‘Oh yes! Here they come! Halston, Bianca, and Andy Warhol! They’re walking in the door right now!’
Nothing captured the fascinating mix of celebrity and the underground world of sex and drugs surrounding Andy Warhol than New Year’s Eve at Studio 54.
It was New Year’s Eve in 1978. Andy Warhol was at Halston’s having dinner with Diana Ross (as one does) and a few of Halston’s other friends. “While we were sitting at Halston’s,” Pat Hackett recorded in Andy Warhol’s Diary, “we had the radio on and it was ‘live from Studio 54,’ and we heard the announcer saying, ‘Oh yes! Here they come! Halston, Bianca, and Andy Warhol! They’re walking in the door right now!’”
The heyday of Studio 54 in late 1970s was the height of glamorous New York night life and few people were more consistent regulars at Studio 54 than Andy Warhol. His posse of Halston, Bianca Jagger, Liza Minelli and dozens of other celebrities defined New York’s resurgence after the debacle of the 1970s. Though the moment was only a brief few years, it captured Warhol’s fascination with celebrity and the demimonde.
Warhol may not have been entering the premises of Studio 54 as the announcer spoke that New Year’s Eve. But he would eventually make it there later in the evening, which turned out to be the legendary night when party planner Robert Isabell trucked four tons of silver glitter into the former Broadway theater and lay it on the floor of the club in a pile four to five inches deep.
“You felt like you were standing on stardust,” co-owner Ian Schrager, told the New York Times. “People got the glitter in their hair, in their socks. You would see it in people’s homes six months later, and you knew they’d been at Studio 54 on New Year’s.”
That New Year’s would mark the apex of Studio 54’s fame and glamour. In addition to the celebrities—who ranged from Truman Capote to the boxer Ken Norton to thug-lawyer Roy Cohn, from comedian Robin Williams to Brooke Shields to the pianist Vladimir Horowitz to heiress Doris Duke who drove to the club in a station wagon, just to pick a few names from Warhol’s diary—Studio 54 was notorious for the sex people were having in the balcony and the drugs they were taking in the basement VIP room.
Studio 54 was the place that Warhol often ended his evenings when the rest of New York was getting up for its morning. But some nights, the adventure began at Studio 54. The night boxer Ken Norton was at the disco there was a January blizzard in New York. Nevertheless, Studio 54 was packed and co-owner Steve Rubell was turning people away at the door. That same night, Saturday Night Live was having a party for comedian Steve Martin at a restaurant in Greenwich Village. Warhol and Catherine Guinness left to find a cab downtown but in the blizzard there were no rides to be found.
That didn’t stop a couple from seeing the ever-recognizable Warhol on the street and offering him a ride. “They said that Stevie wouldn’t let them in to Studio 54 because they didn’t look right,” Warhol explained in the diary, “but they looked okay to me—I mean, he looked like a fairy and she looked like a drag queen, it was the Studio 54 look.”
On their way downtown, the Warhol and Guinness spied Lou Reed on the street corner. He and the girl he was with got into the couple’s car with Guinness and Warhol. The whole troupe made its way down to Steve Martin’s party where Warhol thought Martin, “was great, he seemed thrilled to meet me.”
However he might stray from Studio 54, Warhol was remarkably loyal to the club for several years. Early on, Steve Rubell seemed particularly attached to Andy Warhol. “Stevie Rubell is madly in love with me,” he told Hackett on September 29, 1977.
Tired of his relentless efforts to fund his various enterprises like Interview magazine through ad sales and portrait commissions, Warhol developed the habit of asking young success gay men to marry him. It was a Warholism. But maybe Rubell didn’t understand.
“Steve Rubell was thrilled to see us and let all ten of us in free,” Warhol dictated to Hackett for the diary. “He reminded me that I’d asked him to marry me a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t believe he would remember something casual and offhand like that. I said it once and didn’t even think he heard me.”
Evidently Rubell liked the idea enough to continue to try to impress Warhol. “At Elaine’s Stevie Rubell told me he’s very rich,” the diary tells us, “but that all his money’s in assets or hidden away.”
That boast would be Rubell’s undoing. He bragged so much about how well Studio 54 was doing, he and his partner were eventually convicted for tax evasion. In January of 1980, the two were sentenced to three and a half years in jail.
It didn’t end all at once for Studio 54. There were other owners and Warhol still went back there for the parties and the fame factor. One night in late 1981 he arrived in a white limousine with Duran Duran. But by 1982 when Warhol, a less frequent guest now, arrived at a party for Eddie Murphy’s first big Paramount movie, he was disappointed with the crowd. “It was jammed,” he told Hackett, “with nobodies.”
Less than a year later, he had to admit to Hackett that, “it was so embarrassing at this point to get in a cab and say, ‘Studio 54, please.’”
Left: Andy Warhol, VIP Ticket - Studio 54, 1978 (est. $100,000) $247,500, sold at Christie’s Nov 16, 2016;
Right: Andy Warhol, Vip Ticket (Studio 54), 1978 (est. $120,000) $314,500, sold at Sotheby’s Nov 12, 2009