LeRoy Neiman, the iconic painter of the world's greatest athletes— whose distinctive paintings captured the colorful, kinetic energy of the sports world has passed away at the age of 91. The artist's bushy, handlebar mustache and ever-present cigar were almost as well-known as his brush strokes.
The long-time New Yorker had been battling health problems in recent years but no cause of death was released.
Neiman's distinctive Impressionist style captured the biggest names in the sports and entertainment for over six decades. The ubiquitous artist was a staple at every big stage sporting event— whether he was hunched over with his sketch pad on a Super Bowl sideline, ringside at a world championship fight or at the finish line at a Triple Crown race— Neiman's bold strokes captured the action in his own inimitable technicolor style.
The artist painted every larger-than-life figure from Frank Sinatra to Secretariat in his prime but his favorite subject was Muhammad Ali. The LeRoy Neiman Gallery inside the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky. contains 15 years worth of Neiman's interpretations of the prizefighter.
Neiman's familiarity around the ring even led to cameos in some of the "Rocky" movies.
"It's not an act of arrogance to draw, it's humbling— you must use your God-given talent. And of all the people I sketch, in most cases I feel I have to measure up to the subject," he said.
Neiman's career took off when Hugh Hefner hired him to do illustrations for Playboy magazine in 1954. The LeRoy Neiman name is considered one of the most commercial successes in the art world but— even though his work was worth tens of thousands of dollars and hang in the permanent collections of some of the most prestigious museums and living rooms in the world— critical praise was hard to achieve.
That didn't matter to the artist, who simply said he did it for those who enjoyed it.
"It's been fun. I've had a lucky life," Neiman told The Associated Press in 2008.