Neil Leifer is a photographer and filmmaker known mainly for his work in the Time Inc. family of magazines. As a boy in New York City, Leifer would gain free admission to New York Giants games by pushing the wheelchairs of handicapped patrons into the stadium. Using his free ticket and a camera, he would then position himself on the field with the photographers. Leifer gained free admission to the 1958 NFL title game between the Giants and Baltimore Colts. This game became famous as the first overtime game in league history. Leifer, on his sixteenth birthday, caught several images of the game winning touchdown which he sold to Sports Illustrated. Sports Illustrated’s editors liked Leifer’s work and he quickly became a boy wonder at the magazine. He had his first cover shot in 1962 at age 19. Leifer studied photography at Henry Street Settlement as a youth.
Leifer was also known for taking risks. For the 1966 heavyweight title fight between Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali, he placed a camera in the rafters of the Houston Astrodome in order to get a shot of the canvas when the victor knocked out his competition. His shot of Ali standing over a defeated Williams has been seen by millions.
A year earlier, Leifer was one of the only two photographers with color film in his camera when Ali knocked out Sonny Liston in Lewiston, Maine, and his image of the moment has become not just one of his most famous photos, but one of the most memorable sports photos of all time – seen by many as the greatest sports photograph in history.
Another demanding technique, Leifer frequently used strip photography in the 1970s for athletes including Gaylord Perry and Billy Kidd, and for sports such as IndyCar racing.
Leifer photographed seven Olympic Games for the magazine and is best known for having followed Muhammad Ali’s career from beginning to end. 170 of his pictures have been published on the cover of Sports Illustrated.