The actress Viva was on the phone with Andy Warhol, whose pop celeb creature she was, when she heard loud cracking sounds coming through the receiver. With some justification, Viva kinkily thought ”it was a whip cracking,” she said later. But she was hearing gunshots. Aspiring writer-actress Valerie Solanas had walked into the Factory — the downtown Manhattan headquarters for Warhol’s Pop art empire — pulled a .32 from the pocket of her trenchcoat and blazed away. Wounded in the spleen, stomach, liver, lungs, and esophagus, Warhol was given a 50-50 chance to live. And so, on June 3, 1968, began the greatest scandale in the career of the man who made an art form of that genre.
Ultra Violet, Viva, and other Warhol-made superstars gathered at Columbus Hospital and speculated on Solanas’ motive for shooting the artist. The founder of SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men), Solanas had appeared as a lesbian in Warhol’s 1967 underground film, I, a Man, but she had always been on the outskirts of his circle. Reportedly, she was angry because Warhol wouldn’t film an obscenely titled script she had written. Ultra Violet said at the hospital, ”This underground movie world is a mad, mad world with a lot of mad people in it. Maybe this girl was mad herself.”
Most people thought there was no maybe about it. Surrendering later that day to a cop in Times Square, Solanas said, ”The police are looking for me. They want me. I am a flower child. He had too much control over my life.” At her arraignment, Solanas stated, ”It’s not often that I shoot somebody. I didn’t do it for nothing.”
Warhol spent two months in the hospital but didn’t press charges. Solanas copped a plea to first-degree assault, was sentenced to three years in prison, and became something of a heroine among fringe feminists. After serving her time, she lived quietly in New York, Phoenix, and San Francisco, where she died of pneumonia in 1988 at the age of 52. She survived by a year the man who became the very symbol of an age, the omnipresent, silver-bewigged demiurge of the demimonde, the Pop art pet of café society, who, after gallbladder surgery, finally died alone in the place he feared most, a New York hospital.
June 3, 1968
Arthur Hailey’s Airport glided into the No. 1 spot on the best-seller list, and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were explosive in Boom! Simon & Garfunkel’s ”Mrs. Robinson” graduated to the top of the charts, and The Andy Griffith Show was tops on TV.