Gun Crazy

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Andy Warhol, New York City, August 19, 1969, Richard Avedon / © RICHARD AVEDON

Because 1968 was such a tumultuous moment there are a lot of 40th anniversaries this year. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the May uprisings in France, the street battles at the Democratic Convention in Chicago — all of it four decades ago. But I didn’t want one other milestone to go by unremarked. It was 40 years ago today that Valerie Solanas walked into the Factory, the Andy Warhol studio in Manhattan, pulled out a gun and shot him.

Solanas of course was the angry loner who had authored The SCUM Manifesto, SCUM being an acronym for the Society for Cutting Up Men. She wanted Warhol to produce a play she had written and became furious when he told her he had lost the script. She started harassing him by phone. One day she showed up with a gun.

Warhol was hit twice and almost died on the operating table. Solanas turned herself into the police later that day. Eventually she was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, entered a guilty plea to attempted murder and got a three year sentence. After her relase she drifted in and out of mental hospitals. She was 52 in 1988 when she was found dead by the police in a San Francisco hotel.

And though Andy survived the shooting, in some ways “Andy Warhol” didn’t. That event marked the beginning of the end of his moment as an important artist. Most of the work we value him for had been done. There would still be the portraits of Mao, the oxidation and Rohrschach pictures, but even those feel to me like thin gruel. He got a bit paranoid about his personal safety. He folded himself so deeply into the more secure circles of the rich that eventually he wondered if he was cutting himself off from the sources of his creativity. He was right. In the 1970s and ’80s his main energy, such as it was, would go into things like Interview magazine, his insipid society portraits and getting that cameo role on The Love Boat.

The shooting was front page news everywhere. But for somebody who made that comment about fifteen minutes of fame, there was an irony to come. Two days later Bobby Kennedy was shot, and Warhol was pretty much swept out of the news. But not out of history.