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2/26/2011

03:12 AM PST

Playboy Photographer Ken Honey Dies

--on the web

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Vancouver - from www.vancouversun.com - Ken Honey had what many men would consider a dream job - photographing beautiful women, nude, for Playboy magazine.

The North Vancouver photographer was never on staff, but did fairly well as a freelancer. Among the Playmates he discovered were Pamela Anderson, Dorothy Stratten, and Kim Conrad, who became Hugh Hefner's wife.

Honey passed away Thursday, just shy of his 87th birthday. He had disappeared from the public eye in recent years after suffering a stroke and being hospitalized at Evergreen House, a long term care facility in North Vancouver.

But in his day he was a fixture around town, and on Wreck Beach, where he would head with his Hasselblad on sunny days in search of models.

Kenneth Frederick Honey was born on March 2, 1924 in Winnipeg. His parents weren't married, so he kept his mother's name, and was raised by her and his grandmother.

When he was 17 he joined the air force, where he served as a tailgunner on a Halifax bomber during the Second World War.

"He was shot twice," relates his friend Margie Goodman. "He flew back from one mission without a canopy. But he never came home, he did his missions."

Honey had married before he left Winnipeg, but it ended when he returned from overseas.

"He was brokenhearted, so he moved out west," said Goodman.

He did a stint selling cars at Bowell MacLean (Bow Mac) when Jimmy Pattison was the sales manager, then tried his hand as a stockbroker. But his real forte was taking photos, and he became a commercial photographer.

Goodman and her late husband Milton hired Honey to take their wedding pictures 45 years ago, one of hundreds of weddings he shot. The couple ran Goodman photo studios and became good friends with Honey, often letting him use their house on the Deep Cove waterfront for photo sessions.

"My neighbours could probably tell you some crazy stories, I'll tell ya," laughs Goodman.

One legendary session involved a young woman bouncing up and down on a trampoline the Goodmans installed in their backyard for their kids.

"I was not here, we had gone away on our boat," recalls Goodman.

"I heard [a neighbour] say 'Oh my God!' He was [looking] over the fence three doors over."

But Goodman said there wasn't any shenanigans involved in Honey's photo shoots.

"The reason he got all these girls to take their clothes off was that he was such a gentleman," she said. "He could just talk."

His first Playboy shoot was Pamela Gordon in 1962, the first Canadian to appear in Playboy. He would eventually shoot 13 Playmates.

"He'd put his camera on and his bathing suit and go to Wreck Beach, and I guess take his clothes off and find local talent," said Goodman.

"But a lot of the girls found him. Once he got popular, they'd phone him to get pictures."

Honey was known as the Playboy photographer, but paid the bills doing regular commercial jobs, such as shooting weddings or doing product shots for lumber companies.

"He did lots of pictures of entertainment people, like the Supremes," said Goodman. "He took pictures at The Cave and the cabarets."

Technically, Goodman said Honey was a master.

"He primarily used available light with reflectors," she said.

"He was a master of light and body position. He was absolutely incredible. It's a shame he didn't teach what he knew; he was an absolute talent."

Goodman has been going through his prints and negatives - "thousands of negatives." She picked out a picture of Honey with one of his most stunning subjects, Willy Rey, for his obituary. It shows him in one of his favourite poses, with a young beauty draped all over him.

"He would have the girl's hands covering over his bald head in the front, and have the girl behind, bending over," said Goodman. "He had it all figured out. Many beautiful women put their hands across Ken's forehead, trust me."

Rey was one of two tragic figures Honey photographed: she died of an overdose of prescription pills in 1973, when she was only 23. The other tragedy was Dorothy Stratten, a Playmate of the Year who was killed by her estranged husband in a murder-suicide seven years after Rey's death.

Honey had tragedy in his personal life, as well. In 2006, his longtime companion Joyce Brown died in his arms. He then suffered a stroke, from which he never fully recovered.

"She was dead in his arms for 10 days at their house, and nobody knew it," said Goodman. "He'd had a stroke. It was just awful."

He lived out the rest of his life at Evergreen House, where Goodman said he was quite happy.

"He didn't suffer," she said. "They kept him very comfortable, he was very pampered."

Towards the end Goodman located Honey's step-brother in Winnipeg. They hadn't talked in 30 years, and John Honey didn't even know that his brother Ken was a photographer, let alone a Playboy photographer.

"His brother found pictures of his dad," said Goodman.

"He was never allowed to see his dad after he was quite young. I took them up to him and said 'Ken I have pictures of your dad.'

"He looked at the pictures and said 'My dad. My dad.' And that was the last thing that he said, 'My dad. My dad.'"

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