Brooke Shields photographed by Mike Ruiz
In Mike Ruiz's candy-colored world, stars are both beautifully captured and nearly unrecognizable creating a magical moment for the ages.
When it comes to Mike Ruiz, what you see isn't necessarily what you get. Ruiz, a close friend of mine for almost two decades, is unquestionably one of the best celebrity photographers in the world.
The first time I ever laid eyes on him he was walking towards my Park Avenue office in New York City. I noticed a tall, ridiculously handsome man (who was even more ridiculously muscled) fill out his T-shirt and my office doorframe. For a moment -- just a moment -- the photographer I had heard so much about didn't speak and slowly glanced around the room assessing the landscape before saying, "You must be Richard!" in the sweetest, friendliest, most disarming voice possible. Given the wrapper this package came in, this kind and pleasant specimen was not at all what I was expecting. No macho bravura BS from this tower of muscle. I realized in an instant that Mike Ruiz is genuinely nice -- as in really, really nice -- and is genuinely talented -- as in really, really talented. We've been friends and frequent collaborators since that very first day.
The roster of powerhouse celebrities Ruiz has photographed is in and of itself impressive -- Prince, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Nicki Minaj, Raquel Welch, Ricky Martin, Debbie Harry, Adam Lambert, Kathy Griffin, Dolly Parton, every Kardashian and on and on -- but it's how he handles those assignments is what makes Ruiz such an in-demand master at the very top of his game. Widely known for his stunning hyper-realized, color-saturated, fantastical portraits of the planet's most recognizable people, Ruiz transcends the all-too-predictable celebrity portrait and wills it into something else entirely: something delicious, something unexpected, something subversive -- and the finished product transports the viewer to a different world, a more beautiful, severe, unblemished world, that makes all of us want to pack up all of our belongings and head straight there.
Ruiz, who's also a celebrated music video/feature film director for the likes of celebritydom's biggest divas--Vanessa Williams, Kristine W, Kelly Rowland, Jody Watley, RuPaul--has been a fixture on a number of reality competition shows including America's Next Top Model and The A-List, has launched an award-winning brand (signature book, interactive iPad app) called Pretty Masculine and boasts some of the biggest corporate names on the globe as clients including the likes of L'Oreal, Donald J. Pliner, Garnier and many, many more.
Later this year, Ruiz -- the dedicated purveyor of perpetual celebrity gorgeousness -- himself enters the "Look Who's 50" club. And for someone who looks as great as he does, who's as talented and celebrated as he is and who's just as nice if not more so than the day I met him, the next half century is starting out beautifully for this amazing visual phenom, this celebrity photographer, this man called Mike Ruiz that I'm so very happy to be able to say is my friend.
Give me the "elevator pitch" for Mike Ruiz (30 seconds or less to describe yourself).
Not unlike everyone else, I'm experiencing the joys and aches of life. As I continue traveling my path, I gain greater insight into who I am and how I relate to others and how they relate to me.
Defining moment from your childhood.
The moment I had an epiphany and realized that I had the power to prevent people from "walking all over me." This somehow coincides with the first time I saw Olivia Newton-John as Sandy in the movie Grease. [Laughs]
What's been your happiest day?
Today. And, when asked again in the future, that would be my answer for every subsequent day.
And your saddest?
When my mother passed away.
Tell me about your favorite celebrity moments.
For such a broad variety of reasons that it would take too long to mention (but many of them are for the simple fact that they were the icons I looked up to in my formative years). That being said, I would have to include in the list of my favorite celebrity photo shoots Prince, Debbie Harry, Rod Stewart, Betty White, Brooke Shields, Sir Ian McKellen, Patricia Clarkson, Morgan Fairchild, Raquel Welch. Richard, I told you I couldn't stop! [Laughs]
What makes a Mike Ruiz portrait different is...
My imagery is a reflection of the entirety of me. My art evokes a sense of hopefulness, which emanates from my underlying sense of optimism.
What challenges that lie ahead excite you?
You know what, Richard, I haven't the faintest idea, which excites me in and of itself.
