Photo by Stephen Shore.
Donald Lyons: "I think you just wanna be the person who gets the moon."
Edie: "I'm already half there... and I didn't choose it either."
Edie Sedgwick was a sixties style icon. Consort to Andy Warhol, muse to Bob Dylan, she was also heiress to a vast fortune. I admire her because she effortlessly unlocked people; she made things crack and buzz around her. "She gave to me the impression of being born just before we met her, and a raging, furious desire to assimilate as much of life as she could." She died aged 28.
Despite been born to a mother whose family drew it's great wealth from the Great American Railroad, Edie Sedgwick possessed a remarkable ability to rumble secret drug stashes:
"I went over to my bottle of Phenobarbital, and it was empty. There was a piece of paper in it, and I pulled it out, and it said,'Love Edie.' Most people would ... just take the drugs and pretend like they didn't do it. Edie left an IOU."
New York in the mid-to-late sixties was a dazzling space port, a prototype of the future. Edie's odyssey began in 1964 with an Upper East Side apartment and an $80,000 trust fund from her maternal grandmother. Trying out for acting and modeling gigs, she entered a rarified stratosphere of artists, entertainers, and others who - for whatever reason - had chosen not to follow,"the plan."
"She showed me an after-hours boot-legger where you could get Chateau Marmont... She knew where to get caviar. She knew where to get the most expensive anything after hours."
Photo by Bob Adelman. Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick at a party.
Around this time, the great American artist Andy Warhol had formed a fiefdom of his own. His Silver Factory had an open door. Runaways mingled with bankers, movie stars sat with heads of state. Perhaps it was inevitable that Edie, on her journey through New York's underground of talent would eventually encounter the silver-haired artist.
The close relationship between Andy and Edie caught many people's imagination. Edie was very much the "creature" of Andy. Indeed, as one associate put it,"Edie and Andy were into this kind of Bobbsey-twin alter-ego thing." At one party they,"came in identical short white-blond haircuts and as much of the same gear as possible." Photos from that occasion show them in matching black and white striped shirts. Warhol later wrote: "One person in the sixties fascinated me more than anybody I had ever known. And the fascination I experienced was probably very close to a certain kind of love."
Edie's close association with Warhol resulted in eighteen films and countless audio tapes. Photographers including Jerry Schatzberg - famous for his pictures of Bob Dylan - took pictures of her. She was the girl of the moment, the "girl on fire." And when she accidently set fire to her apartment in October 1966, her dramatic rescue was front page news. Indeed, the afternoon before the flames, Edie had received a visit from the singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. He took one look at the arrangement of candles on the floor and pronounced,"This woman is in great danger."
Upon returning home to California for Christmas, Edie was committed to a psychiatric ward by her parents.
For some time now, Edie's father had been pushing to lock her up. Reports of Edie's drug taking had filtered through. She had burned through her trust fund at an alarming rate, racking up debts at expensive restaurants and buying expensive jewelry: "To Edie, money was like play money. She would blithely spend $500 for a set of false eyelashes at Bonavita, and she would be equally blithe spending $500 of her money (well, her father's money) for a luncheon party at the Ritz."
Fortunately for Edie, Rob Neuwirth - musician, painter and close friend of Bob Dylan - intervened and managed to save her from the hospital. Although Edie had indulged in a short yet intense romantic flirtation with Dylan - reportedly inspiring songs such as "Just Like a Woman", "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" and even, according to some,"Like a Rolling Stone" - it was Neuwirth who was her first, true love.
By early 1967 though, they were drifting apart and Rob ended the relationship. "The only real true and passionate and lasting love scene," Edie once recalled,"ended in - practically in - the pyschopathic ward." As Donald Lyons, close friend and Harvard classics scholar reflected,"I had a life, I had a career - we all did - and so didn't have time to be with her at all times... She stayed on the high plane; the rest of us ascended there. Life on the high plane left her finally abandoned."
Photo by John Palmer. New York scene from "Ciao! Manhattan."
Edie was injecting heroin. In an effort to come off heroin she turned to speed. She was addicted to barbiturates. Her funds now dry, pricked by the sense her moment was rapidly passing, Edie launched herself into,"Ciao! Manhattan" - the world's first "above-ground/underground" movie. There was no script - scenes were fashioned and improvised from the fabric of Edie's own life: "The whole place turned into a gigantic orgy, every kind of sex freak, from homosexuals to nymphomaniacs, especially the needle and mainlining scene, losing syringes down the pool drains and blocking up the water infiltration system..."
The film ran out of funding and was never completed.
By the time her mum brought Edie back to their Isla Vista ranch in California, the troubled girl's life had become a carousel of hospital admissions and escapes. During her internment in Cottage Hospital psychiatric ward, Edie met future husband Michael Prost. To the surprise of many, they married on July 21st 1971. Although those around Edie sometimes heard her talk about having kids, she was still wary of conforming to some "mold." She wanted a second chance at fame.
The night of Edie's death ended like so many others. The relationship between Edie and Michael was fractious. After attending the filming of "An American Family" with her husband, their union once again seemed doomed. Her restless ambition did not fit married life. For Michael this was just another argument before bedtime. Besides, he had a French class the next morning. He simply rolled over and went to sleep.
Years later Michael would recall the horror of the following morning: "[I] held her nose, breathed into her mouth. It was like getting lockjaw, and instantly in my nostrils the smell of death." Edie had suffocated during the night, face down on her pillow. The coroner recorded a verdict of "unknown/accidental/suicide."
The brief, bright lives of those who die young and stay pretty naturally lend themselves to mythology. The passage of time is an effective editor; as the decades pass, only the most dazzling memories tend to live. The "Edie Sedgwick" people recognize in films, photos and books is not the same girl who grew up on a Californian ranch and drew horses. She is a collective hallucination, a larger-than-life acid trip; one that began in the sixties and never stopped. What's remarkable is how a lonely girl from Isla Vista left such an impression on all those who encountered her.
Edie suggested to her friends that her grand performance was not one that would be captured on celluloid. Nor would it be written on the pages of a book or painted on a canvas. She considered her whole life a piece of performance art, her artistic legacy.
Photo by Gianni Penati.