Known for both her beauty and her personal demons, Edie Sedgwick shot to fame as an actress with Andy Warhol's "Superstars" before dying at 28 in 1971.
From the outside, Edie Sedgwick seemed to have it all. Beautiful, rich, and a muse to Andy Warhol, she lived a life that many can only dream about. But Sedgwick’s inner darkness ran deep.
Her beauty and infectious energy masked great tragedy. Sedgwick had suffered an abusive, isolated childhood, and struggled frequently with mental illness, eating disorders, and drug abuse.
Like a lit match, she burned brilliantly — but briefly. By the time she tragically died at the age of just 28, Edie Sedgwick had posed for Vogue, inspired Bob Dylan songs, and starred in Warhol’s films.
From fame to tragedy, this is the story of Edie Sedgwick.
Edie Sedgwick’s Troubled Childhood
Born on April 20, 1943, in Santa Barbara, California, Edith Minturn Sedgwick inherited two things from her family — money and mental illness. Edie came from a long line of prominent Americans but, as her 19th-century ancestor Henry Sedgwick noted, depression was “the family disease.”
She came of age on a 3,000-acre-cattle ranch in Santa Barbara called Corral de Quati, under the thumb of her “icy” father, Francis Minturn “Duke” Sedgwick. Once cautioned from having children because of his struggles with mental illness, Francis and his wife, Alice, nevertheless had eight.
But the children were largely left to their own devices. Edie and her sisters made up their own games, roamed the ranch alone, and even lived in a separate house from their parents.
“We were taught in a weird way,” recalled Edie’s brother, Jonathan. “So that when we got out into the world we didn’t fit anywhere; nobody could understand us.”
Edie’s childhood was also marked by sexual abuse. Her father, she later claimed, first tried to have sex with her when she was seven years old. One of her brothers also allegedly propositioned her, telling Edie “a sister and brother should teach each other the rules and the game of making love.”
Indeed, Edie’s childhood fractured in more ways than one. She developed eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. And when she walked in on her father with another woman, he responded by hitting her, giving her tranquilizers, and telling her, “You don’t know anything. You’re insane.”
Soon afterward, Edie’s parents shipped her off to a psychiatric hospital called Silver Hill in Connecticut.
From Mental Hospitals To Fame In New York City
On the East Coast, Edie Sedgwick’s problems seemed to worsen. After dropping to 90 pounds, she was sent to a closed ward, where she lost her will to live.
“I was very suicidal in a blind kind of way,” Edie later said. “I was starving to death just ’cause I didn’t want to turn out like my family showed me… I didn’t want to live.”
At the same time, Edie had begun to experience life outside of her family dynamic. While in the hospital, she started a relationship with a Harvard student. But this too was imbued with darkness — after losing her virginity, Edie got pregnant and had an abortion.
“I could get an abortion without any hassle at all, just on the grounds of a psychiatric case,” she recalled. “So it wasn’t too good a first experience with lovemaking. I mean, it kind of screwed up my head, for one thing.”
She left the hospital and enrolled at Radcliffe, Harvard’s college for women, in 1963. There, Edie — beautiful, waif-like, and vulnerable — made an impression on her classmates. One remembered: “Every boy at Harvard was trying to save Edie from herself.”
In 1964, Edie Sedgwick finally made her way to New York City. But tragedy dogged her there, too. That year, her brother Minty hanged himself after confessing his homosexuality to their father. And another of Edie’s brothers, Bobby, had a nervous breakdown and fatally drove his bike into a bus.
Despite this, Edie seemed to fit in well with the energy of 1960s New York. Twiggy-thin, and armed with her $80,000 trust fund, she had all of the city in the palm of her hand. And then, in 1965, Edie Sedgwick met Andy Warhol.
When Edie Sedgwick Met Andy Warhol
On March 26, 1965, Edie Sedgwick met Andy Warhol at Tenessee Williams’ birthday party. It wasn’t a chance encounter. Movie producer Lester Persky had nudged the two together, recalling that when Andy first saw a picture of Edie, “Andy sucked in his breath and said ‘Oh, she’s so bee-you-ti-ful.’ Making every single letter sound like a whole syllable.”
Warhol later described Edie as “so beautiful but so sick,” adding, “I was really intrigued.”
He suggested Edie come to his studio, The Factory at East 47th Street in Midtown Manhattan. And when she stopped by that April, he gave her a small role in his all-male film, Vinyl.
Edie’s part was all of five minutes and involved smoking and dancing with no dialogue. But it was captivating. Just like that, Edie Sedgwick became Warhol’s muse.
She cut her hair and dyed it hair silver to match Warhol’s iconic look. Meanwhile, Warhol cast Edie in film after film, eventually making 18 with her.
