Though Pop-art king died 14 years ago, his 15 minutes still aren't up

By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated February 23, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

It was, considering his life, a surprisingly prosaic end. Andy Warhol, the man who had helped create Pop art by marrying culture to canvas and launched a one-man movement to challenge low and high society’s preconceptions of artistic merit, died of a heart attack on Feb. 22, 1987, following gallbladder surgery at the age of 58. (Warhol’s estate filed a suit against New York Hospital, and it was settled out of court for $2.95 million.)

The child of a Czech coal miner and a homemaker, a 20-year-old Warhol (né Warhola) fled his native Pennsylvania for New York City in 1949, and began working as an illustrator and commercial artist. By 1962, the ashen-faced, fright-bewigged artist was as famous for his lifestyle as for his art, commingling the two until they were inseparable.

By day, Warhol — who mentored younger artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring — worked in his Manhattan studio, the Factory, where he made experimental films like Eat and Haircut (both 1963); barely survived gunshot wounds inflicted by the founder and sole member of SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men), Valerie Solanas; published Interview magazine; and applied an assembly- line-like approach to creating the art that would make him famous: silk-screened prints of Campbell’s soup cans and stars like Marilyn Monroe.

By night, Warhol partied like there was no tomorrow (though he was renowned for his pollutant-free reserve). He was best friends with Halston, Liz, Liza, Truman, and Bianca, joining them in endless fetes at Studio 54. He did have his vices: His diaries, published posthumously, show that he was a relentless gossip and an acute, cynical observer, trashing even his closest friends (”Bianca’s trying so hard to marry Calvin [Klein] because she doesn’t have any money,” he wrote). No amount of recognition seemed to be enough: The man who coined the phrase ”In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes” even did a guest shot on The Love Boat.

Warhol’s fame has lasted far longer than minutes. While his work’s value has fluctuated with the art market, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which he decreed be set up after his death, has donated millions to struggling art and cultural institutions.

An obsessive chronicler of his own life, he noted in his diary a month before his death that for the first time he had failed to clip and save a mention of himself in the International Herald Tribune. Still, even in the face of mortality, Warhol clung to a dream of fame and glitter. ”I do like the idea of people turning into dust or sand,” he once mused, ”and it would be very glamorous to be reincarnated as a big ring on Elizabeth Taylor’s finger.”


Time Capsule February 22, 1987

At the movies, a month before pocketing the Best Actor Oscar, Paul Newman keeps racking up raves in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money. In music, the Beastie Boys’ breakout hit Licensed to Ill continues its rise to No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. In bookstores, Tom Clancy’s World War III shocker Red Storm Rising is a best-seller. And in the news, as the Iran-contra scandal drags on, The New York Times reports that former National Security Council aide Oliver North watched his secretary, Fawn Hall, shred classified documents.