Inside the Many Tragedies Spawned From Valerie Solanas' Attempted Murder of Andy Warhol
The shooting shocked New York City and made Valerie Solanas a household name despite wanting respect from the artist.
In 1968, Andy Warhol was at the top of his game in the art world and had room to experiment with film. Then one summer afternoon in early June, everything changed.
Writer Valerie Solanas went into Warhol’s office, pulled out a gun and shot him. Warhol just barely survived the shooting, but some have said it may have led to his death nearly 20 years later.
But how many have remembered the attack on the man who claimed everyone would be famous for 15 minutes is a saga unto itself.
The Artist and The Writer
Andy Warhol was from the working-class, blue-collar city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But from a young age, he had his sights on a bigger world than the one his immigrant parents raised him in. In 1949, he arrived in New York City and immediately got to work as an illustrator for various ad agencies.
“In early 1961, he really turned himself into one of the new pop artists of that moment,” “Warhol” biographer Blake Gopnik told Inside Edition Digital. “He had a big hand in creating the movement known as pop art, where artists took everyday objects, objects made commercially, and presented them as the subject of fine art. And that's really his discovery.”
He would go on to shake up the art world and the scene in New York City from his infamous Silver Factory, his Midtown space he used as an office, art studio and event area. Inside “The Factory,” he dictated what was cool.
“Andy Warhol is possibly the greatest artist of all time. He redefined what art is. He not only elevated drag and trans personalities to the realm of superstar, he changed what cinema can be, what art can be,” culture critic Michael Musto told Inside Edition Digital. “He took American capitalism and consumerism and spat it back in your face, by doing Campbell's Soup art, and he made a fortune while doing it. And at the same time, he conquered every medium there is and was a very inspiring person on the scene.”
People sought out Warhol’s validation and approval. His endorsement was life-changing and career-catapulting.
“Just having him in our midst was like having some great messiah or wonderful shaman who seemed to know everything and was clued in. And we turned to for guidance, we turned to him for validation,” Musto said.
And there was no better place to seek Warhol’s approval than The Factory. One such person who flocked to the creative’s headquarters was writer Valerie Solanas.
Solanas, who grew up in New Jersey, had a traumatic upbringing. She was reportedly sexually assaulted by her father at a young age and allegedly physical abused at the hands of her grandfather
She left home when she was 15 and soon became pregnant. She went on to have two children, a girl and later a boy, whom she had to give up.
“Her daughter, her first child was raised, so she was sort of sent away to have the baby and then she was raised as her sister,” Breanne Fahs, who wrote the biography, “Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote Scum (and Shot Andy Warhol)” told Inside Edition Digital.
Solanas’ biological son told Fahs he had no contact with her after he was placed for adoption.
Solanas went on to get a degree in psychology from the University of Maryland. She attended the University of Minnesota's Graduate School of Psychology before dropping out and moving to attend Berkeley, where she took several courses.
It was during this time that she came out as a lesbian and began writing. what she called the “SCUM Manifesto.” SCUM stood for Society for Cutting Up Men.
“The ‘SCUM Manifesto,’ which involved overturning capitalism, getting rid of everything, especially men. She just wanted men to be eliminated from the populace. People said, ‘Oh, she's kidding. It's a satire.’ She said, ‘No, I'm not,’” Musto said.
Solanas struggled with mental health and as she was finding her path in life, she stood out from the crowd, according to Fahs.
“Here's a very bright, very ambitious woman, she sort of sticks out like a sore thumb from the pearl-clutching kind of the '50s and '60s women that are her contemporaries,” Fahs said.
Solanas arrived in New York City in 1962. It was there and then that she set out live her truth as best she could, Fahs said.
“This bohemian New York City scene, where she's finally in a place where she gets to sort of be openly bisexual, openly lesbian, openly, whatever she wants,” Fahs said.
Solanas eventually moved to the Chelsea Hotel, which had long been home to artists, writers, musicians and other people who didn't quite fit into mainstream society. Solanas did odd jobs and sex work while she pursued her career as a writer and obsessed over “SCUM.”
She wrote and obsessively revised “SCUM” between 1965 and 1967, according to Nicole Dezelon, associate director of learning at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
“Initially, she self-published the document and sold mimeographed copies to men for $2.50, but women could have it for a dollar, which I think just sums up the philosophy of Valerie Solanas right there,” Dezelon said.
While living at the Chelsea, she met and signed the rights to “SCUM” over to publisher Maurice Girodias.
