NEW YORK — Ken Regan, a photojournalist whose reputation for discretion earned him a backstage pass to the private realms of rock 'n’ roll stars and other celebrities, including Bob Dylan and Sen. Edward Kennedy, died Nov. 25 in Manhattan.
The cause was cancer, his daughter Suzanne Regan, said.
Regan was the official photographer for the Rolling Stones on several tours in the 1970s, Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975 and the Live Aid concert in 1985. He was Kennedy’s unofficial personal photographer in the last four decades of his life. He took the pictures documenting Christopher Reeve’s homecoming from rehabilitation after the 1995 fall from a horse that left the actor paralyzed.
Regan’s sure-footedness on the high ridgelines of celebrity, where unguarded moments can sometimes teeter toward painful unmasking, made him the favorite photographer of people who were famous for being wary of photographers. Michelle Pfeiffer, Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster and Oprah Winfrey were frequent subjects. When People magazine sought homey shots of Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford or Robert Redford in their mountain aeries, Regan was often asked to take the job.
Regan maintained strict personal boundaries of his own. Only family members knew his age. Only his two daughters knew his cellphone number. And when he was told he had cancer several years ago, he kept the news to himself, sharing it only in the final weeks of his life with a small circle of intimates.
“Privacy was a principle he took very seriously," said Suzanne Guard, a longtime friend.
By never doing business with scandal sheets or selling pictures his subjects considered unflattering, he told interviewers, he gained access to the terrain where celebrities exist as regular people.
He credited his relationships with making possible some of his finest pictures: Keith Richards holding his infant daughter, Theodora, in 1985, looking more like the tired father of a newborn than the debauched all-night reveler he often was; Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan sitting cross-legged at Jack Kerouac’s grave in Lowell, Mass., in 1975; a 1974 photo of Kennedy and his son, Ted Jr., walking down a hallway together, the youth using a cane just months after the amputation of his cancerous right leg, the father supporting him.
“We trust him," James Taylor wrote in an afterword to Regan’s collection of rock "n’ roll photography, “All Access," published last year. “We can be ourselves around him. He is one of us."
Ken Regan was born in the Bronx — it was a June 15 — the only child of William and Alice Douglas-Regan. He began taking pictures with a camera his mother gave him when he was about 13.
He told interviewers he was still a teenager when he began visiting the Fillmore East to take pictures of the emerging megastars of 1960s psychedelic rock, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Allman Brothers, eventually becoming close friends with the Fillmore’s master promoter, Bill Graham, who would open doors to many of Regan’s most enduring rock relationships.
Besides his daughter Suzanne, he is survived by another daughter, Lori Regan-Jorgensen.
Regan photographed sports figures for many years. Hisphotographs of Muhammad Ali, including a series from the 1975 “Rumble in the Jungle" fight between Ali and George Foreman in Zaire, have been widely reproduced. The archive of his agency, Camera 5, which employed as many as 15 photographers in its 1980s heyday, contains more than 3 million photos.
In a 2010 interview with “Culture Brats," an online fan magazine, Regan was asked what makes a picture special. Aside from esthetic choices involved in composition and lighting, he said, “If you’re able to capture an image that nobody else has, then that’s what makes the image important; that’s what people are interested in. You see hundreds of photographs of rock artists on stage, but do you see them on their plane? Do you see them at home? Do you see them backstage? And those are the things that I always wanted to do."