Andy Warhol, an artist at the top of his field in 1968, had plenty of room to experiment with film. All that changed one summer afternoon in June.
Writer Valerie Solanas went into Warhol’s office, pulled out a gun and shot him. Warhol was only able to survive the shooting but others believe that it may have been responsible for his death almost twenty years later.
How many people remember the attack on the man that claimed everyone would be famous in 15 minutes? It’s a story unto itself.
The Artist and the Writer
Andy Warhol was a blue-collar, working-class native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He set his sights from an early age on a larger world than that of his parents, who were immigrants. He arrived in New York City in 1949 and began his career as an illustrator at various agencies.
“In early 1961, he really turned himself into one of the new pop artists of that moment,” “Warhol”Blake Gopnick, biographer, told Inside Edition Digital. “He had a big hand in creating the movement known as pop art, where artists took everyday objects, objects made commercially, and presented them as the subject of fine art. And that’s really his discovery.”
He would continue to shake up New York City’s art scene from his Silver Factory, his Midtown office that he used as an art studio, office and venue. Inside “The Factory,”He was the one who decided what was cool.
“Andy Warhol is possibly the greatest artist of all time. He redefined what art is. He not only elevated drag and trans personalities to the realm of superstar, he changed what cinema can be, what art can be,”Inside Edition Digital interviewed Michael Musto, a culture critic. “He took American capitalism and consumerism and spat it back in your face, by doing Campbell’s Soup art, and he made a fortune while doing it. And at the same time, he conquered every medium there is and was a very inspiring person on the scene.”
People sought out Warhol’s validation and approval. His endorsement was life-changing.
“Just having him in our midst was like having some great messiah or wonderful shaman who seemed to know everything and was clued in. And we turned to for guidance, we turned to him for validation,” Musto said.
And there was no better place to seek Warhol’s approval than The Factory. One such person who flocked to the creative’s headquarters was writer Valerie Solanas.
Solanas was born in New Jersey and had a traumatizing upbringing. At a young age, she was sexually assaulted and physically abused by her father.
At 15 years old, she fled home to get married. She had two children: a girl and a boy.
“Her daughter, her first child was raised, so she was sort of sent away to have the baby and then she was raised as her sister,”Breanne Fahs wrote the biography “Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote Scum (and Shot Andy Warhol)”Inside Edition Digital.
Solanas’ biological son told Fahs he had no contact with her after he was placed for adoption.
Solanas earned a University of Maryland psychology degree. After attending the University of Minnesota’s Graduate School of Psychology, she moved to Berkeley and took several courses.
It was during this period that she came out to be a lesbian. She also began writing. She called it the “SCUM Manifesto.”SCUM stands for Society for Cutting Up Men.
“The ‘SCUM Manifesto,’ which involved overturning capitalism, getting rid of everything, especially men. She just wanted men to be eliminated from the populace. People said, ‘Oh, she’s kidding. It’s a satire.’ She said, ‘No, I’m not,’” Musto said.
Fahs said that Solanas was struggling with her mental health. She stood out from the crowd as she tried to find her way in life.
“Here’s a very bright, very ambitious woman, she sort of sticks out like a sore thumb from the pearl-clutching kind of the ’50s and ’60s women that are her contemporaries,” Fahs said.
1962 was the year Solanas arrived to New York City. Fahs stated that it was then that Solanas arrived in New York City in 1962.
“This bohemian New York City scene, where she’s finally in a place where she gets to sort of be openly bisexual, openly lesbian, openly, whatever she wants,” Fahs said.
Solanas eventually moved into the Chelsea Hotel. The Chelsea Hotel had long been home for artists, writers, and musicians who weren’t part of mainstream society. Solanas worked odd jobs and did sex while she pursued her writing career. “SCUM.”
She wrote and obsessively rewrote. “SCUM”According to Nicole Dezelon (associate director of learning at The), the period was 1965-1967 Andy Warhol MuseumPittsburgh
“Initially, she self-published the document and sold mimeographed copies to men for $2.50, but women could have it for a dollar, which I think just sums up the philosophy of Valerie Solanas right there,” Dezelon said.
She met the rights to the Chelsea while she was living there. “SCUM”Send it to Maurice Girodias, publisher.
“She signed a contract with Girodias to publish ‘SCUM Manifesto,’ but as her paranoia worsened, she kind of misinterpreted the document and the contract and feared that she had signed away the rights to her future, her writings as well,” Dezelon said.
