LeRoy Neiman, the iconic American artist famous for painting Muhammad Ali and other sports greats, passed away on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. The long time friend of Hugh Hefner and artist-in-residence of every major sporting event had just celebrated the publication of his autobiography, "All Told," as well as his 91st birthday earlier this month.
Here is an excerpt from "All Told," where he speaks about painting boxing greats like Ali and Sonny Liston (Scroll down for archival images of the artist below):
Clay always liked having me around, and he enjoyed being sketched anytime. Liston was far more wary, even hostile, and artlessly uncontrived. I'd watched him scowling, circling backward as he shadowboxed around the ring. One afternoon Liston noticed me standing there sketching next to the ropes, and gave me the baleful, intimidating, double-whammy Liston glare. A really ill-tempered Svengali.
"Get rid of the cigar!" he growled.
"It's not lit," I shot back at him. He stopped, turned around, and shuttled forward.
"I said, 'Get rid of the cigar.' I don't care if it's cold!"
I was considering the request to surrender my precious prop when Liston stopped abruptly in front of me and gestured to his timekeeper, Teddy King.
"Throw the artist off the stage!" he said.
Okay, so I backed off, nixed the cigar -- and continued to draw.
One night Liston was skipping rope to "Night Train." After his workout, he approached me and said matter-of-factly, "Artist, I don't like you doin' me only boxin'. Come over to my house this evening and I'll show you how I want to be painted."
Around five o'clock I showed up at his front door. Sonny answered the bell, all spruced up in a freshly laundered, open-collared white shirt, impeccable with dark slacks and shined loafers, as spotless and immaculate as the expansive living quarters.
We entered the main room. Joe Louis, the grand old heavyweight champ, was sprawled out on an overstuffed sofa, staring at a TV. He gave me a lazy nod. Liston then led me on a tour, showing me elaborately framed photos of himself hung all over the place. He always dressed well -- iridescent suits and silk cravats. "That's the way I want you to paint me, not as a fighter, but as a gentleman."
Some photos of the artist with his illustrious subjects are below, along with a sample of Neiman's work:
LeRoy Neiman and Muhammad Ali in Miami in 1964
LeRoy Neiman and Salvador Dali, mustache-a-mustache.
LeRoy Neiman with Hugh Hefner
LeRoy Neiman, Andy Warhol and Tina Turner at a Rolling Stones Concert
Ronal Reagan, 1988
LeRoy Neiman Self Portrait, 2003
The cover of LeRoy Neiman's memoir "All Told"