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The Day Andy Warhol Was Shot By 'The Society for Cutting Up Men' (SCUM)

When Valerie Solanas entered Andy Warhol's sixth-floor office at 33 Union Square West on June 3, 1968, armed with two guns and consumed by a massive, paranoid grudge, things went south as quickly as you'd expect. Solana had gone to Warhol's office because she firmly believed he intended to steal her manuscript, he had ignored her calls so she went for a 'face to face'.

By the time of the shooting, Warhol was "easily one of the most recognised and popular artists working in America," as noted by Jose Diaz, curator of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Warhol's birthplace. Warhol first found acclaim as a commercial artist in the 1950s, but it was his groundbreaking pop art paintings that propelled him to international fame. His works featured iconic imagery like Campbell's soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles, and stylised portraits of celebrities.

In 1964, Warhol established the Factory, a sprawling warehouse in Midtown Manhattan adorned with foil-covered, silver-painted walls. Serving as a hybrid studio, laboratory, and social hub, it attracted individuals from all walks of life, from the most glamorous figures to fellow artists, celebrities, and musicians. As Diaz explains, it emerged as the epicenter of creativity in late '60s New York City, thanks to Warhol's influential presence. Notably, members of Warhol's Factory circle, including Edie Sedgwick, Ultra Violet, Viva, Candy Darling, and Nico, rose to fame through their appearances in his underground films produced at the Factory, achieving their own brief moments of stardom, as Warhol famously predicted.

Valerie Solanas, a radical feminist writer and activist, played a minor role in the Factory's sphere. She founded the Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM), of which she was the sole member.

Starting in late 1965, Solanas made multiple attempts to persuade Warhol to produce a play she had penned titled Up Your Ass, but encountered little success.

Warhol never promised to produce the play, but he gave the perpetually broke Solanas a role in his 1967 film I, A Man, for which she was paid $25. “The play was considered vulgar, humourless,” Diaz explains. “Even Andy and his crew thought it was a bit too much.”

Solanas’ masterwork was her SCUM Manifesto, which she wrote between 1965 and 1967. It envisioned a world without men, calling on “civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females” to “overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex.” As Breanne Fahs writes in her 2014 biography of Solanas, Valerie tried to get Warhol to help promote SCUM, even asking him in a letter in mid-1967 if he’d like to join the “Men’s Auxiliary,” the group of sympathetic men who were, according to the manifesto, “working diligently to eliminate themselves.”

Andy Warhol being carried to an ambulance unconscious after a gunshot wound.

At some point, Warhol misplaced the manuscript of her play (it later surfaced in a forgotten trunk, Diaz says), but Solanas instead came to believe that he was seeking to steal her intellectual property.

On June 3, 1968, Solanas arrived at Warhol's new office located at 33 Union Square West. Warhol had relocated from the Factory in Midtown to more luxurious surroundings earlier that year. Armed with a .32 Beretta, she shot both Warhol and Mario Amaya, the London art gallery owner he was meeting with, before departing the building.

Solanas' fired two bullets that ripped through Warhol's stomach, liver, spleen, esophagus, and both lungs. At one point, he was pronounced dead, but doctors managed to revive him. He endured two months in the hospital undergoing multiple surgeries and would subsequently be required to wear a surgical corset for the remainder of his life to support his organs. Amaya wasn’t badly wounded.

The front page of the Daily News on June 4, 1968 regarding Warhol being shot and critically wounded by one of his female stars, Valerie Solanas.

Several hours following the shooting, Solanas approached a policeman in Times Square and surrendered her .32 semi-automatic along with a .22 revolver. "He had too much control over my life," she purportedly confessed to the officer, a statement that made headlines on the front cover of the New York Daily News.

Solanas underwent multiple rounds of psychiatric evaluation and received a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Despite this, she was deemed competent to stand trial and pleaded guilty to assault charges. A judge sentenced her to three years, inclusive of time served, and she was released in late 1971.

Even after her release, Fah writes, Solanas remained steadfast in her belief that she could revolutionise the world with her SCUM Manifesto. However, as her mental health deteriorated, she became increasingly paranoid and unstable. She spent her final years residing alone in a single-occupancy welfare hotel in San Francisco, where she passed away in 1988.

The shooting significantly altered both his personal life and artistic endeavours, leaving lasting physical and emotional scars. Warhol became notably more cautious, distancing himself from much of his filmmaking and controversial artwork, and instead directing his attention towards business ventures.

Previously, Warhol had explored themes of death and violence in his art, including a series of paintings depicting sensationalised scenes of death and disaster drawn from newspaper headlines, such as car accidents and electric chairs.

Post-shooting, he revisited the theme of death, painting a series of skulls and one of guns, a weapon with which he now had an intensely personal connection. “I said that I wasn’t creative since I was shot, because after that I stopped seeing creepy people,” Warhol wrote in his diaryin November 1978.

Andy Warhol's postoperative scars. Photographed by Richard Avedon, August 20th, 1969

Moreover, the shooting heightened Warhol's aversion to hospitals, leading him to explore alternative health therapies such as healing crystals. This reluctance had tragic consequences on February 21, 1987, when Warhol passed away from cardiac arrest following gallbladder surgery—a procedure he had postponed for several years due to his fear of medical facilities. "He could have arranged to have the surgery done earlier if he had been more proactive about his health," Diaz reflects. "However, he consistently avoided hospitals. He harbored a constant fear of falling ill. I believe his near-death experience intensified that apprehension."



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