American photographer William P. Gottlieb was responsible for some of the most famous portraits of the golden age of jazz.
According to him, Billie Holiday was at her musical and physical peak when he took this picture in 1947, which is considered the most widely used jazz photo of all time. Ironically, that was because she spent the previous year in a federal reformatory for possession of drugs.
Holiday lost weight in prison and her voice bloomed because she stopped drinking and doing drugs. After her release she couldn’t work in nightclubs because of her criminal record, but some supporters organized a sold-out show at the Carnegie Hall that helped her get on her feet.
After a while she returned to nightclubs (Gottlieb took the now famous picture in one of them) but success did little to stop her self-destructing ways. Soon, Holiday returned to her old habits and she began to show up late, if at all, for her shows.
The last time Gottlieb saw her was at one of those shows in which she was MIA. He went backstage and found her half-naked, drunk, and high in the dressing room. He helped her get dressed and walked her to the microphone. She looked horrible and sang the same way.
Gottlieb, who went to the show to take pictures of Holiday, put a cap on the lens of his camera and walked away. He later wrote that he did it to keep the memory of this extraordinary woman as she was at the peak of her life.