Blake Gopnik opens his exhaustive biography of Warhol with Andy’s near death, on June 3, 1968, the day he was shot by Valerie Solanas, über-feminist pamphleteer and brooding outlier in the Warhol universe. “Near death” doesn’t do justice to how near dead Warhol was. In the emergency room, he had no detectable pulse. By chance, a doctor pushed open an eyelid to discover that Warhol’s pupil contracted in the light, a reflex that separates the still faintly living from the truly dead.
After an operation that removed his spleen, salvaged half his liver, and reattached his severed esophagus, a brutally scarred Warhol survived, only to die 18 years later following what seemed at first to be successful gallbladder surgery. But by that time it was common to say he really had departed on that day in ’68. Unkind but not so untrue. The Warhol of the 1960s was one of those hinges that 20th-century art turned upon. No one before him had planted the flag of art into the muck of pop culture with such abandon. But after that? The man who survived, as ubiquitous as ever and richer by far, Polaroid-toting court artist to Studio 54 and incense bearer to the stars, really was a ghost of himself.