The mystique to end all mystiques
“Edie Sedgwick didn’t belong on this planet, yet she somehow touched everyone who came into contact with her“– Karl Wiggins
Edie Sedgwick was antithetic to indifference. She inspired Blonde on Blonde, the iconic EP of popstar Bob Dylan and represented Andy Warhol’s feminine ideal. She was the face of the 60’s and the first “it” girl, embodying the utter cool for a generation of young people, including Patti Smith, who said she represented “everything” to her teenage self. Still, Edie Sedgwick remained a mystery – even to her party friends, her many lovers whose names she listed in a notebook, and her copycat admirers.
A family curse
Edie was born on April 20, 1943, to an illustrious and wealthy family doomed by mental health trouble. Her ancestors talked of a “family disease”. Edie ineluctably fell under this curse. As a teenager, she developed serious eating disorders. Her sister, Suky, reminds of her wanting to “pig” herself – eating and stuffing and eating and then throwing up. She fought her whole life long against these troubles.
Her relationship with her unfaithful father was also particularly complex. One day, Edie caught him cheating on his mother. He denied it and beat her, saying she had imagined the whole thing. Nobody in the family believed her, since she was “sick”, and she was prescribed tranquilizers to withstand the incident. She then “lost all her feelings because she realized everything around her was an act,” her brother, Jonathan, later told.
At seventeen, Edie left the ranch for the hospital to cure her anorexia. She did not get out until she was twenty, not healed but somehow stabilized enough to go to college. To comply with a family tradition, she was sent to Harvard University. Once there, she decided to study sculpture and started to party hard with a group of eccentric friends.
Elegance and nicotine
Harvard campus was the setting for Edie’s first romance with “a young man who was very attractive in a sort of Ivy League way.” They made love at her grandmother’s apartment and “it was terrific, it was just fabulous.” She got pregnant, decided to abort, and to handle things all by herself. “I could get an abortion without any hassle at all, just on the grounds of a psychiatric case. So it wasn’t too good a first experience with lovemaking,” she later told, during an interview. A fabulous, not too good experience – the kind that would scar Edie’s life.
By her classmates, Edie is remembered as the girl that “every boy at Harvard wanted to save from herself.” The very elegant and beautiful one, looking “like an ad” with hands that didn’t seem to belong to her body: her fingers had nicotine all over them and her fingernails hid clay and other stuff.
She had her own world, totally ignorant of current events, never reading newspapers unless she was mentioned in them. Living innocently, on instinct, she would invite a bunch of friends for lunch at the Ritz hotel in Boston, charge her father with the bill, and concede a hundred-percent tip, probably thinking it was something common. She would then jump on the table, sing and dance to her favorite tunes, unconcerned by people having tea at the next table.
Her teacher Lily Saarinen said she was the most talented young person she had ever taught art to. Yet quite unpredictable. She could come one day for hardly an hour, another for five. Sometimes not even show up.
She finally dropped school and moved to New York, where she collided with art in the most extreme way at the Factory, Andy Warhol’s eminent studio.
In New York, Edie engaged in a party marathon, fascinating most people she would meet. The most notorious was Andy Warhol. She was introduced to Warhol by a mutual friend in 1964. Warhol later remembered being extremely intrigued by Edie: “so beautiful but so sick.” He notably said she was the “one person that fascinated [him] more than anybody [he] had ever known.” Edie indeed became a source of inspiration for Warhol, who had just developed filming ambitions.
Edie stared in many of Warhol’s films, playing herself, becoming a “Superstar” – a great person Warhol couldn’t get enough of filming, even in her most trivial gestures. According to witnesses, she was the greatest of Warhol superstars, the epitome of smart, beautiful, aristocratic, and independent, also indulged by everybody. Truman Capote believed “Edie was something Andy would like to have been; he was transposing himself into her à la Pygmalion.” She dyed her hair silver to match Warhol’s look, and they became social and artistic partners for a short, intense year.
Everyone in the Pop Art subculture quickly knew Edie Sedgwick as Warhol’s muse. Still, it’s quite disturbing that Edie mostly exists through the possessive form. Warhol himself recognized Edie herself, her special background and creativity, as the catalyst for her success. He recalled that in an attempt to emancipate from her family, Edie started to buy the cheapest clothes, notably little girls’ skirts, which fitted perfectly to her skinny body and fatale attitude. That’s how Edie invented the mini-skirt. She was also the first person to wear ballet tights as a complete outfit. Warhol said she was an “innovator” whose unique looks were instantly picked up by fashion magazines.
In 1965, she was labeled as Vanity Fair’s Girl of the Year and photographed for the cover of Vogue to represent the “Youthquake” movement. Patti Smith, who was then an eighteen-year-old girl from New Jersey, recalls of the Vogue photoshoot “such a strong image,” representing “everything to [her]: radiating intelligence, speed, being connected with the moment.” However, Edie’s excessive use of drugs limited the development of her fashion career, as evidenced by Gloria Schiff, a fashion editor at Vogue: “She was identified in the gossip columns with the drug scene, and back then there was a certain apprehension about being involved in that scene … and we were just anti that scene as a policy.”
