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Bruce Cox, 86; Photographer's Pictures of Watts Riots Helped Times Win Pulitzer

March 02, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Bruce Cox, whose photographs of floods, fires, civil disturbances and lighter news events appeared in the Los Angeles Times for nearly four decades, has died. He was 86.

Cox, who was a Times photographer from 1946 until 1980 and then an assignment photographer until his retirement in 1983, died Saturday at Huntington Memorial Hospital of cardiac arrest, said his son, Doug. He was hospitalized after injuring his head in a fall Friday night in his San Marino home.

The veteran photographer's stark pictures of National Guard troops interacting with residents during the Watts riots of 1965 helped win a Pulitzer Prize for The Times staff. His 1961 photo titled "Is She" of a distraught mother watching a policeman carry a young girl to an ambulance was named one of the News Pictures of the Year by the National Press Photographer's Assn.

Cox, a native of Clovis, N.M., learned to handle cameras and process film on deadline as a Navy reconnaissance photographer during World War II. Settling in Los Angeles after the war, he earned a degree in business at Woodbury College and then went to work for The Times.

The photographer, along with reporter Ray Hebert, became the story in 1952 when he drove up flooded Benedict Canyon Drive during a January rainstorm. Abandoning Cox's car, they trudged on foot, futilely searching for the perfect flood photo -- of a house that had reportedly washed into the street.

"Slush on," Cox said, according to Hebert's account in Jan. 17, 1952, edition of The Times, even though the two men were wading through silt and mud up to their waists.

They didn't locate the errant house, and both newsmen were knocked end over end by the flood waters, washed as much as 100 feet downhill and badly cut and bruised. To his chagrin, Cox couldn't even photograph the chaotic scene because the film plates used at the time were soaked.

A few years later, Cox set off on what was supposed to be a happier trip by water. That was 1958, the year the Army Corps of Engineers completed the $101.1-million job of lining the 50.9-mile-long Los Angeles River with concrete. Cox and reporter Charles Hillinger were assigned to paddle the length of the river in a rubber boat and record the experience for Times readers.

But five hours into the voyage and only 10 miles down the river -- after Cox fell in up to his neck, the two men had to hike through shallow stretches dragging the rubber boat and then use their shoes to bail out the water that swamped the craft -- they gave up.

They did travel the full length of the river the following day -- in Cox's car.

In addition to his son, Cox is survived by his wife of 46 years, former Times columnist Barbara "Bobby" Cox; two daughters, Kendra Roy and Susan Ehler; and five grandchildren.

At Cox's request, there will be no services.

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