The Pope of Pop’s last week with this mortal coil began, more or less, on Valentine’s Day. It was a Saturday in 1987 during an otherwise routine collagen treatment when Andy Warhol complained about his gallbladder, an irascible organ he’d begrudgingly dealt with for yearsâat least since ’73 or ’74âand had since placated with doctor’s visits, prescriptions, and dietary adjustments. But a week or so prior to this appointment, the abdominal pain had returned with such a vengeance that he had been forced to cancel post-dinner plans to see the Bette Midler movie Outrageous Fortune. (“It wasn’t much,” he later sniffed.) But now the discomfort had returned violently enough that the man who prided himself on not letting on when something was wrong was forced to admit that something was.
Warhol would spend the following day, Sunday, in bed. He missed churchâwhich was atypical behavior for the practicing Catholicâbut stayed awake long enough to catch himself on television, which was not. On Monday, the 58-year-old dutifully saw his chiropractor but felt unsteady enough to cancel a week of personal-training appointments. On Tuesday, the public figure joined Miles Davis in a fashion show at the Tunnel and wore alligator, lace, and fur designs he would later joke made him look like Liberace. Friends could tell he felt poorly, and he went home immediately after the event.
By Friday, Andy Warhol was in what was then New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. By Saturday, surgeons had removed his gangrenous gallbladder, and that night, he was alert enough to watch television and make phone calls. But something happened in the dark, and by 6:31 the next morning, he was dead.
Andy Warhol died on February 22, 1987. In other words, 25 years ago, the famous man who had famously written his own script finally had it taken away. New York City is, of course, a different place than it was then. But nothing has changed so drastically that the creator of the Can That Sold the World has stopped being one of New York City’s most deeply abiding myths. “I never understood why when you died, you didn’t just vanish, everything could just keep going on the way it was, only you just wouldn’t be there,” Warhol once wrote. And he didn’t, and it did, but he is. Which leaves you to wonder, a quarter of a century expired, what does Andy Warhol’s New York City look like today?
Thomas Kiedrowski, a thirtysomething Boerum Hill resident, has devoted more than two years to trying to answer that question. Warhol’s legend shaped his vision of New York City, and he wanted to see where these extraordinary events had transpired. Drugs and self-preservation and Wikipedia are unreliable narrators, plus Kiedrowski admits that he’s “kind of a Doubting Thomas,” so he dug through phone books, excavated newspaper clippings, and interviewed as many of Warhol’s remaining friends and associates who would talk. Based on his research, he started giving occasional walking tours, all of which culminated in last summer’s publication of Andy Warhol’s New York City: Four Walks Uptown to Downtown, a pocket guidebook of 80 addresses.
When we meet in a Starbucks on the corner of Lexington and 87th Street, Kiedrowski is as excited to discuss Warhol as most new parents are about their babies. (Maybe even more.) The first place Kiedrowski likes to take people, as a kind of contextual prologue, is 1060 Park Avenue, a distinguished-looking Upper East Side apartment building with a green-awning entrance and an adjacent doctor’s office, where Truman Capote lived with his drunken mess of a mother in the early ’50s. A sickly, awkward, working-class Slovakian outcast armed with $200, visual-arts talent, and a terrifyingly possessed quest for fame, Warhol relocated to New York from Pittsburgh at age 20. Soon after, he became interminably fixated with Capote, a New York transplant whose first published novel, 1948’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, had recently propelled the young Louisiana-born author to literary stardom. Warhol not only shared characteristics with Other Voices’ sensitive, effete 13-year-old protagonist, but he also became infatuated with the author’s seductive dust-jacket photo, a controversially “suggestive” (and suggestively gay) portrait. This infatuation became so utterly overwhelming that Warhol adopted a stalker-like persistence, writing fan letters, calling Capote’s home, and waiting on the sidewalk outside this concrete building, slavishly, for hours. Kiedrowski says in a reverent awe, “You can just see him standing here!” (I didn’t.)
Our next stop is within walking distance, St. Thomas More Church, located at 65 East 89th Street, a Roman-Catholic ministry that dates back to 1870 and still holds regular services. On the sidewalk outside the gates, Kiedrowski emphasizes the thing anybody who has ever heard of Andy Warhol knows: Every single actionâfrom where the man worshiped to where he ateâwas carefully premeditated and designed to place him in the company of the world’s most spectacular humans. For example, St. Thomas More was conveniently also Jackie O’s parishâJohn F. Kennedy Jr.’s memorial service was held there in 1999. “I’m Catholic and go to church at St. Thomas More,” reads a Warhol interview Kiedrowski has just pulled out from a black binder. “They have those rock masses. I take [my dog] Archie with me every Sunday, but we’re usually late.”