'The Andy Warhol Diaries': When and Why the Artist Was Shot

Netflix's The Andy Warhol Diaries focuses on Warhol's life in the 1970s and '80s, and any account of the artist's last two decades can't be told without referring to the story of Warhol being shot by Valerie Solanas.

It was the impact of this event that led to Warhol completely changing his business practices, moving from being the king of 1960s counterculture to becoming the "business artist" of the 1970s and 1980s, as he distanced himself from characters like Solanas who were in his orbit during the "Factory" days.

The shooting happened at the Factory, and there were a number of witnesses to the incident, which left Warhol physically and emotionally scarred, and which forced him to wear a surgical corset for the rest of his life.

When Was Andy Warhol Shot?

valerie Solanas andy warhol
Valerie Solanas being interviewed after being arrested for shooting Andy Warhol. The writer served three years in prison for the incident. Getty

The shooting happened at around 4:30 p.m. on June 3, 1968, in the second studio Warhol had christened "The Factory." This was on the sixth floor of the Decker Building, at 33 Union Square West in Manhattan, New York City.

Solanas had come to the building numerous times that day looking for Warhol, with the artist's associate (and director of many of the later Warhol films) Paul Morrissey lying and saying the artist would not be in all day so as to get rid of her.

Eventually, however, she bumped into Warhol on the pavement outside, and so the two of them went up to the Factory together.

With them in the elevator was new Factory assistant (and Warhol's future boyfriend) Jed Johnson. In the studio, meanwhile, was the artist's business manager Fred Hughes; in-house photographer Billy Name; curator Mario Amaya; and Morrissey.

These various Factory workers were busying themselves with work while the artist took a call from actor and Warhol superstar Viva when Solanas started shooting. The first set of shots missed the artist, but then Solanas shot him at point-blank range, hitting him on his right side, just under his arm. He was also hit by a second shot.

Amaya received a flesh wound to the back, but escaped and closed himself into a screening room, while Johnson was able to keep Solanas out of the room he was in.

Morrissey recounts what happened next in Blake Gopnik's biography of the artist: "She puts the gun next to his [Hughes'] head and says, 'I'm gonna shoot you!'...and the elevator door opened...And Fred said, 'Oh, there's the elevator. Why don't you get on Valerie?...And she said, 'Oh–that's a good idea.' And she went on the elevator."

After Solanas left, Warhol was fighting to life. His co-workers were late to call an ambulance, and the paramedics decided to carry him in a wheelchair down six flights of stairs rather than use the elevator. He would spend eight weeks in hospital, recovering from the bullets that had torn holes in his stomach, liver, spleen, esophagus and lungs.

Though he survived, many have linked the experience to his eventual death. He developed a fear of hospitals, which caused him to delay gall bladder surgery for a few years. When he finally had that surgery, it would cause him to have a fatal cardiac arrest.

Why Was Andy Warhol Shot?

Solanas had been a hanger-on at the Factory for a few years before the incident. As Morrissey put it: "She only came around two or three different times...never on a social basis."

From 1965, she had been trying to get Warhol to produce a play she had written called Up Your Ass – a play so dirty that the artist had once suspected it was part of a police sting operation. Crucially, Warhol misplaced the script, meaning he was unable to return it to Solanas when she asked.

That year, Solanas stated writing a feminist tract titled The SCUM [Society for Cutting Up Men] Manifesto, which featured her aim to "wipe the ugly, leering male face off the map."

Little is known about her early life, though she claimed she had been molested by her father as a child. When she met Warhol, she was homeless, making money through panhandling and sex work.

Solanas became increasingly impatient to get her play back. Warhol tried to placate her by casting her in his 1967 film I, A Man, but it didn't work. As Andy Warhol Museum curator Jose Diaz told History.com: "She obviously knew that Andy would borrow ideas, or steal ideas, and so she became paranoid that he didn't in fact lose the play, but wanted to keep it, claim it, and make it his own."

Handing herself over to a police officer on the day of the shooting, she explained: "He had too much control over my life." She would later tell press at the police station: "I have a lot very involved reasons. Read my manifesto and it will tell you what I am."

Asked why she had done it to a local radio station, she simply replied: "Because he's a piece of garbage."

What Happened to Valerie Solanas?

While in police custody, she received a psychiatric evaluation and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, though she was found competent to stand trial. She was sentenced to three years for assault, and was released in 1971.

After that time, Solanas turns up a number of times in The Andy Warhol Diaries that give the Netflix show its name. Warhol was able to make a few fairly dark jokes about the incident.

For example, in his entry for Sunday, November 6, 1977: "David Bourdon called to say Valerie Solanis [sic] had just called him, so she's still around town. He said she wanted the address of someone who had put her S.C.U.M. Manifesto into their book on women's lib, she wanted to sue them or shoot them or something."

Solanas died of pneumonia at the age of 52 in 1988.

The Andy Warhol Diaries is streaming now on Netflix.

when was andy warhol shot
Andy Warhol in 1983. The artist wore a surgical corset for the rest of his life after being shot. Netflix