Edie Sedgwick tried to maintain a balance between her demons and her rising fame. But ultimately, the two went hand-in-hand.
“It’s strange, wherever I’ve been, I’ve been quite notorious and quite instantly so. But I’ve never been anywhere where I haven’t been known.” Edie Sedgwick said that in an interview during a time when the socialite could be found frolicking around the Lower East of New York City, attending gallery openings with Andy Warhol, and being the “Girl of the Year.” But a troubled family and a history of drug abuse would lead to her untimely ending at a young age.
It wasn’t a sudden crash, but a slow, descending fall.
Edie Sedgwick’s Rich But Tragic Beginnings
Born in an illustrious and wealthy family on April 20, 1943, Edie Sedgwick was the seventh of eight children. Despite their affluent beginnings, the children were deeply troubled and had a history of mental illness.
All the children experienced strained relationships with their artist father Francis, who they called “fuzzy.” The children intermittently adored him and loathed his controlling, often abusive ways while they were raised on their massive and isolated cattle ranch in Santa Barbara.
One day during her adolescence, Edie walked in on Francis and another woman in bed. Francis slapped his daughter, telling her that she imagined the whole thing and called her insane. He then had a doctor prescribe her tranquilizers, which would be the start of a lifelong struggle with drugs.
Sedgwick’s teenage years were full of difficulties as well. She was committed to Silver Hill Hospital in Connecticut, a psychiatric hospital in 1962. In 1963 she moved to Cambridge, Mass. to study art, but bouts of anorexia caused her to drop out of school.
But the biggest blow for Sedgwick came when two of her brothers killed themselves within 18 months of one another. Francis Jr. aka “Minty,” who had a very close relationship with Edie, fell in love with a man and hanged himself as a result. Her older brother Bobby’s mental instability caused him to drive his motorcycle into the side of a bus.
New York And Andy Warhol
By 1964, after turning 21, Sedgwick moved to New York. She relied on her socialite status at first, spending most of her time going to wild parties. Though she also had aspirations of acting, dancing, and modeling. It was at a party for Tennessee Williams in 1965 when she first encountered the man who would soon launch her career: Andy Warhol.
Movie producer Lester Persky was hosting the party and recalled Andy’s first glimpse of Sedgwick to Jean Stein, author of the biography Edie: American Girl. Persky said “Andy sucked in his breath and said ‘Oh, she’s so bee-you-ti-ful.’ Making every single letter sound like a whole syllable.”
Almost like that, a duo was born. Warhol suggested Eddie stop by his infamous factory at East 47th Street in Midtown Manhattan.
When Sedgwick came by, Warhol was in the middle of making Vinyl, an all-male film, but decided to last minute give Sedgwick a short role. Her part was all of five minutes and she did nothing but smoke and dance a bit. But it was captivating.
“The great stars are the ones who are doing something you can watch every second, even if it’s just a movement inside their eye,” said screenwriter Ronald Tavel.
Soon Edie Sedgwick had dyed her hair silver, not unlike Warhol’s. He put her as the leading lady in at least 10 of his movies. Everyone in the pop art subculture scene knew Edie Sedgwick’s name and consequently, she was labeled as Vanity Fair’s Girl of the Year of 1965.
As for Sedgwick, she almost saw Warhol as a father figure. He was an artist like her own father, and though the two men had wildly different personalities, they both in a way established “empires” which they could rule over.
Though Warhol and his muse were inseparable for a time, it wasn’t long-lasting. In the summer of 1965 Sedgwick began to lose faith in Warhol, increasingly believing that the movies he was putting her in made her look like a fool. Additionally, she began to gain interest in somebody else.
Edie Sedgwick And Bob Dylan
Edie Sedgwick met Bob Dylan through a chance encounter at the Factory. The details of the exact nature of Sedgwick and Dylan’s relationship have never been made completely clear, but it’s pretty well reported that Sedgwick’s infatuation was immediate.
While no official romance between the two was ever confirmed, their flirtatious nature didn’t go unnoticed. Many have speculated that Dylan’s hits “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat,” “Just Like a Woman, ” and “Like a Rolling Stone” were about Sedgwick.
But in November of 1965 Dylan had already wed Sara Lowndes in a secret ceremony. Shortly after, Sedgwick started a relationship with Dylan’s good friend, folk musician Bobby Neuwirth.
By then, Sedgwick was no longer appearing in Warhol’s films and found herself estranged from him and his inner circle. In the final movie they would do together, Lupe, Warhol allegedly gave the writer a chilling, sole, direction: “I want something where Edie commits suicide at the end.”
Continued Success And Escalating Drug Use
The momentum of Edie Sedgwick’s career continued. Unfortunately, so did her demons.
In 1966, she was photographed for the cover of Vogue and the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Diana Vreeland, named her a “Youthquake,” which represented a new 1960s cultural movement.
However, her reported 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, Eddie 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 her in early 1967. In March of that year. Sedgwick had started to film a semi-biographical film called Ciao! Manhattan. However, her drug use put her in poor health, which stalled the film’s production. She had also been put in several mental institutions once again, and the film wasn’t completed until 1971.
Towards the end of 1976, Edie’s father died. Shortly before he passed, one of Francis’ brother visited him and heard him say, “You know, my children all believe that their difficulties stem from me. And I agree. I think they do.”
Edie Sedgwick met a fellow patient, Michael Post, while in the Cottage Hospital in 1970. They married on July 24, 1971. Allegedly, she stopped using alcohol and drugs for a short period following her marriage. But in October 1971 she was prescribed pain medications, which led to an abuse of combining barbiturates and alcohol.
On November 16, 1971, Edie Sedgwick died of an overdose on barbiturates, the same drug that killed Marilyn Monroe. She was 28 years old.