This article originally appeared in the March 1974 issue of Esquire. It contains outdated and potentially offensive descriptions of sex, gender, and identity. You can find every Esquire story ever published at Esquire Classic.
Andrea (Feldman) Whips was twenty-five when she died. She was one of the newest of Andy Warhol’s Superstars, and among the latest to die. She committed suicide shortly before Warhol’s HEAT was released, a film in which she played the strung-out bisexual daughter of Sylvia Miles. In the movie Andrea rattled on hysterically and displayed cigarette burns on her chest. They were real.
Andrea jumped from the eighteenth floor of an apartment building in Greenwich Village. It is said that when she jumped she clutched a bottle of Coke in one hand and a rosary in the other. She left behind letters bitterly critical of Warhol for his neglect of her. It is appropriate that Andrea died clinging to two symbols of Western culture, and leaving behind letters addressed to a third. Because Andy Warhol is nothing if not a symbol to the young. He represents limitless tolerance, deliverance from loneliness and alienation. He is a parental figure, a father to the young, to this present generation which cannot connect with its parents or with the world in which it grew up. Warhol is better than bowling on Thursday nights or business classes at community college or hanging around the McDonald’s at the shopping center watching the cars go by.
It was in the mid-Sixties that Andrea Whips left Brooklyn to move in what was then still known as the underground in New York. She left her family to find community in a demimonde defined by Warhol’s vision—Lou Reed, Larry Rivers, Penny Arcade, Wayne County, DeCarlo Lotts, Betty Boop, Candy Darling, and other assorted freaks, heads, hustlers, queens, artists, writers, actors, mostly young, who beat it at Max’s Kansas City and St. Adrian’s Company and dug the Ridiculous Theatrical Company and vicariously enjoyed the anti-straight, anti-parental contempt of Warhol’s life and work. Sooner or later they all met him, as Andrea did, and confronted his silence, in which they read approval.
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Andy Warhol made few judgments, certainly never moral ones. Because of his movies and paintings and publicized lifestyle he attracted homeless kids, runaways, who drifted to New York like gum wrappers floating in a gutter, drifted there adolescent, cynical, and about to self-destruct. Because of him they dressed in leathers or beads and glitter and painted their faces and camped it up; the young boys and girls together, because even then, long before anyone heard of rouge rock and poly sexuality, it was not cool to be straight. Not around Andy. It was boring.
They slipped into drugs, and some fell into death. And Warhol said nothing. What was there to say?
The first time I saw Andrea Whips was at the celebration in the back room of Max’s following the non-wedding of Warhol Superstar Jackie Curtis, in wedding gown, to Stuart Lichtenstein. Both Jackie and Stuart are boys and were part of The Factory circle. Andy gave the bride away.
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About four that morning, at the bridal feast, on July 21, 1969, I saw this young woman, eyes wild with pain, stand on a banquette and shove a fork in herself and, as she did, shout at Bride Jackie, “This is what a real woman looks like!” We laughed.
Then several weeks before she died, Andrea came by The Factory, a place she considered home. She was hysterical, on the dirt road going down. Her face was scarred by festering sores. People were alarmed for her. Someone said to Warhol, “She is very sick. Andrea should go to a hospital. Did you see her face?”
Warhol, not knowing what to say, spoke the truth matter-of-factly, “Well, she’s putting cigarettes to her face,” quietly, bored. “She always does that.” What was he to do?
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So Andrea Whips is dead, a suicide.
And so is Jeremy Dixon who helped edit Warhol’s Interview magazine. Jeremy is dead at twenty-five of an overdose of speed sold to him by an underground filmmaker who needed twenty dollars to buy bubble bath for a scene in a movie starring Holly Woodlawn. Holly is another Warhol Superchild with his own troubles.
And dead too is Edie Sedgewick. OD’d.
And so is Bruce Pecheur, another Warhol child who acted in Andy’s movies and the Ridiculous plays and later, after he had made it as a fashion model and an aboveground actor, could not bring himself to abandon the dockside West Village turf the Warhol kids haunt. He should have run. He was stabbed to death this summer in the Village. At home.
