Grateful Dead Photographer Peter Simon Passes Away at 71

November 20, 2018
Grateful Dead Photographer Peter Simon Passes Away at 71

Grateful Dead, May 7, 1977, Boston Garden (photo by Peter Simon)


Peter Simon, a noted photographer who shot celebrities and musicians—including a stint with the Grateful Dead—along with scenes of his home base on Martha’s Vineyard island, died this past Sunday at the age of 71 of a cardiac arrest at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. A family friend of Simon’s confirmed the news to The Boston Globe.

Simon, who was also the brother of iconic singer-songwriter Carly Simon, chronicled a wide range of people and places in his prolific career, leading to multiple books, galleries, a retrospective DVD and more, including his annual photography calendar dedicated to his beloved Vineyard.

As Simon told last year, a Grateful Dead concert in Boston in the winter of 1969 was the first show he photographed while on acid (“It was not a great or easy thing to do!”), and he began to foster a love for the band and the counterculture movement.

“When I heard their music, it suddenly became the soundtrack to my hippie incarnation,” Simon said in the interview. “I just couldn’t believe how the spacey jams mixed in seamlessly with the good time folk and blues. This was way before they got really well known, at least on the East Coast. That one night, there were maybe 300 people dancing around, stoned out of their brains, twirling, and spinning, I just thought ‘wow’—this is me.”

Simon shot the Dead a couple more times, in Boston and San Francisco, before getting a chance to interview Jerry Garcia in 1975. In 1977, Garcia handpicked Simon to photograph the band for a Rolling Stone cover story, and the photographer traveled with the band in the Northeast for a couple shows during one of their most acclaimed eras.

In the Grateful Dead photography book Eyes of the World, Simon discusses an iconic photo of the band he took during that time in 1977 (see above): “Given that the band hated having their pictures taken, Garcia liked my unobtrusive, fly-on-the wall style. [Rolling Stone] wanted a group portrait that I knew the band would hate doing. Nonetheless, after soundcheck, everyone piled into this tiny backstage dressing room, sat on a couch and we quickly realized there was nowhere for Donna to sit. I suggested—calling upon my vast experience as a family portrait photographer—that she try lying across everyone. Garcia’s gesture in the picture is him saying, ‘For you, Peter, I guess we’ll do anything.’”

Learn more about Peter Simon and see some of his extensive portfolio at his website.