book for Playboy. Neiman had agreed to write the book’s foreword, and allow us to come photograph him at his NYC studio. A long-time contributor to Playboy as well as a long-time cigar smoker, no doubt was a good match for the book, which was a historic guide to cigar manufacturing as well as the history of cigars in the world of Playboy.
We had been told his health was not great, but his presence showed everything but, and he gladly lit up a cigar for our shot. We worked quickly, maybe shot for six minutes or so.
While we were breaking down the set, LeRoy noticed my sketch book on the table. Inside, I keep notes on the shoots I do, including birds-eye views of the sets, and often ideas I sketched out, something I do on all my shoots. I usually print out an image or five after the shoot to show the finished product and tape that into the book as well. LeRoy asked if he could look at it, and he literally looked at every page, asking me question after question not only about the images but my sketching. I don’t even know what I said, all I could think about was this great Artist was looking at my beat-up Moleskin book of notes, and talking about it like we were at a salon in Europe. I was honored to be able to just meet him, let alone photograph him, but this put things over the top. As photographers, we can do a ton of forgettable jobs, but every so often we get these beautiful moments that you treasure.
My friend, Aaron Sigmond, the author of that book, put it poignantly last night that he regrets he never got to have a last cigar with Neiman, I felt bad that I did, and will never forget it.