Andy Warhol also visited her during this period and attempted to produce her play. “Up Your A**.”Warhol received one of the only copies she had of the play. Warhol apparently laughed at the play’s explicitness and tossed it. Solanas wouldn’t be discouraged. Solanas continued to communicate with Warhol regarding the play and he started feeling awful. He gave her $25 and she was paid $25 to perform in his experimental film. “I, a Man.”
Her paranoia increased as Warhol became more flippant with Solanas. Dezelon stated that Warhol had told Solanas that he would give her work as a typist at The Factory due to how well-typed her plays were. She assumed the gesture meant he was trying steal her property.
“So she developed this theory that [Girodias] and Warhol were both conspiring to steal her work, but in reality the two men, they barely knew one another,” Dezelon added.
Andy Warhol in the midst of a changing America: The shooting of Andy Warhol
Warhol left the Factory in Midtown in 1968 and moved to Union Square. Many still call it his Factory. America was experiencing its own revolution as Warhol marked a time of change.
The Vietnam War, which was still raging, divided America into Hawks and Doves, or those who supported the fighting and those who didn’t. Students protested across the nation on campuses and in cities. Memphis sanitation workers went on strike February 1968. It was a crucial moment in the Civil Rights movement.
Lyndon B. Johnson, the President, announced that he would not be seeking reelection in March. This opened the door to Robert F. Kennedy, the Democratic favorite from New York. In April, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis by White Supremacist James Earl Ray; two days after King’s killing, the Black Panthers and Oakland Police engaged in a shootout that saw 17-year-old Bobby Hutton shot dead as he tried to surrender.
New York City was not the only city to experience upheaval. Students protested war and in February sanitation workers went into strike demanding better wages. For nine days, the streets were littered with trash across five boroughs. The musical was revived in the spring. “Hair”Introduced audiences to sex, drugs, and nudity on the stage.
“In the ’60s, America was in tumult. There was a lot of rage in the air, along with the hippy dippy love fest that was the counter to that. And there were assassinations left and right,” Musto said. “Things seem to be helter-skelter and out of control. And it set the scene for Valerie Solanas, for somebody that unhinged to claim center stage, in such a dark, dangerous way.”
On June 3, 1968, Solanas showed up at Girodias’ office that morning. He wasn’t there, and she allegedly told her secretary she planned to kill her boss. After that, she went to Union Square and waited outside Warhol’s office.
Warhol arrived at his office later in the afternoon. Solanas rode with Warhol the elevator up to his office where a group was already congregating. Solanas reached out for something when the group began to speak to each other.
“All of a sudden she pulls out a gun and starts shooting for no real reason,”Gopnick claimed.
To open fire, Solanas used an.32 caliber pistol. Warhol was eventually hit by a bullet from Solanas, which ripped through several of his major organs.
“Warhol falls to the ground, cowering, he smashes into a desk, he smashes his head. And eventually she comes right up, presses the gun against his side just under his armpit and shoots. The bullet pierces all sorts of organs,”Gopnick claimed.
Mario Amaya was also shot by Solanas in London that day. A bullet punctured his back. Later that day, he was discharged from the hospital. Solanas also targeted Fred Hughes, Warhol’s business manager. He pleaded for his safety. As he begged not to be shot, the elevators abruptly reopened.
“Solanas flees the scene of the crime and rides down the elevator. So you couldn’t get any more cinematic than that,” Dezelon said.
Three hours after the shooting, Solanas surrendered at the NYPD near Times Square. He told a traffic cop Warhol was his target. “had too much control over my life.”
Solanas quickly became the center of the New York media’s attention. The headline was published by the New York Daily News on the New York Daily News’s front page. “Actress Shoots Warhol.”Solanas, who reportedly told the paper that he had seen it, demanded a retraction. “I’m a writer, not an actress.”The Daily News retracted the story and changed the headline in the later edition of June 4, 1968.
The Aftermath of Andy Warhol’s Shooting
After the initial shots inside the office, it took almost 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. Warhol was captured just over a year before New York City implemented its 911 system.
Warhol was rushed to Columbus–Mother Cabrini Hospital with a ruptured stomach, liver, spleen and lungs. He was declared clinically dead because it was not clear if he would survive.
He was first massaged by doctors, then Dr. Giuseppe Rossi (an Italian immigrant) operated for five hours on his heart.
