Photojournalist George Barris, who took the last pictures of Marilyn Monroe before her untimely death at 36, died Friday at his home in Thousand Oaks, California, The New York Times reports. He was 94.
Barris, who had taken pictures of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and Marlon Brando, famously photographed the iconic sex symbol on the beach in Santa Monica just three weeks before she was found dead in her Brentwood, California, home on Aug. 5, 1962.
In a 2012 interview with PEOPLE, Barris talked about the last picture he took at the iconic photo shoot, after he snapped Monroe running in and out of the surf in a bikini and posing in the now-famous brown-and-white fisherman’s sweater.
“At the end of that shoot, she was sitting on the beach and blew a kiss at me and said, ‘This is just for you,’ ” he said. “That was the last picture I took of her. It was on July 18, 1962.”
Later, when he showed her the pictures from the shoot, “She looked at them and she said, ‘Wow! You captured the true Marilyn – with fuzz on my cheeks and all the freckles. That’s the real me,'” he said.
Photographs from the iconic shoot were featured in Gloria Steinem’s 1986 book on the actress, Marilyn. Barris, who was a photographer during World War II, went on to publish his own book on Monroe in 1995 called Marilyn: Her Life in Her Own Words: Marilyn Monroe’s Revealing Last Words and Photographs.
His photos of her were also featured in “An Intimate Look at the Legend,” a 2012 exhibition about the actress at the Hollywood Museum in Los Angeles commemorating the 50th anniversary of her death.
Barris told PEOPLE he and Monroe became fast friends after they met in 1954 on the set of the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch. “She always had a kind word for everyone,” he said. “She never acted like a big movie star. She was a down-to-earth person. She was not a snob. Ever. That’s what I loved about her. She was so real. So natural.”
He said he always regretted that he didn’t fly to Los Angeles to see her the weekend she died, after she had told him she needed to discuss something important with him. “Maybe I could have helped,” he said. “I don’t know.”
Two days before she died, Barris said she called him while he was in New York. “She said she needed to talk to me,” he said. “She said that something was going on but she couldn’t tell me over the phone. I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t talk about it over the phone.
“I knew there was something wrong, but I just couldn’t get there that weekend,” he said.
On Aug. 5, he learned that his longtime friend had died. “It was unbelievable,” he said. “It was just shocking. For the rest of my life I will always wonder why I didn’t go out there that weekend. I regret the fact that I didn’t go. It was something she really wanted me to do. I wish I knew what it was.”
Barris said he did not believe Monroe committed suicide. “She was starting a new life,” he said. “She said to me, ‘These are my champagne days. I can’t wait to get through them.’ So why would she take her own life then? I will never believe that.
“In my heart,” he added, “I will never believe she overdosed.”
He added: “Whoever did this to this poor girl, it’s something that God will never forgive him for.”
Barris is survived by his wife and two daughters.