“I think Edie was something Andy would like to have been; he was transposing himself into her à la Pygmalion,” mused Truman Capote. “Andy Warhol would like to have been Edie Sedgwick. He would like to have been a charming, well-born debutante from Boston. He would like to have been anybody except Andy Warhol.”
Meanwhile, Edie became famous for being famous, and her unique look — short hair, dark eye make-up, black stockings, leotards, and miniskirts — made her instantly recognizable.
Behind the scenes, however, Edie frequently turned to drugs. She liked speedballs, or a shot of heroin in one arm and amphetamines in the other.
But though Warhol and Edie were inseparable for a time, it took less than a year for things to fall apart. Sedgwick began to lose faith in Warhol as early as the summer of 1965, complaining “These movies are making a complete fool out of me!”
Plus, she’d developed an interest in another popular art figure. Edie Sedgwick and Bob Dylan, the famous folk singer, had allegedly begun a dalliance of their own.
The Rumored Romance Between Edie Sedgwick And Bob Dylan
Edie Sedgwick and Bob Dylan’s romance — if it existed — was kept secret. But the singer allegedly wrote a number of songs about her, including “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.” And Edie’s brother Jonathan claimed that Edie did fall for the folk singer, hard.
“She called me up and said she’d met this folk singer in the Chelsea, and she thinks she’s falling in love,” he said. “I could tell the difference in her, just from her voice. She sounded so joyful instead of sad. It was later on she told me she’d fallen in love with Bob Dylan.”
What’s more, Jonathan claimed that Edie got pregnant by Dylan — and that doctors forced her to have an abortion. “Her biggest joy was with Bob Dylan, and her saddest time was with Bob Dylan, losing the child,” Jonathan said. “Edie was changed by that experience, very much so.”
That wasn’t the only thing that changed in her life at that time. Her relationship with Warhol, who perhaps felt jealous about Edie Sedgwick and Bob Dylan, began to crumble.
“I try to get close to [Andy], but I can’t,” Edie confided in a friend as their partnership deteriorated.
Even her romance with Bob Dylan seemed doomed. In 1965, he married Sara Lowndes in a secret ceremony. Shortly thereafter, Sedgwick started a relationship with Dylan’s good friend, folk musician Bobby Neuwirth. But it couldn’t fill the gaping chasm that had opened up inside of her.
“I was like a sex slave to this man,” Edie said. “I could make love for 48 hours… without getting tired. But the moment he left me alone, I felt so empty and lost that I would start popping pills.”
Edie’s downward spiral didn’t go unnoticed. In her final movie with Warhol, the artist gave one chilling direction: “I want something where Edie commits suicide at the end.” And to a friend, Warhol asked, “‘Do you think Edie will let us film her when she commits suicide?'”
Indeed, Edie Sedgwick’s days were numbered.
The Fatal Downfall Of An Iconic Muse
After parting ways with Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick’s star seemed to continue to rise. But she still grappled with her inner demons.
In 1966, she was photographed for the cover of Vogue. But though the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Diana Vreeland, dubbed her a “Youthquake,” Sedgwick’s excessive use of drugs stopped her from becoming part of the Vogue family.
“She was identified in the gossip columns with the drug scene, and back then there was a certain apprehension about being involved in that scene,” said senior editor Gloria Schiff. “Drugs had done so much damage to young, creative, brilliant people that we were just anti that scene as a policy.”
After living in the Chelsea Hotel for a few months, Edie went home for Christmas in 1966. Her brother Jonathan recalled her behavior back at the ranch as strange and alien-like. “She’d pick up what you were about to say before you’d say it. It made everyone uncomfortable. She wanted to sing, and so she would sing… but it was a drag because it wasn’t in tune.”
Unable to handle her drug habit, Neuwirth left Edie in early 1967. In March of the same year, Sedgwick started to film a semi-biographical film called Ciao! Manhattan. Although her poor health due to drug use stalled the film’s production, she managed to complete it in 1971.
By this point, Edie had gone through several more mental institutions. Though she was struggling, she still exuded the same charming energy that had so enticed Dylan and Warhol. In 1970, she fell in love with a fellow patient, Michael Post, and married him on July 24, 1971.
But just like her stunning rise, Edie’s fall came suddenly. On Nov. 16, 1971, Post woke up to find his wife dead beside him. She was just 28 years old, and had died from an apparent barbiturates overdose.
Edie had lived a short life, but she lived it with all her heart. Despite her demons and the weight of her past, she found herself in the nexus of New York culture, the muse to not one, but two great artists of the 20th century.
“I’m in love with everyone I’ve ever met in one way or another,” she once said. “I’m just a crazy, unhinged disaster of a human being.”