Laura Wilson, a Dallas photographer who worked for six years as Avedon's assistant on "In the American West" and the latest New Yorker project, described him as "beyond extraordinary, when I first met him and in these last two years. There was enormous energy, enormous enthusiasm and an enormous obsession with the work itself."
In a 2002 exhibit, the Metropolitan Museum of Art offered 180 portraits Avedon had done from the late 1940s through the end of the century. Curator Maria Morris Hambourg said, "By dint of progressive challenges to himself, Richard Avedon has not only distilled photographic portraiture to its irreducible core, but has also produced an extended meditation on life, death, art and identity."
Avedon did a group portrait of the Chicago Seven in 1969, when they went on trial: Lee Weiner, left, John Froines, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden and David Dellinger.
(Photos Richard Avedon)
Avedon's final New Yorker project was in some ways an updating of a 1976 Rolling Stone assignment, called "The Family" and shot during that year's presidential campaign.
"He was interested in the politics of the moment. He wasn't a nostalgist," New Yorker editor David Remnick said. "He saw this as a serious political moment, and he wanted to get in the middle of it in the way that he could."
The photographs will run as scheduled and will include color and black-and-white images.
"He had the energy of five hummingbirds," Remnick said. "We were getting an enormous amount of new work right up until this morning."
Avedon married and later divorced Dorcas Nowell, a model, who became known professionally as Doe Avedon. He married Evelyn Franklin in 1951 and later separated.
Survivors include a son from the second marriage, John Avedon of New York City, and five grandchildren.
In 1974, Mr. Avedon told Newsday: "I can see myself as a very old man in a terrific wheelchair. Only, I won't be photographing the tree outside my window, the way Steichen did. I'll be photographing other old people."
As it turned out, the octogenarian photographer was shooting Army tank drivers, injured soldiers and, yet again, ordinary people in the American West and Southwest.
"He had the greatest life for doing what he wanted to do," said Wilson, who was with him when he lapsed into a coma. "And to do it this way, where he was going full tilt to the very end, that's how he would have wanted it."