He didn’t meet Sylvester Stallone on the best night, and it didn’t go much better when he bumped into Kiefer Sutherland. But Mark Wahlberg liked E.L. Woody enough to cast him in HBO’s hit series “Entourage.”
Wahlberg’s marching orders were clear — just play yourself.
So Woody strapped a camera around his neck and furiously stalked Vince Chase, the show’s movie star character — doing on television what he did in real life: hunting a celebrity.
Woody, who died May 23 in Los Angeles at the age of 70 after a long fight with cancer, was the self-anointed “King of the Paparazzi” and an unofficial spokesman for those who tried to make a living taking photos — usually unwanted, and generally unappreciated — of celebrities.
For decades, Woody was a fixture in Hollywood, starting his day in the early evening outside a premiere or event and wrapping up during the predawn hours after the nightclubs closed up and their celebrity customers were swept into the open.
Woody saw the job as an honest profession that took skill, precision and patience, and ultimately benefited the tabloid readers and the stars themselves.
“They have to have the photogs. It feeds the ego. Every flash, every click feeds their careers,” Woody told CNN in 2011. “It feeds the supernova of fame.”
Born in Texas, Edward Lee Woody fought in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 with the U.S. Army Special Forces and worked on a highway crew and as a bail bondsman.
In the early 1980s, he tried fashion photography, but found more reliable work shooting for biker magazines. He found it a smooth transition into the universe of the paparazzi.
He shot Elizabeth Taylor’s eighth and final wedding from a helicopter over Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, caught Kiefer Sutherland socializing with an exotic dancer and photographed Lindsay Lohan.
In 1991, Woody told police that he was sitting in a rented Honda Civic when Stallone pulled up in a Mercedes-Benz and rammed him several times before chasing him through Beverly Hills. “It was insane,” Woody told police.
Stallone said Woody rammed his car as the actor was leaving a Sunset Boulevard nightspot about 2 a.m. “It was like an excerpt out of ‘The French Connection,’ ” Stallone said later.
In the 1990s, Woody set aside his camera and started shooting video, concluding that selling footage to shows like “Inside Edition,” “Hard Copy” and “Extra!” made more business sense than wrangling with the tabloids.
Woody said his business once brought in $500,000 a year. But that revenue slowed to a trickle with competition and the bargain prices of the internet.
He also became an advocate and spokesman. After a tabloid photographer was shot with a pellet gun outside Britney Spears’ Malibu baby shower in 2005, Woody called the incident an “assault on the press.”
He told the Los Angeles Times: “ ‘Paparazzi’ is a word that’s been vilified.”