“My parents had just recently immigrated to the United States and my father was a working doctor and wasn’t as plugged into the visual arts, fine arts scene, certainly not enough for him to recognize the name and immediately know who he was operating on,” Dr. Rossi’s son, Roberto, told Inside Edition Digital.
Dezelon stated that Warhol spent two years in the hospital. “His injuries were so severe that he had to wear a surgical corset for the rest of his life,” Dezelon said.
Sirhan Sirhan killed Robert Kennedy two days after Warhol was killed. He was speaking to supporters in the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, when he assassinated Kennedy.
Warhol was still recovering at the hospital when he heard that Kennedy had been murdered. Gopnick said that the news was so surreal, Warhol thought he was imagining it.
Warhol was finally released from the hospital but never forgot what Dr. Rossi had done.
“The presence Andy Warhol had in our lives was a very dutiful orchid sent pretty much every holiday season with a thank you note. So we always got an orchid from Andy Warhol around Christmas time thanking my dad. ‘To Dr. Rossi, thanks so much.’ And that’s the extent of it. My father really did not dwell on this much,” Rossi said.
Warhol also gifted the Rossis with a series of paintings of his infamous Campbell’s Soup cans, something that Roberto Rossi said was stashed under his parents’ bed because there was no room in the apartment for them to be hung.
The paintings were sold by the family in 2017 for an undisclosed sum.
“We just made the choice that if we weren’t going to put them up and we were going to be keeping them in storage, wherever it was anyway, that there might be people out there who may want to be putting them up,” Rossi said.
Warhol did not press charges against his assassin after the shooting.
Fahs claims Warhol claimed that his reasoning was Solanas. “acting in her nature”And that’s who she was.
“Warhol, for all of his limitations, had this ability to take people for who they were and truly allow them to be extremely weird or eccentric or even violent,”Fahs also added.
Solanas told a judge what she did with Warhol. “a moral act. And I consider it immoral that I missed. I should have done target practice.”
Solanas was charged for attempted murder, assault and illegally possessing a firearm. Later, she was declared mentally unstable and paranoid schizophrenia.
Girodias, his company Olympia and the SCUM Manifesto were able to publish the SCUM Manifesto months later.
“The manifesto would not have been published by Girodias or probably by any other major publisher if it didn’t have this sensationalistic story around it,” Fahs said.
Solanas was declared competent in June 1969, one year after the shooting. She refused to hire an attorney and represented herself, pleading guilty to reckless assault with the intent to cause harm. She was sentenced for three years, with one year served.
Solanas attempted to contact Warhol while in prison through a series letters.
“She would write him letters like ‘Dear Toad,’ and these hilarious, hateful, strange sort of letters,” Fahs said.
Living Independently, but Always together
While recovering from his shooting, Warhol continued to create art and was a fixture of New York City’s nightlife. He showed off the scars he sustained from his life-saving surgery to photographer friends and documented his body’s recovery himself.
While Solanas was in prison, the feminist movement of 1960s was split into two.
“This shooting didn’t just have an impact in terms of the Warhol scene or the art world or that thing. It also had a huge impact on the entire history of the feminist movement from that point forward, which largely then divides between radical and liberal feminism,” Fahs said. “And we get to see the birth of very different political priorities from that point forward as well.”
Fahs claimed that Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol by some women in the National Organization for Women. “a symbol of women being pushed to the edge.”
“It’s a symbol of women’s anger,”Fahs commented on their view of the shooting. “’We need to see this as a feminist cause. We need to rush to her aid. We need to provide legal counsel. She is one of us.’”
Others inside the organization said violence had no place in the group and didn’t see Solanas as relevant, according to Fahs.
According to Dezelon, Solanas was released in 1971 from prison and continued to follow Warhol. Warhol was scared by the thought of her getting out of prison.
“The shooting mercifully did not end Andy’s life, but it did alter it irrevocably, because he was nervous and afraid ever since that happened, that it could happen again. And if he ever saw someone that reminded him even vaguely of Valerie, he was wary of them. He was terrified of another Valerie Solanas,” Musto said. “Andy was a public figure. He depended on going out, meeting people in restaurants, going to nightclubs. He was always wary from that point on, to try to prevent another shooting. It certainly could have happened again with another crackpot.”
Solanas had been released from prison by the mid-1970s, and was now homeless in New York City. Fahs says she suffered from mental health issues and several breakdowns.