“She signed a contract with Girodias to publish ‘SCUM Manifesto,’ but as her paranoia worsened, she kind of misinterpreted the document and the contract and feared that she had signed away the rights to her future, her writings as well,” Dezelon said.
It was during this time that she also met Andy Warhol and tried to get the artist to produce her play, “Up Your A**.” She gave Warhol one of her only copies of the play. Warhol reportedly discarded it and laughed at how explicit it was. But Solanas would not be deterred. She continued to follow up with Warhol about the play, and he began feeling bad. He began giving her money and paid her $25 to act in his experimental film, “I, a Man.”
But the more flippant Warhol became with Solanas, the more her paranoia heightened. When Warhol told Solanas he would give her a job as a typist at The Factory because of how well-typed her play was, she took the gesture to mean he was trying to steal her property, Dezelon said.
“So she developed this theory that [Girodias] and Warhol were both conspiring to steal her work, but in reality the two men, they barely knew one another,” Dezelon added.
The Shooting of Andy Warhol Amid a Changing America
In early 1968, Warhol moved out of the Factory in Midtown and into a new place in Union Square, which many still called his Factory. As the artist marked a period of change for himself, America was seeing its own revolution.
The Vietnam War, which was still raging, divided America into Hawks and Doves, or those who supported the fighting and those who didn’t. Students protested on campuses and cities across the country. In February 1968, sanitation workers went on strike in Memphis. It became a watershed moment for the Civil Rights movement.
That March, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not seek reelection, opening the door for New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy as the Democratic favorite. In April, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis by White Supremacist James Earl Ray; two days after King’s killing, the Black Panthers and Oakland Police engaged in a shootout that saw 17-year-old Bobby Hutton shot dead as he tried to surrender.
New York City saw its fair share of upheaval as well. Students protested the war and that February, sanitation workers went on strike, demanding better wages and leaving the streets of the five boroughs piled high with trash for nine days. That spring, the musical “Hair” introduced audiences to sex, drugs and nudity on stage.
“In the '60s, America was in tumult. There was a lot of rage in the air, along with the hippy dippy love fest that was the counter to that. And there were assassinations left and right,” Musto said. “Things seem to be helter-skelter and out of control. And it set the scene for Valerie Solanas, for somebody that unhinged to claim center stage, in such a dark, dangerous way.”
On June 3, 1968, Solanas showed up at Girodias’ office that morning. He was not there and she allegedly told his secretary she was planning to kill her boss. She then went to Union Square and waited for Warhol outside his office.
Warhol arrived at the office later that afternoon. Solanas and Warhol rode the elevator together up to his office, where a group of people were already congregated. As those people began speaking to Solanas, she reached for something.
“All of a sudden she pulls out a gun and starts shooting for no real reason,” Gopnik said.
Solanas used a .32-caliber pistol to open fire. She eventually struck Warhol, hitting him with a bullet that ripped through many of his major organs.
“Warhol falls to the ground, cowering, he smashes into a desk, he smashes his head. And eventually she comes right up, presses the gun against his side just under his armpit and shoots. The bullet pierces all sorts of organs,” Gopnik said.
Solanas also shot London art critic Mario Amaya who was in the office that day. A bullet grazed his back. He was discharged from the hospital later that day. Solanas also aimed at Fred Hughes, Warhol's business manager, who pleaded for his life. As begged to not be shot, the elevators abruptly opened.
“Solanas flees the scene of the crime and rides down the elevator. So you couldn't get any more cinematic than that,” Dezelon said.
Three hours after the shooting, Solanas surrendered to the NYPD near Times Square, telling a traffic cop that Warhol “had too much control over my life.”
Solanas quickly became the center of the New York media’s attention. The New York Daily News put on their front page the next day with the headline, “Actress Shoots Warhol.” Solanas demanded a retraction after seeing it, reportedly telling the paper, “I'm a writer, not an actress.” The Daily News issued the retraction and changed the headline for the later edition of the June 4, 1968 paper.
The Aftermath of the Shooting of Andy Warhol
It took nearly 20 minutes for the ambulance to arrive following the first shots inside the office. Warhol was shot just over a month before New York City would implement its 911 system.
Warhol was rushed to Columbus–Mother Cabrini Hospital with a ruptured stomach, liver, spleen and lungs. It was unclear if he would make it and was pronounced clinically dead.
Doctors massaged his heart and he was then operated on for five hours by Italian immigrant Dr. Giuseppe Rossi.
