Chicagoans may or may not recognize the name of photographer Marc Hauser, but if they have lived here for any amount of time, they surely have seen his work.
Every Chicago publication of the last five decades showcased his photos, as did many national magazines, whether it was a cover shot of a movie star or the daily Marshall Field’s ads that were once the mainstay of Chicago’s newspapers.
Hauser’s photos of former Bulls star Dennis Rodman and his ever-changing hairdo were the basis for the traffic-stopping Bigsby & Kruthers billboard along the Kennedy Expressway.
His haunting picture of John Mellencamp provided the memorable cover for the musician’s 1985 album “Scarecrow.”
Hauser, 66, died Sunday after being hospitalized several weeks ago with unspecified health complications, his studio confirmed Monday on its Facebook page.
“Marc has left us with a deep void that will be hard to fill. His strong spirit, his laughter and stories will remain with us forever, just like his legacy and impact on the photo community,” said the unsigned statement.
Hauser had suffered from diabetes and kidney disease for many years.
He never fully recovered from a work accident in the early 2000s when he was seriously injured after a crane collapsed while he was suspended in the air shooting photos on a golf course. Hauser eventually lost the use of one eye and had his leg amputated.
Portraits were Hauser’s specialty, in particular, his celebrity portraits of music, film and sports stars.
Sophia Loren, Woody Allen, Michael Jordan, Cindy Crawford, John Belushi, Dolly Parton, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Oprah were just a few of the names he could drop when discussing his famous subjects.
In 2016, Hauser told an interviewer for the podcast “Booth One” that Loren treated him to a back massage with her long nails during a break in one photo shoot.
He said his most troublesome subject was Bears’ Super Bowl quarterback Jim McMahon, who refused to take off his sunglasses for photos to be used in the production of a football video game.
Hauser grew up in Wilmette and attended New Trier High School. His father was a photo hobbyist with a darkroom in their basement.
Hauser got his first camera at age 13 and discovered he had a talent for it. The local newspaper hired him to take photos, an assignment that included rock concerts at Ravinia.
He said he parlayed that into an apprenticeship at age 14 with a contributing photographer for Playboy magazine, which soon led to his own assignments. He developed his own distinctive style.
Hauser’s work and larger-than-life character made him a well-known personality in his own right in Chicago’s arts community, especially when he was flying high during the 1980s and 1990s.
For a while, he was making more than $1 million a year, he said in several interviews. His contract with Marshall Field’s alone was paying him $4 million, he said.
But health problems and changes in the photography business left him without most of his big-paying clients in recent years. A few years ago, friends started a GoFundMe page to help him pay his medical bills.
Despite those setbacks, Hauser continued working right up until he went into the hospital, friends said. Instead of celebrities, Hauser kept busy with portraits of regular Chicagoans and their families, often finding his customers through special deals advertised on Groupon.
“I just love taking pictures. That’s what’s keeping me alive,” Hauser told the “Booth One” podcast.
Tributes to Hauser from his photo colleagues and subjects poured in to his Facebook page Monday as word spread of his death, painting a portrait of a complicated individual who many considered a mentor.
“He was uncouth, reckless, strange, hilarious, and in every way the quintessential artist,” said photographer Genevieve Lauren, who spent two years working and living with Hauser in his Bucktown studio.
No funeral arrangements were announced.
David Leonardis, who operates a Wicker Park gallery, said he will host a show Jan. 11 and 12 to celebrate Hauser’s life featuring his collection of 70 Hauser photographs.