NEW YORK, NY — On June 3, 1968, Hell (or at least the Manhattan art world) had no fury like Valerie Solanas scorned.
It was on that afternoon that 28-year-old radical women’s rights activist and avant-garde provocateur Solanas attempted to murder Andy Warhol by shooting him inside the pop artist’s famous Union Square studio, The Factory.Related: When Fans Turn Freakish — 4 of the Most Rabid Celebrity Stalkers
Earlier that day, Warhol’s filmmaking collaborator Paul Morrissey had repeatedly tossed Solanas out of The Factory. She insisted she was waiting to get money from Warhol, who she had hoped would produce and possibly make a movie out of her play, an outspoken piece titled Up Your A–.
Unfortunately, Warhol is said to have told Solanas he wasn’t interested in the project. Solanas, it became clear, would not accept that decision without protest.
For hours, then, Solanas rode the Factory’s cage-style elevator up and down until Warhol finally showed up. He supposedly said Solanas looked good and, much to Morrissey’s chagrin, invited her inside.
Once there, Solanas pointed a .32-caliber automatic handgun at Warhol and squeezed the trigger three times. Two bullets missed; one tore through Warhol’s lungs, esophagus, spleen, liver, and stomach.She also pumped lead into the hip of bystander art world writer Mario Amaya, leaving him with a superficial injury.
After that, Solanas split.
An ambulance rushed Warhol into emergency surgery while Solanas roamed the streets. Three hours later, in Times Square, Valerie turned herself in to a rookie traffic cop.
Upon handing the officer both the weapon she used and a separate .22-caliber revolver, Solanas said: “The police are looking for me. I am a flower child. He had too much control over her life.”
The “he” to which Solanas referred clearly meant Warhol. The pop artist’s doctors at Columbus Hospital, in the meantime, gave him a 50-50 chance of survival.
Ostensibly, Solanas’s homicidal anger arose from Warhol rejecting Up Your A–. However, she also said alternately that Warhol had stolen the play from her and/or lost her only copy of it. Her story changed more than once.
One underlying constant, though, was Valerie Solanas’ volcanic rage at the patriarchal society that, among myriad other abominations, elevated the male Warhol to his vaunted and privileged status.Earlier in 1967, Solanas blasted a permanent mark on the history of both feminism and America’s counter-culture when she published The SCUM Manifesto. The book served as the incendiary polemic behind the Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM) of which, officially, Solanas was the sole member.
Regardless, The SCUM Manifesto struck a powerful chord, starting with its opening diatribe:
“’Life’ in this ‘society’ being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of ‘society’ being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex.”
SCUM attracted attention from Olympia Press founder Maurice Girodias, who paid Solanas $500 to publish her “next, and other writings.”
After some pondering, Solanas concluded that she had just sold all her future work to Girodias. She feared that the publisher would own all her future efforts outright and could choose to bury them if he so chose.
After Warhol failed to return the copy of Up Your A— she’d given him, Solanas suspected a conspiracy between the two men to silence her.
Fuming mad, then, Solanas borrowed $50 from Paul Krassner, publisher of The Realist, and, in high probability, purchased the gun she used to shoot Warhol.Frequent Warhol performer and “superstar” Ultra Violet told The New York Daily News:
“This underground movie world is a mad, mad world with a lot of mad people in it. Maybe this girl, Valerie, was mad herself.”
Over the next few weeks, Valerie Solanas underwent extensive psychiatric evaluations. Medical professionals diagnosed her with chronic paranoid schizophrenia. Still, when the court ruled Solanas competent to stand trial, she pleaded guilty to assault and got a three-year sentence.
Various prominent feminist organizations, at least one of which Solanas had previously dismissed as “a civil disobedience luncheon club,” distanced themselves from her after the shooting. Others championed her as a visionary who took direct action.Related: A Look Back — Lorena Bobbitt Put On Trial For Chopping Off Her Husband’s Penis
Both physically and psychologically, Andy Warhol never entirely recovered from the ambush. The artist reportedly lived in nonstop terror that Solanas would attack him again, and he feared hospitals so severely that he frequently neglected his health.
Warhol died during an operation on his gall bladder on February 21, 1987. He was 58. Just two months later, on April 25, Valerie Solanas died, too. Coming off decades of mental-health crises and homelessness, she succumbed to pneumonia inside the Bristol Hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. She was 52.
The 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol dramatizes the saga from Valeries Solanas’ point of view. Lily Taylor plays the lead. Jared Harris costars as Warhol.
The SCUM Manifesto has remained in constant publication since its first edition, and has been translated into numerous languages. Andy Warhol’s artworks continue to typically sell for millions of dollars. Paul Krassner says he never got his 50 bucks back.