His directing career started all because of Madonna.
Herb Ritts began photographing editorials and celebrity portraits for magazines like Vogue, Interview, and Rolling Stone in the late ‘70s.
In 1986, Madonna had Ritts photograph her for the cover of her album True Blue, and the two built a friendship. In 1989, she asked him to direct her video for the single “Cherish.” Ritts’ reported response was, “But I’m a still photographer. I don’t know anything about film.” Madonna simply replied, “Well, you have a few weeks to learn.”
10. Britney Spears, “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know”
Interesting facts: According to Ritts, Spears “wanted to do something fresh. There was one outfit, no dancing, and that meant that it boiled down to her. She really had to act the song.”
The music video also played homage to Ritts’ earlier videos, Madonna’s “Cherish”
and Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”
Britney’s mother, Lynne, criticized the original edit of music video for being too racy. Parts of the video were edited down before its release to the public.
9. Jennifer Lopez, “Ain’t It Funny”
Interesting facts: This was the second video filmed for the song, and it featured Mexican model/actor Eduardo Verástegui.
8. Shakira, “Underneath Your Clothes”
Interesting facts: It was the last music video Ritts directed before his death.
The scenes of Shakira passionately hugging her boyfriend were played by her then-real-life boyfriend Antonio de la Rúa.
7. NSYNC, “Gone”
Interesting facts: Filmed in August 2001, the video wasn’t released until late September because of 9/11.
It was an instant hit, becoming NSYNC’s eighth No. 1 video for TRL and MuchMusic. It even played on BET’s 106 & Park, making them the only all-white band to ever get rotation on the show.
The music video was nominated for Video of the Year at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards, but it lost to “Without Me” by Eminem.
6. Michael Jackson, “In the Closet”
Interesting facts: The video was shot in Salton Sea, California, and features Naomi Campbell.
5. Chris Isaak, “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing”
Interesting facts: This video was initially regarded as too steamy by VH1, so two versions aired. The censored version was played before 9 p.m., and the uncensored version was played after 9 p.m.
The video was ranked No. 28 on VH1’s 50 Sexiest Video Moments.
4. Mariah Carey, “My All”
Interesting facts: The video was shot in Puerto Rico. Sandro Botticelli’s painting “The Birth of Venus” inspired the scenes of Mariah lying in the shell and in front of the flowers.
3. Madonna, “Cherish”
Interesting facts: This video was filmed at Paradise Cove Beach in Malibu, California, and featured four male perfomers in the role of mermen, one of them being model Tony Ward (who later become Madonna’s boyfriend), and the other three, water polo players from Pepperdine University.
One of the reasons it was shot in black and white was because the water was very cold, causing Madonna’s already pale complexion to look even whiter.
2. Janet Jackson, “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”
Interesting facts: Janet originally planned to wear a dress for the video, but Ritts envisioned a “sexy Janet” donning nothing more than a black top and a pair of jeans. The video features actors Antonio Sabàto Jr. and Djimon Hounsou.
The video won for Best Female Video and was nominated for Best Choreography and Best Art Direction at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards.
It also ranked No. 13 in Rolling Stone’s “The 100 Top Music Videos,” No. 72 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Videos, and No. 88 on MTV’s 100 Greatest Videos Ever Made.
1. Chris Isaak, “Wicked Game”
Interesting facts: Considered the best and most iconic of all Ritts’ music videos, it was shot in Hawaii and featured supermodel Helena Christensen.
This was actually the second video for the song; the first one was directed by David Lynch for the Wild at Heart soundtrack.
The video won the MTV Video Music Awards for Best Male Video, Best Cinematography, and Best Video from a Film.
It was ranked No. 13 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Videos and No. 4 on VH1’s 50 Sexiest Video Moments. The video was also No. 73 in Rolling Stone’s “The 100 Top Music Videos,” and it made the No. 1 spot on Fuse’s 40 Sexiest Videos in 2010.
Sadly, Ritts died on Dec. 26, 2002, at the age of 50, from complications of HIV-related pneumonia.
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