Sometimes you just wind up in the right place at the right time.
Last week, I went down to Red Bank, New Jersey because Bobby Bandiera was hosting his annual Hope Concert at the Count Basie Theater. I wanted to show my support for Bobby, but also knew that Jon Bon Jovi was going to be making a surprise appearance at the event and thought I might be able to make some unique behind-the-scenes photos.
Jon was also ready for his next photo lesson. As Bon Jovi’s tour photographer, I began teaching him how to use his DSLR camera during the European leg this summer. We spent hours walking through parks in Vienna and Barcelona shooting pictures and talking about aperture, shutter speeds, and ISO values.
I photographed Jon at rehearsal in New Jersey and then went back to his house to talk about flash compensation and other geeky photo things.
That’s when things got weird.
A rumor on the internet said that Jon Bon Jovi had died.
After the initial shock, we all had a good laugh since Jon was right there in the room opening Christmas presents with his kids. He was very much alive.
Almost immediately, all of our phones began to explode with calls, texts, and emails. The news had spread like wildfire online. I picked up the phone saying, “No, he’s not dead.”
After about 15 minutes of this, I suggested that we shoot a photo or video to show the world that Jon was fine and this was all just a sick joke. I thought he should be holding a newspaper to prove the date or at least a handwritten sign telling his fans that he was perfectly OK.
He came up with a great line to write: “Heaven looks a lot like New Jersey.” He added the date and time so there would be no question that it was a current photo.
I put him in front of the Christmas tree in his living room, snapped a few quick frames, and posted one to my Twitter feed and Facebook page. We also put it on the band’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts so everyone would know that it was legit.
Later that night, when Jon came out on stage at the benefit, he said, “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Overnight, the picture went viral. It had 110,000 “likes” on Facebook and was shared over 60,000 times in one day.
I fielded media requests all day and my agent licensed usage to CNN, TMZ, The View, Extra, Access Hollywood, and The David Letterman Show among others. It was everywhere.
A number of parodies quickly popped up including a photoshopped version with the face of deceased North Korean leader Kim Jong-il by Mad Magazine.
It was a surreal experience being in the middle of this international story as it happened. I had a similar viral experience with my Gigapan at President Obama’s inauguration, but I obviously couldn’t have planned this one.
Maybe my next photo lesson for Jon will be “How to photograph celebrities to prove that they’re alive.”
** UPDATE: The guy who started the rumor has come forward and regrets his actions.