Blake Gopnik’s life of Andy Warhol is less the chronicle of an advance towards death than a protracted postmortem. Gopnik begins halfway through, at what must have seemed to Warhol like the end. In 1968, after being shot by the crazed feminist Valerie Solanas, he was taken in a ‘dead-ish’ state to a New York hospital, where a team of surgeons, awash in his leaking blood as they grappled with his oozing innards, managed to plug the bullet holes and sew his chest back together, leaving Frankensteinian scars that Warhol later showed off to photographers like Richard Avedon.
Placed in a prelude where most biographers would be arranging for their subjects to be born, Gopnik’s almost obscenely vivid account of Warhol’s first ‘death’ – which is how he sees it – overshadows everything that follows. Nine hundred busy pages later, it is balanced by a second demise: in 1987, after an operation to remove his diseased gall bladder, Warhol unexpectedly and perhaps unnecessarily died again, ‘for the second and last time’.