What's your mindset around joining the 'Look Who's 50' club?
Wait, it's still six months until I turn 50 for me! [Laughs] I can't truly say without being presumptuous whether I'm now a veteran at this thing called life, nor can I say that I'm necessarily scared by the proposition of aging. If my life experiences so far are any indication of what's to come, I eagerly await with child-like wonder to see how the rest of my life unfolds.
Your tombstone will say...
"Guess." No, really -- that's what it will say. [Laughs]
Is this the best moment in your life?
Yes. As I was alluding to earlier, this is but the apogee of many best moments in my life. Being part of the photography industry, I'm lucky to have a bird's-eye view of what is influencing and motivating what I call the newest generation. Young people today are expressing ideals of inclusion, individualism and freedom. I ardently believe that these qualities will win over derision, fear and ignorance. I'm just happy to be alive to see this. Actually, I'm just happy to be alive, period. [Laughs]
See more of Mike Ruiz' photography at completesenior.com
Doesn't it seem like Betty White has been around since David torpedoed Goliath with a slingshot? Our favorite golden girl is only 90 though. Even though Miss Betty White began her career in the 1940s on radio, and later appeared on late night talk shows and game shows (including Password) in the 50s and 60s, she wasn't a household name until, at the age of 51, she began playing "The Happy Homemaker" Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1973-1977). She continued her rise to fame as the lovable, naïve Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls from 1985 to 1992. In 2010, at age 88, she became a superstar after her hilarious appearance in the Snickers Super Bowl commercial. What soon followed was a grassroots effort that got her a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live, giving her that final "cool" status. We love you, Betty White! May you live to be 150!
Heavy metal vocalist Ozzy Osbourne has been famous for over 40 years as lead singer of the English band Black Sabbath. His wife, Sharon, however, did not become a household name until their family reality show The Osbournes premiered on MTV in 2002. By then, just barely 50 years old, Sharon had become a media darling, which opened up many doors. She went on to become a judge on America's Got Talent and has been co-host of the CBS daytime show The Talk since it debuted October 2010. I caught up with Sharon in 2002 at a White House Correspondent's Dinner after party and asked how she liked being a newborn celebrity. "I love it," she said with a big smile, "but I just wish it had happened when I was younger."
Regis was comedian Joey Bishop's sidekick on the ABC television show The Joey Bishop Show from 1967 to 1969 and hosted his own local talk show -- A.M. Los Angeles -- from 1975 to 1983. But his name wasn't exactly on the tip of our collective tongues until he became a daytime staple with Kathie Lee Gifford in 1988 Live with Regis and Kathie Lee when he was 57. His vibrant, caustic, yet fun-loving personality pushed him over the top sometime after the show began to gain in popularity with daytime viewers. Hosting the night-time game show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire in 1999, catapulted him up to superstar status because of the show's initial popularity ("Is that your final answer?" became the catch phrase of the early aughts). Philbin left Live in 2011 because of contractual issues. But who knows where the 80-year-old entertainer might show up again? Why isn't he sitting next to David Letterman every night as his sidekick? Just sayin'...
Frances Bavier appeared in vaudeville, later transitioned to the Broadway stage and appeared in more than a dozen films. But it wasn't until she claimed the coveted role of everybody's favorite "Aunt Bee" on The Andy Griffith Show in 1960 that she became a household name at the tender age of 58. Bavier continued the role through 1970 and retired from acting in 1974, moving to North Carolina. She succumbed to heart disease and cancer on December 6, 1989. The actress was buried in Siler City, NC. Her headstone references her Mayberry name and reads: "To live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die." (Here is a rare interview that Carolina Camera Reporter Bill Ballard got with Francis Bavier after she retired to North Carolina.)
