How the Factory “Superstar” cemented her place as one of the most recognizable pop-culture icons of the 1960’s

By Julianne Mosoff

Edie Sedgwick

On November 21, 1965, after the opening of Andy Warhol’s first American museum retrospective, a huge crowd gathered at the party in the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. They were awaiting the always-late arrival of Warhol and Edie Sedgwick. The museum director had already removed the paintings from the walls, fearing that the riotous fans might damage the work.

As the two figures finally entered the room, the crowd screamed and rushed toward them, seemingly electrified by the presence of the stars. “Andy and Edie! Andy and Edie!” chanted the crowd.

An art opening without art—the perfect metaphor for Edie Sedgwick. Sedgwick became one of the most recognizable pop culture icons of the 1960’s, but what is she really remembered for? She was featured in a few movies produced by Warhol, had a brief but largely disappointing music career, and spent some time modeling, but the level of celebrity she reached transcended the any career accomplishment. Above all, Edie Sedgwick was famous for being famous.

Sedgwick’s fame has lived on in the years since her tragic death from a drug overdose. Her signature style has also inspired clothing lines from the likes of Betsey Johnson and fashion editorials in magazines such as Vogue and Glamour. The contemporary film Factory Girl chronicles her life and death, and a musical has also been based on her. She was also immortalized in several songs by Bob Dylan, who she legendarily idolized.

The 11 movies that Sedgwick starred in during her days at Warhol’s Factory also are considered by Warhol scholars to be masterpieces, showcasing the grace and poise that Warhol was so enamored with. “Sedgwick represented many of the things that Warhol valued and pursued,” says Vinicius Navarro, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech who has done research on the era. “She was rich, beautiful, glamorous, and extremely photogenic. Her presence in front of the camera highlighted all these attributes.”
Edith Minturn Sedgwick was born on April 20, 1943, the seventh of eight children to a wealthy Massachusetts family. The heiress did not have a happy childhood, and in one of her movies, Chiao! Manhattan, even refers to being sexually abused by her father. Mental instability ran in the family, according to Melissa Painter’s biography “Edie: Girl on Fire,” as seen in her father’s series of nervous breakdowns and the eventual suicides of two of her brothers’.

Sedgwick attended college for one semester before dropping out and moving to Manhattan, where she played the role of glamorous socialite. She met Andy Warhol at a party in January 1965 and the two soon became inseparable. As the pair was aptly described in a Time article, “They have gone to more parties than a caterer, sometimes staying for just a moment before moving on to the next one.”

Warhol was fascinated with Sedgwick and shot a series of unscripted films about her, starting with Poor Little Rich Girl. The duo made 11 such portrait films in four months. They were not financially successful and seldom seen outside of the Factory, but the young starlet continued to rise to fame anyway.

“It’s important to recall that Edie participated in some extraordinary films by Warhol,” says New York University professor David Rimanelli, “films that have enduring aesthetic and historical importance, and films which keep her alive as an indelible image.”

Vogue soon declared her a “Youthquake,” a phrase bestowed to youths on the rise, because of her “defining fashion statements,” says Paul Wilner in Obit magazine, “simple gestures like throwing a T-shirt over some leotards.” At this time Sedgwick began to dress in the signature style she is now remembered for, often donning mini-dresses, leotards, long chandelier earrings and a leopard skin coat. She kept her hair short and dyed peroxide blonde to match Warhol’s, and they often wore matching sunglasses so they would look very similar.

Their hedonistic lifestyle began to take its toll on her, though, and she became a rampant drug user like many other Factory regulars. “She was like a figure from a fairy tale on speed,” says Arthur Danto, author of “Andy Warhol” and professor at Columbia University. “She had a fatal weakness.”

In the winter of 1966, an irreparable rift grew between “Andy and Edie” as she accused him of making a mockery out of her with his films. Sedgwick distanced herself from the Factory following a final blowout at a restaurant.

Suddenly cast out of the spotlight, Sedgwick began to deteriorate, falling deeper into a world of drugs and booze. She was hospitalized for drug dependency multiple times and was in and out of mental institutions for the next few years. She met fellow patient Michael Post at Cottage Hospital, and they were married in July 1971. On November 15 of that year, Sedgwick was found dead of a drug overdose at age 28.

“Sedgwick brings to mind a particular ‘corner’ of the 1960’s,” Navarro says. “She represents youthfulness, the pleasures of pop culture, the world of underground cinema, the erosion of boundaries between official and non-official cultures, and so on.”

Recognized as an icon of both the 60’s and the Pop Art movement, Sedgwick remains ubiquitous in contemporary culture. She is one of the most recognizable figures of the decade, inspiring over ten different biographies and the film Factory Girl. Her presence is so ubiquitous that there is even an article entitled “How to Dress Like Edie Sedgwick.”

Sedgwick was never replaced as Warhol’s most prominent muse in the 60’s. Her fame and celebrity reached such a level that none of the others were able to follow in her footsteps, and for this reason she lives on. “She was a superstar in the way which none of the others were—Viva, Ultra Violet, Nico,” says Dante. “Andy never found another.”