Johnny Iacono, one hell of a great photographer. To all the ships at sea, not only is he a great photographer but does he have some great hair or what? I was fortunate enough to have Johnny as a next door neighbor for about twenty years. He has a beautiful, lovely family and is pretty much recognized as the nicest photographer in the world. Off the record, he is a sweetheart- but dont cross him, that would be a bad idea. He is one tough son of a bitch.
Talking Trash With the Louisville Lip
In December 1966 I was a 25-year-old working for LIFE magazine and helping Neil Leifer, a childhood friend, for an SI photo shoot at the LIFE photo studio on 54th Street in Manhattan. Neil asked me to take a picture of him and Ali together. I said sure, and did so. Then I said, “How about me?” So right before Neil took the picture of Ali and I, Ali raised his hand over his head and looks at me and goes, “Boy, if I ever hit you you’ll wish you wee in Vietnam with a BB gun.”
I said, “Champ, if I ever hit you by the time you get up your clothes will be out of style.”
He started laughing and said, “I like that one, I’m gonna keep it.”
Photo: Neil Leifer
When he left I went in the dressing room where he changed to make sure he didn’t leave anything behind. On the table was this big diamond ring. I said, “Oh my god he left his ring here.” He calls and says, “I left my ring up there.” I said, “Oh was that yours? I sold it.” He sent one of his guys up to pick it up.
Not long after I became an SI photographer. In about 1983, I was with my wife, Nancy, my daughter, Alexis, and her friend Claudine, in Atlantic City where I was getting ready to photograph a fight. The night before the fight there was a knock on my hotel room door. It was Ali’s wife at the time, Veronica. She says, “I see your daughter has been running up and down the hall. Ali loves children. Do you mind if he says hello?”
I said of course not, so Alexis and I went over to his room, and I took a picture of her sitting on his lap. There was only one lamp on and it was very eerie lighting. I said, “How you doing, Champ?” He says, “Did you call me chump?” Afterward my daughter asked, “What happened to him?” I said he was very sick. This was right before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. You could see it in his face, and he had been stuttering. It was sad to see. But for that night at least he was still a joy to be around. I always loved his sense of humor.”