Abe Vigoda captured the role of Salvatore Tessio in the film The Godfather in 1972 at the age of 51. His next big role came in 1975 when he signed on to play Sgt. Phil Fish on the television series Barney Miller. Strangely enough, false reports of his death made him a household name. In 1982, People magazine referred to Vigoda as "the late" Abe Vigoda, even though he was performing in a stage play in Calgary. Being a great sport, he laughed off the error. Vigoda was "dead" again in 1987 when a reporter for a television station in New Jersey referred to him as "the late Abe Vigoda." She corrected her mistake the following day. As a result, there have been many running gags about his death including skits and appearances on Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and even on The Today Show. Vigoda joined Betty White in the Super Bowl XLIV Snickers commercial in 2010, although he didn't get as much attention for his efforts. In case you're wondering, as we post this piece, the 91-year-old actor is still alive! ... Or, is he?
Can you imagine getting your big break at the age of 64? Even though this screen and television actor appeared in over 100 films, it wasn't until he played the feisty landlord Fred Mertz on the television sitcom I Love Lucy that he achieved his greatest fame. This motion picture veteran almost didn't get the part due to his rumored drinking problem. Although Lucille Ball was initially willing to hire him, Dezi Arnaz was less impressed and gave Frawley a stern warning that if he were late to work, arrived drunk or was unable to perform because of anything other than a legitimate reason, he would be written out of the show. That never happened, and Arnaz became one of Frawley's few close friends. Frawley died of a heart attack on March 3, 1966 at the age of 79. Here's Frawley in a cameo on The Lucy Show.
I know. This one is a real stretch, but let me make my case. Bergeron has hosted America's Funniest Home Videos since 2001 and Hollywood Squares from 1998 to 2004, but those TV shows were career builders. Now, he's what we might call an A-List celebrity, jumping up a couple of notches since the popularity of ABC's Dancing With the Stars. The hot host was 50 when DWTS premiered in 2005. He's charming, handsome, humorous and just oh so appealing. He's a keeper. Long live his career!
Maybe Mike Wallace was well-known in some hard-core news circles, and perhaps he was on a first-name basis with a few news junkies many moons ago, but it wasn't until he laid his groundwork as a superb gotcha reporter on 60 Minutes -- which he did from 1968 (after he turned 50) until 2008 -- that his star began to shine. Wallce was a force to be reckoned with, pushing him into the high-profile-household-name category. This affable news bulldog had a way with words. If Mike Wallace came calling, his subjects tended to want to run out the back door. This well-respected news journalist sadly passed away on April 7, 2012 at the age of 93.
Andy Rooney is another personality that seems to have been around since the beginning of time, and we're all glad to have been the recipients of his off-the-wall satirical takes on human nature, and occasionally educating us on used cars and what to do with annoying relatives. In 1978, at the age of 59, Rooney began his "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney" segment on the CBS news show 60 Minutes, continuing through 2011. He made us laugh, he made us cry, he made us think. It doesn't get better than that. Rooney died on November 4, 2011 at the age of 92 only a few weeks after his last appearance on 60 Minutes.
Who doesn't love Morgan Freeman? This Academy Award winner (for Million Dollar Baby) paid his dues and then some. Freeman worked for several years as an actor, and then came into his own playing chauffeur Hoke Colburn in Driving Miss Daisy at the age of 52 (although he was 50 when he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in the film Street Smart). His film career continued on the fast tract as he starred in many other films, including The Shawshank Redemption, Glory, Deep Impact, The Bucket List and March of the Penguins, resulting in a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 from the American Film Institute.
Uh, oh. Joy Behar does not like dwelling on her age so I'm not going to mention how old she is. Behar was 54 when she was cast as one of the original members of The View, which made its debut in August 1997. (There will be a math quiz later.) A few years before that, you could catch Behar doing hilarious stand-up comedy on television. She became a household name sometime after The View became a must-see, daytime television talk show.
This Jack Russel Terrier was in the movies Mr. Fix It and Water for Elephants, but he wasn't a household name until he appeared in the much heralded silent movie The Artist in 2011. The Uggster was nine when he starred in The Artist -- that's 52 years old in doggie years. What did he do before he got his big break in Hollywood? He was about to be sent to a dog pound, but was rescued by an animal trainer. Let's hope that Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Toto and Benji don't get their noses out of joint looking for bones up in Heaven. I have no idea how old they were when they starred in their movies and television shows. Uggie has a good publicist.
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