RFK assassination 'like yesterday' for photographer Richard Drew

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Richard Drew, a young photographer, was thirsty, so he entered the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles the night of June 5, 1968.

Only 21 and working his first real newspaper job, Drew was there to cover Robert F. Kennedy's win over Eugene McCarthy in the California presidential primary. Instead, he became one of just four photographers to document the shooting that killed Kennedy.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," said Drew, 61, who is now a photographer for the Associated Press.

"I saw this gun pointing at me," said Drew, who was walking behind Kennedy just before he was shot. Instinctively, Drew hit the floor.

Drew hadn't been assigned to cover the primary that night. But "always wanting to be in the thick of things," he showed up anyway. He was in the habit of photographing the candidates who passed through town.

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy lies critically wounded in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen where he was shot in the head on June 5, 1968, just after making a victory speech to his supporters. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pasadena Independent-Star News

Drew, who was a photographer for the Pasadena Independent-Star News, found a spot onstage as the young Senator from New York delivered his victory speech to a packed house in the ballroom.

But it was hot, so with the speech nearly over, Drew headed off stage to the kitchen for a glass of water. Moments later, he was standing atop a stainless steel cooking table snapping photographs as Kennedy lay bleeding on the floor after being shot four times with a .22 caliber revolver by assassin Sirhan Sirhan.

The resulting image is haunting: a grainy black-and-white shot looking down at Kennedy as he lay dying on the floor surrounded by campaign supporters and kitchen staff.

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It's not the only iconic photograph of Drew's career. He later shot what became one of the most controversial images taken during the World Trade Center attack: a lone man falling headfirst from one of the towers.

The shadow shrouding the Kennedy image may reflect the symbolic darkness of that moment in our nation's history, but journalistically, it's a regret for Drew.

"I regret I didn't have a flash," he said.

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