He had recently been hospitalized for a stroke.
Known for his street style photography published in his weekly On the Street column, initiated in 1978, Cunningham was often seen riding around the city on his bike, clad in his own uniform and always with his camera: “his bony-thin frame draped in his utilitarian blue French worker’s jacket, khaki pants and black sneakers (he himself was no one’s idea of a fashion plate), with his 35-millimeter camera slung around his neck, ever at the ready for the next fashion statement to come around the corner,” the New York Times notes.
Contributing fashion editor to Vogue (and former fashion reporter for The Village Voice for over 30 years) Lynn Yaeger penned a beautiful tribute to Cunningham, recalling when they first met decades ago back when she was just starting out as a fashion writer:
Bill wasn’t interested in who I was—what he seemed to respond to in me, and to other strangers in this strange city, was what I was: an anonymous person with a deep desire to look a certain way, to see and be seen for reasons buried deeply in the psyche, as mysterious as the impulse for decoration itself.
And that’s why he was beloved by so many: call him democratic, but Cunningham really did see and want to capture everyone.
Vogue Editor-at-Large Hamish Bowles remembers, “I suspect he didn’t always remember everyone’s names, but his cheery ‘Hello, young fella’ was the most heartwarming salutation I can think of.” He added:
Bill exemplified everything about the fashion world that is to be cherished and celebrated, and he has gifted posterity a unique archive—a document in pictures of half a century of the evolving world of fashion, and the style of the tastemakers who both shaped and embodied it.
Cunningham was awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French government in 2008, and in 2009, he was declared a Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.