In 1965, Edie Sedgwick appeared in one of Andy Warhol’s underground films in 1965 and said, “I’ve never been anywhere where I haven’t been known.”
The New England landscape is cluttered with the iconography of her aristocratic family: sculpture, paintings, gravestones, government records, schools, the name of a town. Edie was a different kind of Sedgwick icon.
She was a celebrity within a year of moving to New York City to try modeling. People, especially Warhol, were fascinated by her fragile beauty, her offbeat clothes and makeup, her upper-class poise, her charm and her wealth. During her short life she appeared on film, in magazines, on television and in some of the greatest rock ‘n roll songs ever written and recorded.
But Edie Sedgwick had troubles. She attributed her messed-up head to the suicides of two of her brothers within 18 months of each other. She developed an eating disorder as a young teenager and spent two years in a mental hospital. She was dead at the age of 28.
The Sedgwick Family
A portrait of another ancestor, Theodore Sedgwick, by Gilbert Stuart, hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts. He was a U.S. Senator, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives under President George Washington and author of the lawsuit that brought freedom to Elizabeth Freeman and helped eliminate slavery in Massachusetts.
The “Hope and Glory” bas relief across Beacon Street from the Massachusetts Statehouse is a memorial to the 54th Infantry Regiment led by her great-great uncle, Robert Gould Shaw.
The signature of another ancestor, William Ellery, is on the Declaration of Independence.
Williams College was founded by her maternal ancestor, Ephraim Williams. Groton School in Groton, Mass., was founded by her great-grandfather, Endicott Peabody, who tutored young Franklin Roosevelt.
Sedgwick, Maine, is named for her ancestor, Major Robert Sedgwick, who in 1654 captured the fort Pentagoet (now Castine) from the French.
Though descended from an old New England family, she was born in Santa Barbara, Calif., on April 20, 1943, and raised on a ranch. She was the seventh of eight children who were home-schooled and taught they were superior to others. Her mother, Alice DeForest Sedgwick, was the daughter of Henry DeForest, chairman of the Southern Pacific Railroad and a descendant of Jesse DeForest who founded New York City.
Edie developed an eating disorder as a young teenager, and her family sent her to Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Conn., in 1962. The next year she moved to Cambridge, Mass., where she studied sculpture with her cousin Lily Saarinen. (A Saarinan work, Bagheera Fountain, can be found in Boston’s Public Garden.)
She moved to New York in 1964 to pursue a career in modeling. In March 1965, she met Andy Warhol and began a yearlong relationship with him. She took him to parties in her Mercedes and he began to dress like her. They appeared on the Merv Griffin Show together. She hung out at his studio, The Factory, and met such counterculture stars as Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan and Lou Reid. Warhol filmed her in short pieces like Vinyl (see it here) and Poor Little Rich Girl (see it here).
“Miss New York, Girl of the Year, socialite, millionairess bullshit, Andy Warhol superstar,” she said. “All this had a really bad effect.”
She said she was very upset that two of her brothers committed suicide. “It kind of screwed up my head,” she said. “I blossomed into a healthy young drug addict.”
Andy Warhol asked Lou Reid to write a song about her. The result, Femme Fatale, appeared on the Velvet Underground’s debut album.
In Bob Dylan’s Visions of Johanna she’s Louise. In Like a Rolling Stone she’s Miss Lonely. In Dylan’s Just Like A Woman she’s with ‘your fog, your amphetamine and your pearls.’ She may be the ‘you’ in Dylan’s “Won’t You Please Crawl Out Your Window,” interpreted as a plea for her to leave Andy Warhol’s Factory.
On Nov. 16, 1971, three months after she finished her final film, Ciao, Manhattan, she died of an overdose of barbiturates. Several biographies about her have been published, including the bestseller, Edie: American Girl. Another movie, Factory Girl, was produced about her life and released in 2006. Her cousin, Kyra Sedgwick, is also a film star.
She was not buried in the family burial ground, the Sedgwick Pie, in Stockbridge, Mass., but in California.
Photos: Bagheera, by Lily Saarinan. By Susan Saarinen, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia; Williams College photo By SERSeanCrane, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia; Groton School photo By Jplayforth - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia; Andy Warhol By Jack Mitchell, CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0; Wikimedia.