“My parents had just recently immigrated to the United States and my father was a working doctor and wasn't as plugged into the visual arts, fine arts scene, certainly not enough for him to recognize the name and immediately know who he was operating on,” Dr. Rossi’s son, Roberto, told Inside Edition Digital.
Dezelon said that Warhol spent two months in the hospital. “His injuries were so severe that he had to wear a surgical corset for the rest of his life,” Dezelon said.
Two days after Warhol was shot, on June 5, Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan as he spoke to supporters inside the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
While recovering in the hospital, Warhol heard the news that Kennedy had been killed. The news was so surreal that he thought he was dreaming, according to Gopnik.
Warhol was eventually released from the hospital, but he never forgot what Dr. Rossi had done for him.
“The presence Andy Warhol had in our lives was a very dutiful orchid sent pretty much every holiday season with a thank you note. So we always got an orchid from Andy Warhol around Christmas time thanking my dad. ‘To Dr. Rossi, thanks so much.’ And that's the extent of it. My father really did not dwell on this much,” Rossi said.
Warhol also gifted the Rossis with a series of paintings of his infamous Campbell’s Soup cans, something that Roberto Rossi said was stashed under his parents’ bed because there was no room in the apartment for them to be hung.
The family auctioned the paintings in 2017 for an undisclosed amount.
“We just made the choice that if we weren't going to put them up and we were going to be keeping them in storage, wherever it was anyway, that there might be people out there who may want to be putting them up,” Rossi said.
Following the shooting, Warhol chose not to press charges against his would-be assassin.
According to Fahs, Warhol said his reasoning was because Solanas was “acting in her nature” and that is who she was.
“Warhol, for all of his limitations, had this ability to take people for who they were and truly allow them to be extremely weird or eccentric or even violent,” Fahs added.
Appearing before a judge, Solanas said what she did to Warhol was “a moral act. And I consider it immoral that I missed. I should have done target practice.”
Solanas was charged with attempted murder, assault and illegal possession of a gun. She was later declared mentally unstable and a paranoid schizophrenic.
Months after the shooting, the SCUM Manifesto was officially published by Girodias and his company Olympia.
“The manifesto would not have been published by Girodias or probably by any other major publisher if it didn't have this sensationalistic story around it,” Fahs said.
In June 1969, a year after the shooting, Solanas was deemed competent and was able to stand trial. Refusing an attorney, she represented herself and pleaded guilty to reckless assault with intent to harm. She was sentenced to three years in prison, with one year of time served.
While in prison, Solanas tried to get in touch with Warhol in a series of letters.
“She would write him letters like ‘Dear Toad,’ and these hilarious, hateful, strange sort of letters,” Fahs said.
Trying to Lead Their Own Lives But Always Together
Warhol continued to make his art and be a fixture of New York City nightlife as he recovered from the shooting. He showed off the scars he sustained from his life-saving surgery to photographer friends and documented his body’s recovery himself.
All the while, as Solanas served her time in prison, she split the feminist movement of the 1960s into two.
“This shooting didn't just have an impact in terms of the Warhol scene or the art world or that thing. It also had a huge impact on the entire history of the feminist movement from that point forward, which largely then divides between radical and liberal feminism,” Fahs said. “And we get to see the birth of very different political priorities from that point forward as well.”
Fahs said that some women inside the National Organization for Women saw Valerie's Solanas shooting Andy Warhol as “a symbol of women being pushed to the edge.”
“It's a symbol of women's anger,” Fahs said of their take on the shooting. “’We need to see this as a feminist cause. We need to rush to her aid. We need to provide legal counsel. She is one of us.’”
Others inside the organization said violence had no place in the group and didn’t see Solanas as relevant, according to Fahs.
Solanas was released from prison in 1971 and continued to stalk Warhol, according to Dezelon. The idea of her out of prison frightened Warhol.
“The shooting mercifully did not end Andy's life, but it did alter it irrevocably, because he was nervous and afraid ever since that happened, that it could happen again. And if he ever saw someone that reminded him even vaguely of Valerie, he was wary of them. He was terrified of another Valerie Solanas,” Musto said. “Andy was a public figure. He depended on going out, meeting people in restaurants, going to nightclubs. He was always wary from that point on, to try to prevent another shooting. It certainly could have happened again with another crackpot.”
By the mid-1970s Solanas was out of prison, and found herself homeless in New York City. She had several breakdowns and mental health episodes, according to Fahs.