Eventually, 1966 was calling for new faces (Twiggy was about to break into fashion) and Edie was falling for another pop figure.
Like a Rolling Stone
In 1966, Bob Dylan entered Edie’s life, compromising her platonic, artistic romance with Warhol. Edie reportedly fell hard for Dylan, who kind of despised the Factory’s vibe. On the contrary, Warhol had great respect for him, describing him as “the Definitive Pop Star – possibly of all time” and dying to picture him. Edie also started to lose faith in Warhol’s art and rebelled, saying his movies were making “a complete fool out of [her].” She engaged in talks for a non-Warholian movie with Dylan and his manager, Al Grossman, and the idea of staring in Hollywood movies appealed to her.
Warhol was furious about this double “betrayal,” towards himself and his art; some would have said he was left brokenhearted. He later expressed Edie “drifting away from [him]” as a huge loss: “I missed having her around, but I told myself that it was probably a good thing that he was taking care of her now because maybe he knows how to do it better than we had.” Edie left the Factory, was replaced by Nico, who became the Factory’s leading woman and got mostly ignored by Warhol, who carried a lot of resentment towards her. “She couldn’t tell the truth about anything,” he said.
We don’t know much about the romance between Edie and Dylan. Conclusively, we know that their relation inspired Dylan’s EP Blonde on Blonde. Certainly, we learned that Dylan secretly wed another woman, Sara Lownds, at the same time he was flirting with Edie. More recently, her brother, Jonathan, claimed that she got pregnant with Dylan’s child but had to get an abortion because of her high consumption of drugs.
Life at the Chelsea Hotel
Paul Morrissey said, after she left the Factory, that Edie would still come from time to time to ask Warhol for money and drugs: “Edie was in a bad way, and we thought we could help her, even though she had been so mean to do what she did [leaving Warhol]. Andy really liked her and I did too.” Warhol invited her to star in The Andy Warhol Story with Rene Ricard, an artist who had his own reasons to hate Warhol. Both Ricard and Edie used this movie as a catharsis of their bad feelings towards the artist. Ricard remembered: “We did one reel and stopped. Then Andy, in his sick, masochistic, dreadful way – after all, here were these two people on camera saying the most ghastly things about him – said, ‘Let’s do another reel.’ He had been standing holding his fingers in his mouth, which he does when he’s anxious, and he was loving it … getting the truth.” This movie was said to be “such a torturous document of Edie’s disintegration that the one time it was shown at the Factory, those watching begged Andy to turn it off.” The Story of Andy Warhol is reported to be one of Warhol’s lost movies and was consequently never made public.
A few weeks later, Edie took too many drugs, fell unconscious, and woke up with her apartment on fire. She then moved into the Chelsea Hotel and started a relationship with Dylan’s good friend, Bob Neuwirth. She later said, “I was like a sex slave to this man … I could make love for forty-eight hours … without getting tired. But the moment he left me alone, I felt so empty and lost that I would start popping pills.” Neuwirth indeed left her in early 1967, exhausted by her constant drug abuse, after she tried to throw herself in front of a truck in the course of a fight they had in a limousine. “I could not believe that a person of such intelligence would mistreat herself to that extent. But I’m sure, reflecting on it, that it was caused by desperation and a lack of outlet for that incredible energy,” he said.
She tried to pursue an acting career, engaging in filming Ciao! Manhattan, a semi-biographical movie, but had to stop for health reasons. From 1967 to 1970, Edie indeed spent most of her time in hospitals and mental institutions.
November 15, 1971
She eventually married a fellow patient, Micheal Post, in 1971 and allegedly became clean in an elusive attempt to build a “whole-marriage type ideal plan.” She also returned to acting by completing the filming of Ciao! Manhattan.
Six months after their marriage, they went to a party at which Edie was berated by a woman who loudly and intensively accused her of being a heroin addict: “You’re sick. You’re an addict, a dope addict. You’re a heroin addict! Look at that! I do volunteer work in a hospital and I know all about this stuff.” She was pointing out cat scratches on Edie’s arms. “You’re doomed and your marriage is doomed.” Edie stayed calm, trying to figure out why she inspired so much hate in this woman.
Edie passed out a few hours later from an overdose of barbiturates. The cause of death was classed as “undetermined: accident/suicide.” She was twenty-eight years old.
More about Edie Sedgwick :
Book : Edie, an American biography – Jean Stein (2006)
Movie : Poor Little Rich Girl – Andy Warhol (1965); Ciao ! Manhattan – John Palmer and David Weisman (1972)
Songs : Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan (1965); Like a Woman – Bob Dylan (1966); Femme Fatale – The Velvet Underground (1967)