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By Amy Phillips Penn

I can still remember what he was wearing the first time that I saw him. I may have stopped breathing, he was that breathtakingly gorgeous.

I was in one of East Hampton’s many movie theaters waiting for the movie to start.

As we were sitting down, my date said hello to the man sitting behind us: the legendary photographer, wild life and lady lover, and avant-garde environmentalist, Peter Beard.

He was wearing a maroon Shetland crew neck sweater, jeans and probably Gucci’s. Just a wild East Hampton meets Africa guess.

“I’d like you to meet Peter Beard,” my date introduced us.

“You know Cheryl,” he nodded to the model next door, his then or future wife, Cheryl Tiegs.

The movie came on; the audience laughed, blew their nose, and made a comment here and there.

When it was all over, I had absolutely no idea what movie we saw, and have no recall to this day.

“Did you like the movie?” my date asked.

What movie?

“Did you?” I asked and followed suit.

Beard and Cheryl waited until the theater emptied out.

Why, I have no idea. It’s not like having celebrities in an East Hampton audience is a novelty.

Take the Peter Beard quiz, filed under “life is stranger than truth and beyond.”

Which ones of these are true?

There’s a photo of Peter Beard with his head in an alligator… or is it a crock?

Beard was run over by an elephant and lived to tell about it. It’s on video, if you like to watch that sort of thing.

Beard signed his book in an inky thumbprint and then snorted a line of coke on it.

A well known Greek playboy/ society columnist once said that “women are never the same after they date Peter Beard.” It wasn’t meant as a compliment.

Peter was known to string up poachers and tie them to a tree.

End of the quiz, you take it from there.

I met Beard years later when I interviewed him for the New York Post.

Subject?

Singles in New York.

In real life, he was in between marriages.

We met at Les Pleiades, my then-favorite restaurant in the East Seventies. He had an entourage along for the crudités, including his fiancé, Nejma.

Someone said they had been in jail together in Kenya; cozy, no?

He called and asked me to join him for lunch a few weeks later. Same place, similar entourage.

On the way over, I stopped to see my mother at the dentist, her idea of hell on earth.

She had her mouth jammed open with dental equipment. Bwahahaha.

“Tell me something wonderful,” she mumbled as best as she could.

“I’m having lunch with Peter Beard.”

I really thought that would do it, but a mother knows what a mother knows. She rolled her eyes, and all but swallowed the monster dental equipment.

He called me once or twice after that. I actually saved the tape and played it until it withered.

I was never “that” adolescent when I was an adolescent.

News travelled this week that he’s had a stroke.

Facebook walls filled up with well wishes, and a tapestry of “crush” confessions from both sexes.

In a video “Nowness,” his missions and passions intertwine.

“Nature is the best thing we’ve got.”

“[We’re] the only creature who can appreciate all this beauty comes on the scene, and sure enough, destroys what only he can appreciate. It’s our climate change, our mission, our problem; it’s our excuses, which are bullshit.”

Get well, “Peter the Beard,” as you called yourself on my answering machine.

What’s a little setback like a stroke after all these years of being you?

 

Featured image courtesy of Executive Edits

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