Staked out Feb. 14, 1992 with other photographers and reporters outside Jose Canseco’s Miami home, the day after the athlete had been arrested for ramming his estranged wife’s car, photographer Bill Cooke perused a copy of the New York Post that someone happened to have. A short gossip item mentioned that Madonna was in Miami as well to shoot a book about her “sexual fantasies.”
That led Cooke, who passed away over the weekend at age 70, to his biggest freelance score. The following day, he searched in the morning for Madonna in Miami Beach and came up empty-handed. He decided to take the afternoon off and head to the beach in Key Biscane.
On his way there, he spotted a hand-written sign inscribed with ‘Crew’ and an arrow. He followed the point down to a waterfront home on Brickell Ave. and stumbled upon Madonna, topless, working with photographer Steven Meisel and crew.
Cooke took eight quick shots of Madonna from the bushes, using a 300mm telephoto lens. On his blog in 2008, here’s how he described what followed. It’s a reminder of how much longer it used to take this kind of material to circulate:
I get the pictures and hurry to a one-hour lab to get them processed. I call my agency in New York and they tell me to FedEx the film that night.
I have the first photographic evidence of Madonna’s new book SEX that won’t be released for another 8 months.
My film arrives in New York. The next day my agency scrambles to make prints and by that night they are on a Concorde to all of the European photo agencies.
In a book published around the same time as that 2008 blog post, Timothy O’Grady’s Divine Magnetic Lands, Cooke told the author that thanks to the Madonna photo revenues, he “didn’t have to work for two years.” Cooke, a Vietnam veteran, grew into something of a Miami journalism legend. From friend and colleague Chuck Strouse’s piece in the Miami New Times:
Bill became the best reporter at the Miami Herald. He got the management memos before many of the reporters. And he was proud of his scoops. He once had a column called “Mindy Watch,” chronicling what he saw as missteps by Herald executive editor Mindy Marques-Gonzalez. He gave publisher Alexandra Villoch crap when the Herald reported heavily on several murders by her house.