Beatles Photographer Astrid Kirchherr Dies Aged 81
Words by Riley Fitzgerald
Graphic by Astrid Kirchherr
Astrid Kirchherr has died aged 81.
Dubbed “the woman who gave the Beatles their style,” Kirchherr befriended the Beatles at Hamburg’s Star Club in 1960.
“It was like a merry-go-round in my head,” she would later recount of seeing the band live, “[the Beatles] looked absolutely astonishing… My whole life changed in a couple of minutes. All I wanted was to be with them and to know them.”
As a German art school bohemian, Kirchherr and her two friends who regularly attended the music venue were a sharp contrast to the club’s usual clientele.
They would quickly catch the eyes of John Lennon and early Beatles guitarist Stuart Sutcliffe, who had also attended art school in their home city of Liverpool.
After the Beatles approached Kirchherr and her friends they would quickly become close.
The Germans’ interest in graphic design, jazz, writers like Jean Cocteau, existentialist philosophy, European fashion, and photography would have a profound effect on the Beatles.
The assistant of a professional fashion photographer, Kirchherr would also take several striking and now-iconic photos of the “Teddy Boy” era Beatles in Hamburg.
She would also fashion there iconic ‘Mop Tops’.
“All my friends in art school used to run around with this sort of… what you call Beatles haircut,” Kirchherr later recounted, “And my boyfriend then, Klaus Voormann, had this hairstyle, and Stuart liked it very, very much. He was the first one who really got the nerve to get the Brylcreem out of his hair, and asking me to cut his hair for him.”
“Astrid was the one who influenced our image more than anyone else,” George Harrison once shared. “It made us look good.”
(Astrid’s attic art studio, painted completely black, would be a talking point amongst George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and John Lennon for decades to come.)
Kirchherr, who was on the tail end of a relationship with Revolver cover artist Klause Voorman, quickly fell in love with Sutcliffe.
By the end of 1960, Stuart and Kirchherr were engaged.
In 1961 Sutcliffe would take his exit from the Beatles to focus on his work as a visual artist.
Tragically, he would die of a brain aneurysm on April 21, 1962.
It was Kirchherr who would break the news to the group, an announcement which would devastate his closest friend John Lennon.
Ultimately though it was Lennon who would provide Kirchherr the advice which would shake her out of her grief.
“Live or die,” the Beatle would inform her, “there is no other question.”
Kirchherr would then pursue a successful career as a professional photographer.
While eager not to exploit her relationship with the band, she would later take a behind-the-scenes series of shots of the band during the filming of A Hard Day’s Night and provide photographs to George Harrison’s for first solo album Wonderwall Music in 1968.
Exasperated by the tag of “The Beatles Photographer”, she would later retire in 1970.
That same year she would Marry another Liverpool musician, drummer Gibson Kemp.
(Kemp had taken on the role of Ringo Starr as a drummer in Rory Storm And The Hurricanes when Starr left to join the Beatles.)
The pair would divorce in 1985.
Kirchherr would late open a photo store K&K in Hamburg.
She would also maintain her connection with the Fab Four, appearing in numerous Beatles related media projects and even helping arrange Beatles conventions in Hamburg.
Astrid would talk openly about her early romance, readily referring to Sutcliffe as “the love of my life”.
Kirchherr died in Hamburg on May 13, 7 days shy of her 82nd birthday.
News of her death arrives via Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn.
“Her gift to the Beatles was immeasurable,” Lewisohn writes via Twitter.
German newspaper Die Zeit has confirmed the news, stating Kirchherr’s death was the result of a “short, serious illness”.
Danke schön, Astrid Kirchherr. Intelligent, inspirational, innovative, daring, artistic, awake, aware, beautiful, smart, loving and uplifting friend to many. Her gift to the Beatles was immeasurable. She died in Hamburg on Wednesday, a few days before turning 82. RIP. pic.twitter.com/c8UHNK1tj4
— Mark Lewisohn (@marklewisohn) May 15, 2020
Absolutely stunned to hear the news of Astrid passing. God bless you love. We shared some wonderful memories and the most amazing fun times. Condolences to family and friends, Pete (Petey) pic.twitter.com/lNduJ8EHHC
— Pete Best (@BeatlesPeteBest) May 15, 2020