Artist Peter Beard’s Body Found in Montauk

Peter Beard

After 19 days of searching, Peter Beard’s body was found in the woods of Camp Hero State Park, just one mile from his home off Old Montauk Highway in Montauk on Sunday, April 19. The larger-than-life artist, adventurer, environmentalist and bon vivant, who suffered from dementia, wandered away from his property and vanished on March 31. He was 82 years old.

East Hampton Town Police released a statement on Sunday afternoon, noting, “the remains of an elderly male consistent with the physical and clothing description of Mr. Beard was located in a densely wooded area.” The report would not firmly identify the body as Beard’s and instead said police would wait for verification from the Suffolk County Medical Examiner. But by Sunday evening, Beard’s family, including his wife Nejma and daughter Zara, issued a statement confirming the terrible news.

Peter Beard with giraffes at Hog Ranch in Kenya, 2014
Peter Beard at Hog Ranch in Kenya, 2014, Photo: Zara Beard

It reads:

“We are all heartbroken by the confirmation of our beloved Peter’s death. We want to express our deep gratitude to the East Hampton police and all who aided them in their search, and also to thank the many friends of Peter and our family who have sent messages of love and support during these dark days.

Peter was an extraordinary man who led an exceptional life. He lived life to the fullest; he squeezed every drop out of every day. He was relentless in his passion for nature, unvarnished and unsentimental but utterly authentic always. He was an intrepid explorer, unfailingly generous, charismatic, and discerning. Peter defined what it means to be open: open to new ideas, new encounters, new people, new ways of living and being.

Always insatiably curious, he pursued his passions without restraints and perceived reality through a unique lens. Anyone who spent time in his company was swept up by his enthusiasm and energy. He was a pioneering contemporary artist who was decades ahead of his time in his efforts to sound the alarm about environmental damage. His visual acuity and elemental understanding of the natural environment was fostered by his long stays in the bush and “wild-deer-ness” he loved and defended.

He died where he lived: in nature.

We will miss him every day.”

Artist Peter Beard with his daughter, Zara, a travel companion and subject of many of his works of art, at the opening of his current exhibition at Guild Hall.
Artist Peter Beard with his daughter, Zara, Photo: Daniel Gonzalez

Five hours after sharing the statement on Instagram, Beard’s grieving daughter Zara offered a more personal message on her Instagram account about the man whom she clearly adored and had a special relationship. Beneath pictures of her as a toddler with her father, Zara wrote:

While it is impossible to describe what a loss of this magnitude feels like, today it is safe to say that with the loss of my dad, the world has also lost a little bit of its magic. Although I have received confirmation of his physical death, in my heart and mind he will live on and be loved forever. Thank you so much again to everyone who helped myself and my family in any and every way. Thank you for all the loving messages of support. Your kindness has been an enormous source of strength and it will never ever be forgotten.

“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.” – Rumi

Rest In Peace, my beloved father, Peter Hill Beard- January 22nd 1938–forever. #legendsneverdie

According to The New York Times, Beard’s body was discovered by a hunter who “spotted some clothing” in Montauk’s Camp Hero State Park and called police. He was last seen by his wife Nejma at about 4:40 p.m. on Tuesday, March 31 and a massive search effort was quickly mounted by the East Hampton Town Police Department with help from the Montauk Fire Department, NY State Park Police, a Suffolk County Police helicopter, state police K-9 units, a drone, and numerous volunteers.

"Boulder-dash" by Peter Beard, Courtesy Guild Hall
“Boulder-dash” by Peter Beard, Courtesy Guild Hall

Beard will be remembered for his photography of African animals and people, which he collaged into large, mixed-media works of art, often painted with large swaths of blood, layered with paper detritus and ephemera he gathered from his life, and peppered with ink text in his small, cursive handwriting.

He wrote numerous books, including his famous 1988 tome The End of the Game, about African wildlife, especially the plight of the African elephant, and Zara’s Tales: Perilous Escapades in Equatorial Africa (2004), a book of stories as told to his then young daughter. He also kept a home, Hog Ranch, in Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa.

Artist Peter Beard and his brother, Anson, reminisce over a large collage of images from the years spent in Montauk.
Peter Beard and his brother, Anson reminisce over his Montauk collage, Photo: Daniel Gonzalez

Along with his unforgettable art, Beard will be remembered for the way he lived. Usually barefoot, his hard-charging lifestyle and Hemingway-like bravado is the stuff of legend. He was, until late in his life, known to party at all hours and keep company with a wide range of beautiful women and interesting characters, including Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, painter Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, Truman Capote, supermodel Iman (who he discovered in Africa), Brigitte Bardot, Karen Blixen, Pablo Picasso, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Grace Jones, Candice Bergen and his second wife Cheryl Tiegs, to name a scant few. Yet he was also authentically magnanimous and welcoming to fans and strangers who found him at home or looked him up in Montauk for a visit to his home atop the bluffs.

Peter Beard and Lou Reed
Peter Beard and Lou Reed, Photo: ©PATRICKMCMULLAN.COM

Beard was one of a kind, and among the last of his breed — men of adventure unfettered by the modern confines of computers, smartphones and social media—and unswayed by the rules so many choose to follow without question. And through all his perfect imperfection, he clearly also managed to capture the love and admiration of his family and friends.

As his daughter Zara so astutely put it, without Peter Beard, the world has indeed lost a little bit of its magic.

Peter Beard on the move
Peter Beard, always barefoot, Photo: ©PATRICKMCMULLAN.COM

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