This week, Edie Sedgwick would have turned 71. Strange to think. She will always be young. I am not exactly sure why It Girls tend to end up cautionary tales of what happens when you fly to close to the sun, but they do. Maybe in order to be an It Girl, it requires quite a bit of excess (money, drugs, alcohol, etc) and it is hard to get away from those things without scars. Whatever the reason, she was irreverent, insolent, and gorgeous. Ladies and gentlemen, Edie Sedgwick. Style Icon.
Born: April 20, 1943 Santa Barbara, California, U.S.
Died: November 16, 1971 (aged 28) Santa Barbara, California, U.S.
Occupation: Artist, socialite, model, actress
Edie Sedgwick was a bright social butterfly whose candle of fame burned brightly at both ends. Born into a wealthy White Anglo-Saxon Protestant family of impressive lineage, Edie became a “celebutante” for her beauty, style, wealth and her associations with figures of the 1960s counterculture.
Edie was born in Santa Barbara into a prominent family plagued by mental illness. Her father, Francis Minturn Sedgwick (1904-1967), was a local rancher who had experienced three nervous breakdowns prior to his 1929 marriage to Alice Delano De Forest, Edie’s mother. Francis also suffered from bipolar disorder, and his doctors told Alice’s father, the Wall Street financier Henry Wheeler De Forest, that the couple should not have any children. They eventually had eight: Edie was the fourth of five daughters and the second-to-last of the Sedgwick children born from 1931 to 1945. Edie later told fellow Warhol superstar Ultra Violet that both her father and a brother had tried to seduce her when she was a child. She once found her father in flagrante delicto with another woman, and after she tried to tell her mother about his offense, her father denounced her as insane and called the doctor. In Edie’s confession to Ultra Violet, she claimed, “They gave me so many tranquillizers I lost all my feelings.”
The Sedgwicks were an old line of WASPs whose lineage included Judge Theodore Sedgwick (1746-1813), who had served as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and later Speaker of the House of Representatives in the time of George Washington. The Judge’s wife, Pamela Dwight Sedgwick (1753-1807), had lost her sanity during mid-life. The roots of the mental illness that plagued the Sedgwick family likely extend as far back as Pamela Dwight Sedgwick.
Edie was raised on a 3,000-acre ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, bought with money inherited from Alice’s father. The family fortunes improved even further in the early 1950s, when oil was discovered on the ranch. The Sedgwick children were educated in a private school constructed on the ranch, and given daily vitamin B shots by a local physician.
Despite their prosperous, Edie’s upbringing was plagued with trauma. Her brother Minty was an alcoholic by age fifteen and eventually committed suicide at the Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut in 1964, the day before his twenty-sixth birthday. Her other brother, Bobby, also was troubled by psychiatric problems and was institutionalized after suffering a nervous breakdown in the early 1950s while attending Harvard. He crashed his motorcycle into a bus on New Year’s Eve 1964 and died two weeks later.
Edie suffered from bulimia in school, which continued into her adult life. Edie was first institutionalized in the fall of 1962 at the Silver Hill mental hospital (where her brother Minty later died). After wasting away to ninety pounds, she was transferred to the far stricter Bloomingdale, New York Hospital’s Westchester County facility. On a furlough from Bloomindale, she became pregnant and had an abortion.
In the early 1960s, Edie lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while attending Radcliffe College. Edie studied sculpture and spent her time partying and driving her Mercedes. At her therapist’s office, she met recent Harvard graduate Chuck Wein, who was living a bohemian existence and styled himself as an Edwardian dandy. After she turned 21 in 1964, Eddie left Cambridge for New York, moving into her invalid grandmother’s 14-room Park Ave. apartment and spent her nights at the top clubs and discotheques.
Wein came to New York, as well, and became determined to transform Edie into a social butterfly. In January 1965, she was introduced to Andy Warhol, one of the new gods of Pop Art. Wien began bringing her to his work-living space “The Factory” on a regular basis. Blessed or cursed with the soul of a promoter, Wein was continually plotting a strategy to move Edie up into the New York demimonde and further into society.
