For decades Bill Jones has photographed Hollywood celebrities walking down the red carpet for African American magazines and newspapers.
Now some of those celebrities are planning to roll out their own red carpet for the 78-year-old to thank him for making them look good all these years.
The affair, planned for Nov. 29 at Spago in Beverly Hills, is a fundraiser to help pay for future surgery that Jones requires because of a 1997 attack, organizers say. Jay Z, Will and Jada Smith and Cedric the Entertainer are among the many celebrities who have been invited.
While washing his car, Jones was brutally beaten with a baseball bat by a neighbor in what authorities said was an unprovoked attack. When he emerged from a monthlong coma, skull fractures left him paralyzed on his right side. He was initially unable to walk, and his speech was slow and labored. The assailant was arrested and sentenced to life plus 13 years in prison.
After months of rehabilitative therapy, Jones was able to resume work with Jet, Ebony and Sister 2 Sister magazines and newspapers such as the L.A. Watts Times, the Wave and L.A. Focus. Because of the paralysis, he is unable to clench anything in his right hand and is forced to operate his 35mm cameras left-handed.
"Recovery has been painful," Jones said. "But I never thought my career was over. I walk with a limp now and I can't open my right hand. But I'm still working."
He snapped his first celebrity photo — of Muhammad Ali — in the early 1960s while on duty as a technical sergeant with the Air Force.
The son of a Mansfield, Ohio, home-appliance factory worker, Jones settled in Los Angeles when his 20-year military stint ended in the 1970s. His brother lived here — and this is where the stars are, he figured.
Soon he was chronicling the rise of black actors, actresses and musicians whose careers were beginning to explode on television, in films and on the concert stage: Bill Cosby, Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Quincy Jones, Whitney Houston and Eddie Murphy.
Jones' Midwestern manners made him stand out as he stood next to the red carpet at premieres and other celebrity events.
"It's his demeanor. He is always a gentleman," said longtime friend Ian Foxx, who is also a photographer and filmmaker. "The word 'paparazzi' doesn't apply to Bill. Celebrities know the picture Bill Jones takes will end up in a publication. They know Bill will take care of them. He even sends them copies of the picture. I've got one I'm going to deliver to actress Angela Bassett."
Some stars even insist that Jones have his picture taken with them after he has finished the assignment, according to a friend, Beatrice Fakhrian. She heads the Committee to Celebrate Bill Jones' 50 Years of Photography, which is organizing the fundraiser.
That happened in May after actor-comedian Steve Harvey received his star on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame, she said. Not only did Harvey pose for a photograph with Jones, but so did others including actor and comedian Cedric Kyles, known as Cedric the Entertainer, she said.
Fakhrian said donations of $100 will be sought from those attending the event, which starts at 7 p.m.
In a video that Foxx is preparing before Jones' own stroll down the carpet, black entertainers share recorded thank-yous for the photographer who has been there to commemorate their proudest moments.
"When I showed up on the red carpet, he always made me feel so special," said actress Ella Joyce, who remembers that Jones took the first photo of her to be published in Jet. "That was a big deal for me."
Actor Richard Roundtree considers Jones "a mainstay and a giant in this industry." That sentiment was shared by actor Danny Glover, who noted that performers "gravitate" toward Jones at events.
No red carpet event would be complete without Jones' presence, said actress Holly Robinson Peete. "Thanks for everything he brings to the Hollywood scene," she said.
Jones, who still lives in the South Los Angeles home where he and his late wife, Reva, raised four children, said he has never regretted the hundreds of evenings he spent alongside the red carpet — sometimes forced by younger white photographers to stand at the end of the line.
The house's living room walls are lined with celebrity pictures he has captured. A book, "Hollywood in Black: 40 years of Photographs by Bill Jones," sits on a coffee table.
"My wife didn't like it that I was gone every night," he said. "But she was impressed by the people I photographed."