Boris Yaro, Whose Photo of an Assassination Endures, Dies at 81

Boris Yaro, a photographer for The Los Angeles Times, wasn’t on assignment on June 5, 1968. But he decided to stop by the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when he heard that Senator Robert F. Kennedy was about to give his victory speech in the hotel’s ballroom after winning the California Democratic presidential primary.

As Kennedy finished speaking, Mr. Yaro retreated to a pantry area, expecting Kennedy to exit through it. He hoped he could snap a photograph or two for his wall at home. Then he heard gunfire — “firecrackerlike” explosions, he remembered.

“I stood frozen as the assailant emptied his weapon,” he recalled in an account published with a photojournalism exhibition at the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles in 2018. “When he stopped, I heard a voice say, ‘Get him,’ and several men grabbed him and pushed him down on a metal countertop (or freezer top).

“As the gunman struggled, I saw his weapon come out of his hand,” he continued. “He tried to grab it back. I ducked under the arm of one of the men holding the gunman and picked up the revolver. I remember thinking the grip was very warm.”

After the gun was taken from Mr. Yaro, he saw a busboy, Juan Romero, kneeling over the mortally wounded senator and cradling his head. Mr. Yaro began photographing the scene, reeling off six shots in all.

One in particular stood out: an image of the busboy crouched over Kennedy, the senator’s arms flung wide as he lay sprawled on the floor, gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship who had objected to Kennedy’s support for Israel.

The photo ran on the front page of The Los Angeles Times the next day. And it has endured as one of the seminal images of the assassination. (A photo by Bill Eppridge for Life magazine was another.) Reproduced in textbooks and magazines over the years, it also became part of the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Mr. Yaro died on March 11 at his home in the Northridge neighborhood of Los Angeles, his son Michael said. He was 81.

Mr. Yaro’s presence at the Ambassador Hotel wasn’t his only time at the scene of a harrowing moment in his more than 40 years with The Los Angeles Times.

In 1981, he heard reports on one of his police radios that a young man named Joe was threatening to jump from the ninth floor of a building. Shortly after Mr. Yaro arrived, Muhammad Ali, who lived nearby, ran into the building, made his way to the ninth floor and appeared at a window, where he began trying to talk the man off the edge of a fire escape.

Mr. Yaro began photographing the scene, and again one image stood out. It “captures the fighter, in a dark suit and tie, his smooth face expressionless, leaning out a window, peering almost casually around a pillar to get a look at Joe,” Greg Howard wrote in The New York Times Magazine in 2016.

“Yards away, Joe is balanced on a ledge, one foot in front of the other, gripping a pillar as he leans out over empty space. The effect is nauseating: In trying to get a better look at Ali, Joe’s at risk of falling to his death.”

Ali’s persuasion worked. “Soon,” Mr. Howard wrote, “he made his way to the fire escape, put an arm around Joe and guided him inside.”

Boris Anthony Yaroslavski was born on April 19, 1938, in Des Moines to Micheal and Helen (Cox) Yaroslavski. His parents owned a local grocery store. Both Boris and his brother, having long been referred to as Boris and Max Yaro by their friends, legally changed their surname to Yaro.

After graduating from high school, Mr. Yaro served in the Army from 1956 to 1957. He attended the University of Iowa and later the University of Southern California but never completed a degree.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Jill (Noskin) Yaro; his daughter, Nicole Good; his brother; and three grandchildren.

His picture of the Kennedy assassination ultimately defined Mr. Yaro’s career, and his memories of it endured. In his account of that night for the Fahey/Klein Gallery, he described a distraught woman grabbing his sleeve and yelling at him to stop taking photos.

“Goddamn it, lady,” Mr. Yaro said he told her, “this is history.”

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