Former UPI photographer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Don Rypka dies at 73

Former UPI photographer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Don Rypka has died at the age of 73. Photo courtesy of Don Rypka
1 of 2 | Former UPI photographer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Don Rypka has died at the age of 73. Photo courtesy of Don Rypka

Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Award-winning photographer and former UPI photojournalist Don Rypka, perhaps best known as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for capturing the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, has died at the age of 73 in Tucumán in northwest Argentina.

The Argentine Association of Graphic Reporters confirmed Rypka's death, as did his partner Emilse Neme. There were no details on when he died.


"We express our condolences to his family, colleagues, and friends," the association said in an emailed statement.

Neme, a fellow photographer and also Rypka's editor at Sudacaphotos, posted a black and white photo in tribute Tuesday.

The veteran photographer with United Press International went on to spend more than two decades working in Argentina, first arriving in 1982 to cover the Falklands War and falling in love with the country he would come to call home.

Before that, though, Rypka was in Washington, D.C., working as a White House correspondent for UPI on March 30, 1981, just weeks after then-President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated at the age of 69.

As Reagan was leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel that day, a cluster of gunshots rang out, sending the crowd of onlookers scurrying in a panic. One of the six .22-caliber bullets fired by John Hinckley Jr. ricocheted, hitting the president in the side and breaking a rib.

"It was a scene that had lasted no more than 20 or 30 seconds after Reagan left the Washington Hilton Hotel ... but it seemed to transpire in slow motion," UPI reporter Dean Reynolds said at the time.

But that was enough time for Rypka, who captured much of the event on film before dashing to the closest pay phone and yanking it away from a shocked pharmacy customer.

At first, the UPI editor who answered the phone didn't believe what he was hearing from Rypka and flatly told him he was a day early for an April Fool's joke.


But the black and white images of Secret Service agents pinning Hinkley to the sidewalk, while also tending to wounded press secretary James Brady and injured police officer Thomas Delahanty, live on to this day.

Rypka's dramatic photos made him a finalist for the 1982 Pulitzer Prize.

Colleagues who worked with him at the daily Argentina newspaper La Nación jokingly said they would give Rypka a failing grade for his diplomacy skills but could not bestow enough praise on him for both his skills as a photographer and his ethics as a front-line correspondent.

He is credited with "modernizing" the photo department at La Nación in the 1990s. In 2019, the 153-year-old publication was named the World's Best Designed Newspaper by the Society For News Design, sharing the honor with The Sunday Times and The New York Times.

During his time in Argentina, Rypka would cover the 1989 attack on the La Tablada barracks in Buenos Aires by members of the Movimiento Todos por la Patria, a guerilla group. His photos of the assault on the military barracks taken for the news agency Datos y Noticias were splashed across the country after 39 people were killed and another 60 injured before the Argentinian military regained control.


A veteran of the Vietnam War, Rypka was internationally known before embedding in Argentina, where he also worked as deputy director for the Americas at the Agence France-Presse.

Former UPI photographer Don Rypka's images in Washington

Queen Elizabeth II deadpans a crack about California's abominable weather that delights President Ronald Reagan during the queen's brief address at a state dinner on March 3, 1983 at San Francisco's Young Museum. Photo by Don Rypka/UPI | License Photo

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