“She becomes completely consumed with a paranoid idea that her uterus has a uterine transmitter that’s communicating messages to the mob,” Fahs said. “At one point, she tries to dig that transmitter out of her body with a fork. It was really violent, terrible disintegration of the self.”
In November 1971, she was again arrested for stalking Warhol. She went back to prison multiple times before moving out. She lived in Arizona, San Francisco, and began writing again.
Fahs reported that Solanas lived in San Francisco’s single-occupancy Hotel while they were there.
“One of those little welfare hotels that they had at the time,” Fahs said. “And she sort of gets into drugs and is prostituting, again.”
The Legacy of Andy Warhol & Valerie Solanas
Warhol would fear hospitals after his near-death experience. In the aftermath of the shooting, Warhol faced a number of health problems.
“His body had been damaged by the shooting, there’s no doubt about that, he actually had to have follow up surgery…he had infections or all sorts of problems. And he for a while at least is taking speed every day, he’s addicted to or he takes a lot of Valium, he’s on downers, he’s on uppers, he’s part of the party scene. None of that’s great for your body,”Gopnick claimed.
Warhol was suffering from an infected gallbladder and wanted to find a holistic solution. His condition got so severe that Warhol was afraid of going to the hospital and had gallbladder surgery in February 1987.
“What people call a routine gallbladder operation that Andy underwent in 1987 wasn’t really routine at all. It was tricky, it wasn’t beyond the skills of this very talented surgeon, but it wasn’t straightforward at all. Andy has simply left his illness go too long, his gallbladder was too rotten, there was too much infection,”Gopnick claimed.
Warhol’s heart gave out on Feb. 22, 1987. He was 58 years old. Some believe he died from the shooting.
“Somewhere around 4 o’clock in the morning, his heart stopped. They tried to revive him, they tried again and again. They did find his heartbeat again I think two times, they did CPR, they inject him full of all sorts of emergency drugs to bring him back to life. But in the end, frankly, his heart just stopped,”Gopnick claimed.
Musto spoke in The Village Voice to honor Warhol, declaring that he had “eulogized” him. “The Death of Downtown” because of the artist’s death.
“One of the impetus for that was not only that the clubs were kind of tired or closing, but our leader was gone. He was the leader of the scene. He was a leader of the nightlife scene, the art scene, the magazines, everything,” Musto said. “He really was like the unofficial mayor of New York.”
Ultra Violet, a friend and ex-Factory alum, shared the news with Solanas.
“Ultra Violet calls Valerie Solanas and says, ‘Did you hear the news about Andy Warhol?’ And Valerie had not heard,” Fahs said. “It was kind of like the reaction was basically like, ‘Oh, he died? Yea. Let me ask you some questions about the copyright for the SCUM Manifesto. How do I get to the Library of Congress and get the copy?’”
“Andy always felt everyone on Earth will ultimately have their own TV show and be famous for 15 minutes,” Musto said. “Tragically enough, Valerie Solanas became famous as a result of shooting Andy Warhol. But it also made him more famous in a way he didn’t want. It did generate a lot of publicity, but it’s not the kind of publicity he relished. He wanted things to be happy. He loved gossip. He liked being a bitchy queen, believe me, but that’s about as mean as he got.”
Just over a year after Warhol’s death, Solanas died of pneumonia at the Bristol Hotel in San Francisco, where she was living in squalor. According to Biography her body was found by her owner, who arrived seeking it out due to non-payment of rent. She was 52.
“She’s stuck in that world where she is forever linked to Andy Warhol instead of to herself, which is maybe the most horrifying outcome for somebody who always wanted to be self-defined and who never would have wanted to be defined according to being associated with a man,” Fahs said. “She is interesting in her own right.”
Pop culture has often referenced the Solanas-Warhol incident many times.
Lou Reed composed two songs over the years for his mentor and friend to cheer him up. In 1969, he issued “Lou Reed,” “Andy’s Chest,”In 1990, John Cale (Red) released the album. “I Believe.”Both songs are about the near-death experience that the artist went through.
Lili Taylor played Solanas’ role in the 1996 film. “I Shot Andy Warhol.”2017 episode of “Solanas” starred Lena Dunham as Solanas “American Horror Story: Cult.”
Dezelon said that Solanas’ script she gave Warhol for her play, “Up You’re A**,”Several years later, it was discovered by the Andy Warhol Museum.
The SCUM Manifesto continues to be published to this day, but its popularity pales in comparison to Warhol’s art, which is as popular today as it was when the artist created it.