Tony Triolo, a former staff photographer who shot more than 50 covers for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED between 1961 and '83, died on Sunday of lung cancer at the age of 76. Longtime SI photographer Neil Leifer remembers his friend, who took some of the magazine's most memorable images.
I LAST SAW Tony Triolo a week before he died, at his hospital in New York City. Tony, whom I've known since 1957, didn't want to dwell on his failing health; he talked instead about how he was eagerly looking forward to our plans for New Year's Eve. Tony (right) was a raconteur and jokester, and he put his people skills to great use in his years of shooting for SI. When we were on the road together, covering the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500, the World Series, no one was better at charming an airline ticket agent or a hotel desk clerk to get us into first class or a suite. Those schmoozing skills came in handy on the job, too. When we were in Toronto for the Muhammad Ali-- George Chuvalo fight in 1966 (above, right), Tony, a big guy who loved to cook and eat, talked some arena workers into cutting a hole in the ring apron so his belly would fit when he leaned forward to shoot. (Sure enough, he got the SI cover shot.)
You could send Tony anywhere—say, to shoot Roger Maris's 61st home run (above, left)—and he knew how to handle his subjects, too. When Jimmy Connors won Wimbledon in 1974, Connors's mother and coach, Gloria, forgot her rosary beads for his semifinal. Tony, also a devout Catholic, came to her rescue: He lent her his, the ones he always traveled with, and she was holding them when her son won.
Tony's passion was hockey, as you'd expect from someone born in Winnipeg, and many of his hockey photos are SI classics. Tony himself was the kind of unique character who seems to be becoming extinct. I know I'll never see another like him.