John Berkey (August 13, 1932 – April 29, 2008) was a science fiction illustrator. He was born in the U.S. state of North Dakota; he moved to Minnesota at a young age and spent his entire life there, leaving it only rarely. He attended the Minneapolis school of Art after graduating high school, in 1950. Afterwards, he worked for three studios during the next six years before landing a job at the advertising agency of Brown & Bigelow in St. Paul. During his eight year tenure there, he produced calendar illustrations, most of them historical scenes of the American West - settlers, ranching, trains.
In the (mid?) 1960s, Mr. Berkey was commissioned by NASA to do illustrations of the astronaut corps and the U.S. space program, as part of the public relations effort to support the Apollo Project. His art caught the eye of commercial science fiction industry folks, and he was off. One of his most famous pieces is a movie promotional poster for the original Star Wars (Episode 4, or A New Hope in Lucas-speak). It's not the main one, with Luke holding aloft his lightsaber, but the one depicting the enormous starfighter battle around the Death Star, known as the 'Battle of Yavin' poster. It gets better than that - he is credited with selling George Lucas the painting which inspired the Death Star itself, despite not being a sci-fi fan himself. He never saw Star Wars.
He went on to do more sci-fi art, including the movie posters for The Towering Inferno, Meteor, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and King Kong. He went on to do an enormous number of very influential sci-fi book covers, along with a number of interior art pieces. Some notables include the paperback cover of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot; the paperback cover of Robert A. Heinlein's Starman Jones, and a whole list of some of my favorite sci-fi of the period.
He was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2004; he passed away in 2008 at the age of 75. He is survived by his wife, Damaris (Demi) and his sons Brian, Kevin and John.
A personal footnote - one of my earliest favorite science fiction paperbacks was a collection edited by Jerry Pournelle named 2020 Vision. I never forgot the spacecraft scene on the cover of that book, a John Berkey special - and in 2015, while putting together my first science fiction story collection to self-publish on Amazon, I was fortunate enough to make contact with Demi, John's wife - and she agreed to license one of his paintings to me for use on the cover. It is a collection of the E2 category Spacelore, and will be available on Amazon Kindle, initially, sometime in November 2015.
For a list of John Berkey's professional credits in the sci-fi realm, see here. John's estate's site for his art can be found at johnberkey.com. Also, a fan site with a huge number of his works can be found at johnberkeyart.com.