“She becomes completely consumed with a paranoid idea that her uterus has a uterine transmitter that's communicating messages to the mob,” Fahs said. “At one point, she tries to dig that transmitter out of her body with a fork. It was really violent, terrible disintegration of the self.”
She was arrested again in November 1971 for stalking Warhol and went back to prison several times before moving out of New York. She lived in Arizona and San Francisco, where she began writing again, publishing what she believed was the purest form of the SCUM manifesto.
While living in San Francisco, Solanas resided in a single-occupancy hotel, Fahs said.
“One of those little welfare hotels that they had at the time,” Fahs said. “And she sort of gets into drugs and is prostituting, again.”
The Legacies of Andy Warhol and Valerie Solanas
Warhol would take a fear of hospitals from his near-death experience. He continued to face a series of health problems in the wake of the shooting.
“His body had been damaged by the shooting, there's no doubt about that, he actually had to have follow up surgery…he had infections or all sorts of problems. And he for a while at least is taking speed every day, he's addicted to or he takes a lot of Valium, he's on downers, he's on uppers, he's part of the party scene. None of that's great for your body,” Gopnik said.
Warhol suffered from an infected gallbladder but wanted to find a holistic cure. However, his condition became so bad that despite his fear of hospitals, he went under the knife in February 1987 for gallbladder surgery.
“What people call a routine gallbladder operation that Andy underwent in 1987 wasn't really routine at all. It was tricky, it wasn't beyond the skills of this very talented surgeon, but it wasn't straightforward at all. Andy has simply left his illness go too long, his gallbladder was too rotten, there was too much infection,” Gopnik said.
Warhol’s heart gave out on Feb. 22, 1987. He was 58. Some say his death was a result of the shooting.
“Somewhere around 4 o'clock in the morning, his heart stopped. They tried to revive him, they tried again and again. They did find his heartbeat again I think two times, they did CPR, they inject him full of all sorts of emergency drugs to bring him back to life. But in the end, frankly, his heart just stopped,” Gopnik said.
Musto eulogized Warhol in The Village Voice, where he declared “The Death of Downtown” because of the artist’s death.
“One of the impetus for that was not only that the clubs were kind of tired or closing, but our leader was gone. He was the leader of the scene. He was a leader of the nightlife scene, the art scene, the magazines, everything,” Musto said. “He really was like the unofficial mayor of New York.”
Solanas was told the news by a friend and former Factory alum, Ultra Violet.
“Ultra Violet calls Valerie Solanas and says, ‘Did you hear the news about Andy Warhol?’ And Valerie had not heard,” Fahs said. “It was kind of like the reaction was basically like, ‘Oh, he died? Yea. Let me ask you some questions about the copyright for the SCUM Manifesto. How do I get to the Library of Congress and get the copy?’”
“Andy always felt everyone on Earth will ultimately have their own TV show and be famous for 15 minutes,” Musto said. “Tragically enough, Valerie Solanas became famous as a result of shooting Andy Warhol. But it also made him more famous in a way he didn't want. It did generate a lot of publicity, but it's not the kind of publicity he relished. He wanted things to be happy. He loved gossip. He liked being a bitchy queen, believe me, but that's about as mean as he got.”
Just over a year after Warhol’s death, Solanas died of pneumonia at the Bristol Hotel in San Francisco, where she was living in squalor. Her body was found after the owner arrived looking for her due to delinquent rent payments, according to Biography. She was 52.
“She's stuck in that world where she is forever linked to Andy Warhol instead of to herself, which is maybe the most horrifying outcome for somebody who always wanted to be self-defined and who never would have wanted to be defined according to being associated with a man,” Fahs said. “She is interesting in her own right.”
The incident between Solanas and Warhol has been referenced many times over the years in pop culture.
Lou Reed wrote two songs over the years to cheer up his mentor and close friend. In 1969, he released “Andy’s Chest,” and later in 1990, Reed and John Cale released “I Believe.” Both songs reference the near-death experience the artist had.
Solanas was portrayed by Lili Taylor in the acclaimed 1996 film “I Shot Andy Warhol.” In 2017, Lena Dunham played Solanas in an episode of “American Horror Story: Cult.”
Dezelon said that Solanas’ script she gave Warhol for her play, “Up You’re A**,” was found by the Andy Warhol Museum years later.
The SCUM Manifesto continues to be published to this day, but its popularity pales in comparison to Warhol’s art, which is as popular today as it was when the artist created it.
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