Happy Birthday, Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol would have been 81 today. His unfortunate death was blamed by many on a nurse reading a Bible while he lay dying on a hospital bed with a split spleen. She didn’t notice he was dying. The estate got paid $3 million for the mistake. Once in awhile, Andy would show up at a joint, and for me it was like being in the presence of a pharaoh . I stood next to him at a fashion show I co-produced with future Flaunt magazine co-founder Long Nguyen. It was for designer and mutual friend Kohshin Satoh at the Palladium on August 20, 1986. Andy was interviewed by Mary Hughes for Maury Povitch and A Current Affair; the conversation, although brief, impressed me so much that I ordered a copy of the clip and transcript. I still have the transcript, and I hope my mom has the clip.

Mary Hughes: Andy, what makes Kohshin so special?

Andy Warhol: He makes clothes for Don Johnson.

Hughes: But for you?

Warhol: Oh, I think I look like Don Johnson

The delivery was deadpan, and the comparison to the studly Miami Vice star stunned Mary Hughes, so she turned to ask Interview magazine’s Wilfredo Rosado a few questions before moving on to Cars front man Ric Ocasek. Devo guitarist Jerry Casale also praised the Japanese designer. Kohshin clothed them and Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, and even Neil Young. He designed elaborate, expensive sports jackets for rock stars and such. He gave me my wedding tux.

Andy and I chatted for a minute. I managed to be somewhat coherent, although I was very nervous. He was kind and seemed interested in speaking to me, and to this day I feel lucky for those 15 seconds of lame small talk that he granted me. There a was time in nightlife when Andy Warhol might show up and validate you or your event or your club. Who’s like that now? His death a year and a few months later was blamed sometimes in jest — but sometimes seriously — on me.

On Tuesday, February 17, 1987, Long Nguyen and I produced the autumn/winter ’87 collection for Kohshin Satoh at the Tunnel. Benjamin Liu handled the PR, and Jerry Casale, Miles Davis, and Andy Warhol were celebrity models. Tonight as I look at the invite, only Miles’ name was listed, but I can’t remember why. During dress rehearsals, I thought Andy looked like he was going to die, and I turned to Long and said so. Long replied, “He always looks like he’s going to die.” We looked at him close, and I went over to talk to him. I asked him if he would mind sharing his dressing room with Miles Davis, and he agreed. This saved him from descending from the upper dressing room and then back up steep stairs. I apologized for the mess of the backstage areas, and he told me “anyplace that is too neat or too clean can’t be any fun.” Again his kindness, insight, and wisdom — and another 15 seconds of enlightenment. In a previous writing I referred to this conversation as occurring at another club, but going through these old invites and transcripts has jogged my memory. Andy indeed died a couple days later. Rudolf, the Tunnel’s operator, half-teased me that if I knew, why didn’t I send him home. We had discussed that possibility, but no one was going to send Andy home. He put on an outfit, waved to the cheering crowd, and that was that. I uncovered Andy’s last diary entry online and share it with you . He never mentioned that he was cold; I don’t remember it being cold, but when I read that tonight, it flattened me.

In the morning I was preparing myself for my appearance in the fashion show Benjamin coordinated at the Tunnel. They’d sent the clothes over and I look like Liberace in them… Then went over to the Tunnel and they gave us the best dressing room, but still it was absolutely freezing. I had all my makeup with me. Miles Davis was there and he has such delicate fingers… They did a $5,000 custom outfit for Miles with gold musical notes on it and everything, and they didn’t do a thing for me, they were so mean… So I looked like the poor stepchild, and in the end they even (laughs) told me I walked too slow… When I got home I called Fred [Hughes] and explained that I was just too exhausted to go to the Fendi dinner, so when he called them to say I wouldn’t be coming with him and that he’d bring a girl instead, they said don’t bother, and they didn’t want him without me. Got into bed and Wilfredo called and then Sam called and then I fell asleep. But I woke up at 6:30 and I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I took some Valium and a Seconal and two aspirin, and I was sleeping so heavily that I didn’t wake up when PH called at nine o’clock. And when I didn’t answer she got scared because that had never happened before, so she called on the other line and Aurora answered in the kitchen, and PH made her come up to my bedroom to shake me but I wish she’d just let me sleep.

I feel very lucky to have met Andy Warhol. A few months back I ran into Long Nguyen at a Flaunt photo shoot when I was designing Webster Hell. We talked about that wondrous event and our old fashion show-producing careers and the woulda, coulda, shouldas we oughta have done. Was it the injuries from the bullet delivered by Valerie Solanas years before, the careless nurse, our indifference or the adage “no good deed goes unpunished”? Andy was doing a favor for a designer he adored and never complained about the cold. I wonder who told him he walked too slowly — it wouldn’t have been me. I would have been happy to have him out there forever. Happy birthday, Andy.