During one visit with Wein at The Factory, Warhol inserted her into his film “Vinyl” at the last minute.” It was her second appearance in a Warhol film, having also appeared briefly in “Horse.” Warhol had no illusions about Chuck Wein, but he apparently was attracted by the hustler’s blonde good looks. Andy took both of them to Paris in April 1965 for an opening of a show.
When he returned to New York City, Warhol announced that he was crowning Edie “the queen of The Factory,” and commissioned screenplays for her. Wein became his new screenwriter and assistant director, beginning with “Beauty No. 2,” which starred Edie and premiered at the Cinematheque on July 17, 1965. “Beauty No. 2” made Edie Sedgwick the leading lady of underground cinema. Her on-screen persona was compared to Marilyn Monroe, and she became famous among the independent film glitterati. Her association with Warhol helped secure both his reputation and hers. With the glamorous Edie in tow, Warhol made the rounds of parties and gallery openings, and the dynamic duo generated reams of copy and free publicity. Originally an outsider, Warhol was eventually wooed by wealthy socialites and became a major part of the art establishment.
Her newfound celebrity would prove to be her undoing after many urged Edie to leave Warhol for the mainstream cinema. One of these people was Bob Dylan’s assistant Bob Neuwirth, who became Edie’s lover, wooing her with the promise of starring in a film with his enigmatic boss. Though Edie reportedly also harbored amorous feelings for Dylan, it is unlikely that her feelings were returned or ever consummated. Edie was under the impression that Albert Grossman, Dylan’s manager was going to offer her a film contract. D.A. Pennebaker filmed her at Dylan’s studio in 1965 while making what became the documentary “Don’t Look Back.”
Edie’s last film with Warhol was “Lupe,” although he may also have filmed her in November 1966 for inclusion in “The Andy Warhol Story,” a lost film for which the footage was either lost or destroyed. In 1966, the still-loyal Warhol approached his musical “discovery” Lou Reed, who was appearing with the Velvet Underground in Warhol-produced Plastic Exploding Inevitable (Warhol was the Velvets manager for a while) with a proposition. According to Reed, “Andy said I should write a song about Edie Sedgwick. I said ‘Like what?’ and he said, ‘Oh, don’t you think she’s a femme fatale, Lou?’ So I wrote ‘Femme Fatale’ and we gave it to Nico.”
On February 13, 1966, Edie appeared in photographs with Warhol and Chuck Wein in The New York Times Magazine. Although she still had a crush on Dylan, she did not find out about his secret marriage to Sara Lownds until Warhol told her about it in February 1966. Edie was devastated. Morrissey believes that Edie realized that “maybe [Dylan] hadn’t been truthful.”
Edie’s and Warhol’s relationship was further strained by her dissatisfaction with her decreasing role in Warhol’s life. Edie and Warhold also argued over money. Edie had always picked up the tab when the Factory regulars hit the town, but she attacked Warhol over his failure to pay her money from the films she had been in. Warhol claimed that the films were unprofitable and told her to be patient. Edie decided to part ways with Warhol. According to Gerard Malanga, a Factory regular, “Edie disappeared and that was the end of it. She never came back.”
In the tapes Edie made for “Ciao! Manhattan,” she admitted that she had become addicted to her affair with Neuwirth. While they were together, she was consumed by lust, but when they were apart, she turned to pills for comfort. Edie is one of the women pictured on the inner sleeve of Dylan’s classic “Blonde on Blonde” album (released May 16, 1966), and she was rumored to be the inspiration of the song “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat.” Other songs rumored to be about her were “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” (the reference “your débutante”) and “Just Like a Woman,” which was featured on the “Ciao! Manhattan” soundtrack. (Dylan biographers typically believe the song was a synthesis of several women.)
She tried modeling again and appeared in the March 15, 1966 edition of “Vogue.” Her modeling career never took off, however, as the fashion industry shunned people with drug problems. She then turned back to acting, auditioning for Norman Mailer’s staging of “The Deer Park,” but Mailer turned her down. Edie “wasn’t very good,” Mailer remembered. “She used so much of herself with every line that we knew she’d be immolated after three performances.”
