Bill Ray, photographer of iconic Len Dawson smoking picture, dies at 84

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With the Chiefs in the Super Bowl for the first time in half a century, one of the most iconic photographs in the history of the Super Bowl is gaining renewed prominence. That iconic photo is the shot of Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson, in the locker room at halftime of Super Bowl I, smoking a cigarette.

The continuing prominence of that photo allows the work of photographer Bill Ray to live on, even though Ray died this month at the age of 84.

Hank Stram, the Chiefs coach for Super Bowl I, granted Life magazine access to his team during that game, and that meant Ray was in the locker room at halftime, when he captured the great shot of Dawson doing something that would certainly not be done at halftime of an NFL game today. The Chiefs lost the game, and Life ended up not publishing Ray’s pictures inside the team’s locker room, and it wasn’t until decades later, when the seemingly anachronistic photo went viral on social media, that Ray got the credit he deserved for such a great photograph of an earlier era.

“It seems impossible now,” Ray told Kevin Clark of last season. “People smoked all the time, and it was amazing that the star quarterback was doing it.”

Ray photographed much more than football, and published a selection of his work that includes pictures of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and The Beatles, as well as Hell’s Angels, hospitalized Vietnam veterans and children living through the 1966 Watts riots. Ray’s work put the humanity of his subjects on full display.