Warhol is like an overindulgent scoutmaster who slips the kids grass and ignores the sounds coming from the pup tents at night.
And Candy Darling, the last of the Superstars, lies dying of cancer, he says, on Long Island. All young Warhol kids. So it doesn’t go.
When I last spoke with Candy he told me how weak he was. He said the doctors wanted to use chemical therapy on him but he chose not to have it done because it would make his platinum-dyed hair fall out and his skin grey. Candy was a boy who became a girl to be a Superstar.
“I still like flowers and new dresses and kitty cats,” Candy said. “Like I still write in my diary like a little girl. Why would God want me to die?”
Andy doesn’t know.
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Andy Warhol passes through life surrounded by the young. He is like an overindulgent scoutmaster who slips the kids grass and ignores the sounds coming from the pup tents at night. And what he takes from them is knowledge. He is observant. He listens and condones. And from them he learns so much about American experience that his work always reflects trends in the culture long before the rest of us catch on.
Warhol is a paternal symbol to a generation a decade or more younger than he. He is that because his sexuality is ambiguous and therefore unthreatening to the young. Because he is passive in personality and does not frighten the young. And because he is essentially nonverbal and his imagination is visual, he shares a sensibility with a generation of kids whose consciousness was formed by television and uninformed by print.
And this: early on, Warhol was a celebrity who stayed connected with youth. He was approachable by anyone young, especially if they were beautiful.
In his vulnerability and passivity he makes kids brought up in a competition-crazed country feel strong.
And so America’s kids run away and wander into Warhol’s studio, into his life, or he finds them at parties or in the streets or they are brought to him by his friends much as people give each other gifts. Warhol likes to look at them. He likes to see them naked. Almost murdered by Valerie Solanis’ gun and astonished that he is alive, at his luck, Andy doesn’t take chances anymore. He has grown passive, shy, existing half bored on the edge of death. But he is there for them.
In his vulnerability and passivity he makes kids brought up in a competition-crazed country feel strong. When I see Warhol I catch myself sharing his astonishment that he still exists, that he survives, that he is not extinguished already like so many of his camp children, for he conveys, as does beauty, as do the young around him, fragility and the threat of expiration. When you leave him, on those occasions when you have been with him and he has been open, you go home and have the urge to call him on the phone to see if he is all right. You feel protective of him, stronger. You worry about him as you would about a father made vulnerable by sickness or loss. Because Warhol is obsessed with death. He sees it everywhere. It is no longer unexpected.
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I think it is this obsession which makes him welcome the young and tolerate them as children. He tapes conversations constantly, takes Polaroids of everybody in the vicinity. Photographs, tapes, ink prints, made by an associate, of youthful cocks and nipples and adolescent scars, masses of trivia and banality collected and filed, documentation, evidence. What possible motive for this than the attempt to cheat death by salvaging the exhaust of existence as inanimate object? As celluloid, a voice survives. A face remains unchanged on film. What makes the young beautiful to him, the reason he records them, is because he knows what they will not admit, that dying time’s around the corner, that their beauty won’t make it through. And his appeal to them? He is the father they never had.
Warhol is a father figure to the kids around him, but he is an insufficient one. He listens and watches but can never come up with more than an “Oh, really?” to their need. So this generation of children who have been abandoned by their parents, psychologically if not physically, runs to him because he pays attention. In the end the relationship does not work for them. Given the society which allows Warhol to figure as he does in the lives of the young, to be what he is for them, the young themselves will never be able to make it work for their own kids. Somewhere the string of parents-to-children has snapped and the children are disconnected. They do not know how to be parents or what parents are. When the Warhol tribe has babies it relates to them as toys, as commodities, as lovely objects; in short, as Warhol relates to them.
The young are segregated and excluded in the United States, taught in fenced-off, factory-like schools, denied employment that would integrate them into an adult world, sold trash goods and false values in a kind of cultural pacification program. They are never given real answers. They are not taken seriously. They become self-destructive. What other generation of Americans found Nembutal, Ritalin, Benzedrine, mescaline, Demerol, Percodan, Codein