By the end of 1966, Edie’s star had gone into eclipse and she never recovered. She was badly addicted to drugs and in six months, she spent $80,000. A typical breakfast in this period was a saucer filled with speed. To support her habit, she stole antiques and art from her grandmother’s apartment, and sold them for money. She also turned to dealing but got busted, was briefly incarcerated, and was put on probation for five years. Then, in October 1966, Edie’s apartment on East 63rd St. caught on fire by candles. She suffered burns on her arms, legs and back and was treated at Lenox Hill Hospital.
In 1966, Edie returned home to California, where she was committed to a mental hospital. After she was discharged, she moved back to New York and took a room at the Chelsea Hotel, where her drug addiction worsened. By early 1967, her drugged-fueled behavior was so erratic, Neuwirth broke up with her. Edie subsequently took up with her fellow Warhol superstar Paul America. He and Edie Sedgwick became lovers, united in their common lust for drugs, and they lived together for a brief time at the Chelsea Hotel and indulged heavily in speed. Their relationship was an on-again/off-again affair, as America continually left New York for his brother’s farm in Indiana, and eventually, friction over control issues forced them apart.
America later appeared with Edie in the long-gestated film “Ciao! Manhattan,” his second and last film role. This was supposed to be Edie’s breakout role, but the film’s execution by Warhol acolytes was amateurish. Shooting on “Ciao! Manhattan,” which would prove to be Edie’s final film, commenced on April 15, 1967. The shooting was anarchic, with the filmmakers and the actors addicted to speed, which was injected by a physician with whom the production company had set up a charge account. At one point, America left the set and never returned.
After America’s departure, Edie wound up in Gracie Square Hospital, where she learned of her father’s death, on October 24, 1967.
After her discharge, Edie shacked up in the Warwick Hotel with the screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, who attracted the fragile Edie with the promise of a screenplay written for her, but ultimately he was unable to deal with the erratic behavior stemming from her drug abuse and left. Edie wound up in Bellevue Hospital, and after being discharged due to the intervention of her personal physician, she overdosed on drugs and was committed to Manhattan State Hospital. By late 1968, Edie was a physical and emotional wreck: by the time she returned to the family ranch for Christmas, she was barely able to walk and talk, the result of poor blood circulation in her brain. She recovered and moved into an apartment near U.C. Santa Barbara in 1969, but by August, she was institutionalized again after a drug bust. She met her future husband, Michael Post, during her stay in the psychiatric ward of Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital, though upon her discharge, she became the moll of a motorcycle gang in order to obtain drugs. Known as “Princess” by the bikers, she was very promiscuous, sleeping with anyone who would supply her with heroin. She was institutionalized again in 1970.
Edie was furloughed from the hospital in the summer of 1970 to finish filming “Ciao! Manhattan,” the last parts of which feature her clearly in the throes of drug dependency. Under the supervision of two nurses, she played out her scenes, including a shock treatment scene (electro-convulsive therapy) filmed in a real clinic. Ironically, she was soon back at the clinic for real, suffering from delirium tremens, where she received actual shock treatment therapy. She underwent a minimum of 20 electro-convulsive treatments from January to June 1971.
Edie married Michael Post on July 24, 1971, managing to stay clean until October. However, that fall, she was prescribed a pain pill to treat a physical debility. In addition, her doctor prescribed barbiturates, possibly to help her sleep, and frequently boosted their effects with alcohol. On the night of November 15, 1971, Edie went to fashion show at the Santa Barbara Museum and was filmed for the last time in her life. The television documentary “An American Family” was being filmed at the museum that night, and Edie – attracted by the cameras as a moth is to flame – walked over and began talking to Lance Loud, one of the subjects of the documentary.
After the fashion show, Edie went to a party but was asked to leave after her presence caused another guest to rave at her for being a heroin addict. Edie, who had been drinking, called her husband to come retrieve her from the soirée. Back at their apartment, Edie took her prescribed pain medication and they both went to sleep. That morning, when Post awoke at 7:30 AM, he found Edie dead next to him. Her death was ascribed as “acute barbiturate intoxication” and was ruled an “Accident/Suicide” by the coroner. Edie is buried in the tiny Oak Hill Cemetery in Ballard, California.Bob Dylan’s
“Just Like a Woman” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” from his 1966 album Blonde on Blonde are purportedly about Sedgwick. His 1965 No. 2 single “Like a Rolling Stone” was also reportedly inspired by her.