British photographer Terry O'Neill, whose images captured London's Swinging '60s and who created iconic portraits of Elton John, Brigitte Bardot and Winston Churchill, has died at age 81.

O'Neill died Saturday at his home in London following a long battle with cancer, according to Iconic Images, the agency that represented O'Neill.

"Terry was a class act, quick witted and filled with charm," the agency said in a statement posted to its website. "Anyone who was lucky enough to know or work with him can attest to his generosity and modesty. As one of the most iconic photographers of the last 60 years, his legendary pictures will forever remain imprinted in our memories as well as in our hearts and minds."

Born in London in 1938, O'Neill was working as a photographer for an airline at Heathrow Airport when he snapped a picture of a well-dressed man sleeping on a bench. The man turned out to be the British home secretary, and O'Neill was hired by a London newspaper.

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In the early 1960s he photographed the Beatles during the recording of their first hit single, and he captured the image of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill clutching a cigar as he was carried to an ambulance after a 1962 hospital stay.

A man views photographs of footballers by Terry O'Neill are seen on display at the Strike A Pose: 50 Years of Football & Fashion at the National Football Museum in Manchester. Photo / AP
A man views photographs of footballers by Terry O'Neill are seen on display at the Strike A Pose: 50 Years of Football & Fashion at the National Football Museum in Manchester. Photo / AP

O'Neill later said that when photographing the Beatles he placed John Lennon in the foreground because he thought that "it was obvious John was the one with the personality."

Soon O'Neill was photographing the hottest stars of the mid and late '60s: Bardot, Raquel Welch, Michael Caine, Steve McQueen, Diana Ross and Audrey Hepburn.

He photographed many other big names over the course of a career that spanned decades, including model Kate Moss, Queen Elizabeth II, singers David Bowie and Amy Winehouse and former first lady Laura Bush.

O'Neill's photos of Elton John remain among his most recognizable. One shows the singer, exuberant and sparkling in a sequined baseball uniform, with an audience of thousands in the background.

"He was brilliant, funny and I absolutely loved his company," John tweeted Sunday.

- AP