When Andy Warhol met Edie Sedgwick

When Andy Warhol met Edie Sedgwick, he was an avant-garde movie director and artist at the height of his fame, while she was an actress and model on the verge of superstardom.

Warhol was 37 and Sedgwick was 22, but despite the age difference, they felt a strong bond and subsequently helped each other’s careers to flourish.

They met in March 1965, at a party thrown for legendary playwright Tennessee Williams at the New York apartment of Lester Persky, the famous film, TV and theatre producer. Warhol was struck by Sedgwick’s beauty and from that moment onwards, she became his muse, going on to star in 10 of his films.

© Jack Mitchell / CC-BY-SA-All

The friendship benefited Warhol too, as his movies (part of the pop art sub-culture) had so far been considered too avant-garde to enjoy mainstream success, but as international media interest in Sedgwick grew, so did interest in Warhol’s films.

Warhol’s early years
Warhol was a living legend by the mid-1960s. Born in Pittsburgh, in August 1928, into a working-class family, his father was a coal miner, but Warhol had no intention of following in his footsteps.

While at school, the youngster was confined to bed, following a bout of Sydenham’s chorea – a complication of scarlet fever. This period shaped his life, as he drew, collected pictures of movie stars and listened to the radio while recuperating.

After graduating high sSchool in 1945, he won a Scholastic Art and Writing Award. Initially, he aspired to become an art teacher, but instead he enrolled in the Carnegie Institute of Technology, in Pittsburgh, to study commercial art. He completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts in pictorial design and launched his career in magazine illustration and advertising.

He began exhibiting his private art work during the 1950s, initially at the Bodley Gallery and the Hugo Gallery, in New York. During the 1960s, he started his most iconic paintings, of famous subjects such as Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley. He also painted inanimate objects, including Campbell’s Soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles.

He founded his studio, The Factory, on East 47th Street, Manhattan, in the 1960s. His work became both controversial and popular and he attracted a wide range of artists, musicians, writers and underground celebrities around him.

Sedgwick’s background
Born in Santa Barbara, California, in April 1943, Sedgwick was the seventh of eight children born to ranchers Francis and Alice Sedgwick. Her father was also a sculptor and the family had wealth and social status. Their ancestors had attended Harvard University and had become writers, politicians and lawyers.

Despite this, the youngster didn’t have a happy childhood. The family had a history of depression and her father was described as controlling. He was a great sculptor, but was said to have bipolar disorder, which affected his relationship with his children.

The youngsters were home-schooled and raised by nannies. Their father was said to be remote and abusive. It was claimed that when young Edie found out about one of his numerous mistresses, he slapped her, said she’d imagined it and got the doctor to give her tranquilisers.

She grew up with an eating disorder as a result of her childhood. She began boarding at the Branson School (a high school in Ross, California) but had to leave due to her illness. By 1958, she was diagnosed as having anorexia.

She went on to attend Radcliffe, a women’s college at Harvard, but she was insecure and began to enjoy a party lifestyle, hanging out with an elite bohemian group of friends on the university social scene.

In 1963, she became an art student in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but couldn’t escape family tragedy – two of her brothers committed suicide. When she was 21, she decided to become a model and started a new life in New York.

Her waif-like good looks made her an instant hit and by 1965, she was voted Vanity Fair’s Girl of the Year. Although she enjoyed the party lifestyle, she wanted more and was determined to rise to the top of her profession.

Momentous meeting
On the night when she met Warhol, Sedgwick looked “beautiful”, according to Persky. He recalled how Warhol sucked in his breath in awe and was mesmerised by the bright young model, who instantly became his muse. She was known as an “it girl” – the 1960s forerunner of today’s “celebs”. She fitted into his bohemian crowd right away.

He invited her to the Factory and gave her a non-speaking role in the film he was making at the time, Vinyl. Although her total screen time was only around five minutes, she made a big impact with her screen presence. She even dyed her hair white-blonde to match Warhol’s iconic look.

He cast her as the leading lady in 10 films and it wasn’t long before everyone knew who Sedgwick was. Her unique look of short hair, dark smoky eye make-up, black leotards, mini-skirts and black stockings was instantly recognisable and copied by many young girls.

She saw Warhol as a father figure, who replaced her own estranged father. Both of their careers advanced as a result of their liaison, as Warhol’s films gained more mainstream popularity, rather than just having an underground following, while Sedgwick won the fame that she craved.

Sadly, Sedgwick’s life was cut tragically short, when she died at the age of 28, in November 1971, from an overdose of barbiturates. Earlier, she had spent time in a psychiatric hospital, after having suffered with mental health issues. The coroner was unable to determine if her death was accidental, or suicide. Although she lost her life at such a young age, her legacy lives on and her iconic image is still as recognisable today as it was 50 years ago.

Warhol died in February 1987, at the age of 58, when complications set in following gall bladder surgery in New York. He left behind some of the most iconic artwork in the world.

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