“When I was with Andy Warhol, I was dancing jazz ballet twice a day, so I just wore my leotards and I knew I wasn’t going to turn anybody on . . . . When I went out on the street I’d put on a coat. But Vogue photographed me in leotards and a T-shirt as a new costume,” Edie Sedgwick once recalled, seemingly stunned at the elevation of her style from accidental to iconic.
Born Edith Minturn Sedgwick, the actor-model, who would have been 72 today, is remembered as a magical It girl, a winsome superstar, a big-eyed Keene painting come to life. But as has been proven time and time again, being worshipped for your youth and beauty is hardly a prerequisite for a happy life. Sedgwick’s wealthy family had deep roots in colonial America, and she had an eccentric upbringing. She was raised with seven siblings on a ranch in California; her father was reportedly by turns charismatic and terrifying. She studied art in Boston; in 1964, she moved to New York City, where she fell in with Warhol’s Factory set. She was literally painfully thin (she suffered repeated bouts of anorexia); her trademark style was achieved, she said, when she chopped off her long brown hair and dyed what was left silvery-white. An original Chelsea girl, she lived in that hotel. Warhol put her in movies with names like Vinyl and Horse.
A YouTube clip from a 1965 episode of The Merv Griffin Show, where she and Warhol were unlikely guests, offers a glimpse of Sedgwick’s seductive charm. Her dress is little more than a bodysuit with a collar; her trademark triangular earrings descend to her shoulders. Warhol refuses to speak, and Sedgwick, almost too bright-eyed, does her best to wring some amusement out of the silent artist on her right and the smarmy talk-show host on her left.
Trying to make sense of her life and the strange turns it had taken, Sedgwick once said, “It’s not that I’m rebelling. It’s that I’m just trying to find another way.” Alas, this other way eluded her; she died before she saw 30. The coroner ruled her death “undetermined/accident/suicide.” Forty-four years later, her gamine vulnerability still haunts. One thing is certain—she has been famous for far longer than fifteen minutes.
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