Edie: An American Biography

by Jean Stein, edited with George Plimpton
Knopf, 455 pp., $16.95

Edie Sedgwick
Edie Sedgwick; drawing by David Levine

For a brief spell in the mid-Sixties, Edie Sedgwick was the debutante princess of piss-elegance, an Andy Warhol “superstar” whose fashion trademark was a snowy white mink draped over a dimestore t-shirt. Edie was always abuzz with debbie enthusiasm—as Warhol himself put it, even when she was asleep, her hands were wide awake. But the all-American Edie was soon eclipsed on the Warhol scene by the icily cosmopolitan Nico, whose moody, ghostly voice adorned the music of the Velvet Under-ground Like Nico, Edie had a fondness for soothing candlelight, but where Nico could bathe by candlelight without setting off fire alarms Edie nearly torched herself twice—once in her East Side apartment, the next time in her room at the Chelsea Hotel. She also banged herself up once in a traffic accident, engaged in monkey-wild bouts of indiscriminate sex, and spent a number of stretches in the swankier and, later, rattier loony bins.

But it was drugs that finally cashiered Edie Sedgwick. After years of skinpopping acquaintance with amphetamine, after years of rooting through her pocketbook for loose pills, Edie expired in a barbituated daze in 1971 at the age of twenty-eight, perhaps the most notable name in that string of casualties from the Warhol camp which includes Candy Darling (cancer), Andrea Feldman (suicide), and Eric Emerson (rumored overdose).

In life, Edie Sedgwick may have been the crowning ornament of the Warhol entourage, but in death she’s being elevated into the company of Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, and Jimi Hendrix—that pop cavalcade of the beautiful slain. Not long ago, Rolling Stone ran a cover photograph of a pouty, surly Jim Morrison with the headline, “He’s hot, he’s sexy, and he’s dead.” Edie Sedgwick too is now a hot, sexy slice of necrophilia—an exploitable piece of nostalgia for those who miss the unruly, dissolute swagger of the Sixties. Edie, by Jean Stein and George Plimpton, is not only her catapult into the celestial big time but a small, brightly lit shrine. It may be pop journalism’s first compact, disposable death kit.

Excerpted in Rolling Stone, Edie is on one level another saga of golden lives gone astray, a countercultural Haywire. Even with all its golden-doomed allure, however, Edie Sedgwick’s life would at first glance seem a rather slender bough on which to hang a full-scale biography. With her stalky legs and silver hair and long, swinging earrings, Edie was perhaps the forerunner of new-wavish pop stars like Patti Smith (who’s interviewed in Edie) and Blondie’s Deborah Harry (who, not incidentally, used to waitress at Max’s Kansas City, chief hangout for the Warhol scenemakers). But that is at best a trickling influence, and it can hardly be argued that Edie actually did anything beyond dressing up and having a giggle; Diana Cooper she certainly wasn’t. Indeed, she emerges in Edie as little more than a likable, spoiled ditz who allowed herself to be ruled…

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