Photographer Michel du Cille, graduate of Ohio University's journalism master's program and a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, has died after likely suffering a heart attack while on assignment for The Washington Post in Liberia.
He was returning from a village where he had been working to document West Africa's Ebola outbreak when he collapsed, The Washington Post reported Thursday evening. Du Cille, 58, was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital two hours away from where he fell.
A spokesperson from Washington Post has clarified that du Cille's death was not related to the Ebola virus.
Du Cille's celebrated work earned him three Pulitzer Prizes, two while photographing for the Miami Herald – covering the Nevado del Ruiz volcano eruption in Colombia (1986) and for a photo essay on a Miami housing project overwhelmed by crack cocaine (1988) – and one while at The Washington Post – investigating the mistreatment of veterans at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. (2008).
Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, said in an article about du Cille that he was fiercely committed to telling the stories of Ebola patients and their caretakers in Liberia.
"He was completely devoted to the story of Ebola, and he was determined to stay on the story despite its risks," Baron said. "That is the sort of courage and passion he displayed throughout his career."
Gene Weingarten, who was du Cille's editor at Miami Herald's Sunday magazine, Tropic, when his 1988 prize-winning piece was published, confirmed du Cille's selfless work ethic on Friday.
The photo essay documented "the decay and subsequent rehabilitation of a housing project overrun by the drug crack," a story that was dangerous to report. Du Cille visited the housing development more than once before he ever took a photograph.
"He had been visiting the place as just himself, to establish a rapport with the people, so they would feel comfortable with him once he returned with his camera," Weingarten recalled. "Part of it was, of course, pragmatic. Michel was a pro. But part was just deeply human. He didn't want to be a ghoul."
Du Cille's personal touch was evident in all of his work, and he frequently attended journalism workshops and events at universities around the country, including OU.
Kate Hiller, an OU junior studying journalism and Spanish, met du Cille after his presentation at the Schuneman Symposium at the university last year.
"He talked about the power of photography (at the event), and during his presentation had everyone just stay quiet and look at the images he was showing on the screen… I know that he was a hardworking individual who wouldn't stop until the story was done," Hiller said.
Hiller added, "I will remember Michel not only for his three Pulitzer Prizes, but for some of the images he has created over the years."
Concerning du Cille's essay on the housing development, Weingarten said, "It was one of the finest packages I ever had the privilege to publish in Tropic."