More biographies on Andy Warhol have been written since his death in 1987 than when he was still alive. I have read many of them, and as I reread my past diary entries I am also rereading my book reviews. Without question the worst Warhol biography was Ultra Violet’s rushed “tell-all” Famous for 15 Minutes: My Years with Andy Warhol. The Life and Death of Andy Warhol by Victor Bockris, however, is certainly the best biography I have read on the Prince of Pop Art.
Bockris, like Ultra Violet, was a Warhol insider who worked closely with the artist. While Ultra Violet hung out among the druggies at The Factory and whored herself to reporters for any available inches of press ink, Bockris worked with Warhol on his book and television projects, as well as Interview magazine. The Life and Death of Andy Warhol goes further back than any Warhol biography I know, all the way back to Warhol’s family history in Slavic Ruthenia. We learn about his parents, aunts and uncles and what immigrant life was like for Warhol’s ancestors. Bockris interviews Andy Warhol’s first teachers and his schoolmates, and it is these intimate interviews that make the book unique. Other biographers may interview only those in Warhol’s contemporary circle of friends, whereas Bockris went further into the past and finally got some answers to questions that have left other biographies severely lacking. For example: why did Warhol’s mother live with him? Was Warhol gay? Was he asexual? Why did he fear hospitals? Other biographies have given short and simple answers to these questions, but didn’t have any depth in the historical explanation.
My only regret is that there were no colour photos, and none at all of his art. How can one publish a book about an artist, and not include photos of the works one is describing in the text? Maybe Bockris needed the rights to print photographs of Warhol’s works. There were only a few black-and-white pictures, and they were either photos that every Warhol fan has seen before, or photos from Warhol’s two brothers’ private albums, which weren’t published anywhere until now.
I enjoyed this book immensely. It was a bio I could not put down once I picked it up. The type was dense and there was no wasted space between the lines or in the margins. It was a longer read than some of the biographies I have recently reviewed, and would have finished it on Friday had I not had a marathon Scrabble weekend at my house with Ron Hoekstra, Mark Edelson and Yvonne Lobo.