March 01, 2007
For the record, he died twenty years ago this month and I went to his funeral as stoned as most of his entourage. Bianca Jagger made a ridiculously theatrical entrance, as did Cornelia Guest, the deb of the decade as the tabloid had dubbed her, the latter bursting into tears as soon as she approached the waiting cameras. Everyone who was anyone among the freaks and groupies of the period was present. The service was in St Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, and many of us had stayed up through the night drinking and smoking exotic cheroots. Mind you, as far as I was concerned, Andy Warhol was hardly a friend, and the only reason I got wrecked was because there were some awfully cute young groupies who were upset at his sudden death so I thought I’d stick around and give them moral support. The party following the service was a real gas, to use long ago parlance. The freaks were openly injecting drugs or taking cocaine, others were being sick all over the floor, and some gays were feeling each other up for the rest of us to admire. In other words, it was a typical Warhol party. Too bad he wasn’t around to enjoy it.
Andy Warhol was a unique American phenomenon. When his infamous diaries came out—the first best-seller purposely without an index, so fame groupies could not read about themselves in the bookstore and then not buy the opus—I was surprised to find myself mentioned almost as many times as some minor celebrities. Warhol knew more about what was going on in nightclubs than we knew about ourselves because he didn’t drink or take drugs. He also did not look for sex. It was simply always on his mind. He sat for hours at a time in Studio 54 and simply observed. He had absolutely no conversation whatsoever except for “Gee” and “Wow.” He once threw a dinner for me when I featured in his Interview magazine with a portrait by Bruce Weber of yours truly (one which made me look like a film star) entitled “A terrorist among the rich,” in the trendy Nicolas restaurant in New York’s Upper East Side. I sat next to him without exchanging words. Out of the blue he told me that I should sleep with actress Elizabeth Ashley, someone I had never met. “She really digs you, she’s always calling me asking about you,” he whispered conspiratorially.
Now I am not the naive type, but I fell for it. When I asked my friend Bob Colacello, the Vanity Fair writer who then worked exclusively for Andy’s Interview magazine, I got the bad news. “Andy likes to get people involved,” said Bob. “Apparently Elizabeth is angry about your conservative politics.” It was vintage Andy. Twenty years later, he has never been bigger. The filmmaker Ric Burns has done a two part documentary about him, a giant book of his art has just been published by Phaidon, and Factory Girl, a movie about the doomed Warhol “star” Edie Sedgwick, who died from an overdose at 28, has just come out as a major motion picture.
“Gee whiz,” as Andy would say, “who would have guessed it?” I always thought his art was pure crap, a rubbishy gimmick, but time has proved me completely wrong, as far as commercial value is concerned. One afternoon, Andy’s minion Fred Hughes rang up to invite me to dinner with Bianca Jagger and artist Cy Twombly at “the world’s most expensive restaurant,” in Fred’s words. I was keen on a young Barbara Allen at the time, who was also going, so I agreed. Andy never touched his food, sipped some mineral water, and never opened his mouth. I got totally wasted and paid the bill when I realised that no one else was going to make a move. Warhol thought it hilarious. Somehow he also managed to write in his diaries exactly what followed. Barbara locked me out from her apartment, and when I broke down the door thinking she was inside with another man, I found her fast asleep, having taken a Quaalude fit to numb the Minotaur. Andy’s diary made it seem much funnier than it was. Both Barbara and I swear to this day we never talked to him about it.
Andy was an idiot savant type. Money was all he cared for, and it came to him effortlessly while he courted celebrities and the rich. He was cold and ruthless yet gave the impression of great vulnerability, the great enabler, the impotent celebrity who made it on sex appeal—or sex repeal, as I called it. He played the primitive in a sophisticated age, and he did not have to try hard at playing it. He was quite primitive to begin with. His 1976 interview of another tiny terror, Truman Capote—a man who hated the truth more than Bill Clinton—made Interview magazine, a publication in whose masthead as a columnist I was proud to be the only heterosexual. Fred Hughes, president of the magazine, and Bob Colacello, its star writer, had a lot of laughs about that.
I hated the freaks and the druggies, but looking back Andy was an original, however phony his originality. His fame will grow and grow as we become more and more Warholesque in our admiration of the cheap and glitzy.