As the late Joe O'Donnell has demonstrated, there's no reason you can't be a famous photographer. You don't even need to have taken any famous pictures.
Except if, by "taken," you mean "stolen."
O'Donnell, as you may have read in Marianne Fulton's article on The Digital Journalist, is a "photographer" who evidently made himself famous by claiming other photographers' work as his own. He also claimed to have been a White House photographer when he wasn't, and to have been covering presidents at a time when he was actually 14 years old.
How good was the scam? Good enough to fool Katie Couric of CBS, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Fox News, The Tennessean, American Photo, and many other reputable news outlets, which all fell for the fake story. (The Tennessean may have originated it.) Most reported, in O'Donnell's obituary, that he had taken the famous picture of John-John Kennedy saluting his slain father's caisson passing. Except that he didn't. That one was taken by Stanley Stearns.
(It's an interesting story, too—Marianne Fulton tells it.)
What will be interesting to watch from here is whether, when, and in what way these various news outlets retract, correct, or otherwise make up for their erroneous reporting.
UPDATE from Stephen Gilbert: "Editor and Publisher has a piece on the O'Donnell story, with a response from his son."
From Mike: I heard from the reporter who wrote the O'Donnell obit in The Tennessean, Jonathan Marx, after contacting him asking for a comment on the record. He responded that he's on deadline and hasn't yet "been able to get to the bottom of all of it." He says, "Because we know that Mr. O'Donnell was in fact a photographer for the U.S. Information Agency and he did photograph on official business at the White House, it would appear that some of the images credit[ed] to him are his. What we don't know is how and why other images were credited to him."
I asked him where he got his information in the first place, since his article preceded the article in The New York Times (a fact Marianne Fulton perhaps missed?). Of course that's a relatively silly request, since he's under no obligation to tell me what his sources were. So I asked him whether there will be a follow-up article in The Tennessean about the matter. I'll let you know what he says.