Anthony Haden-Guest on Why He Did Not Kill Jean-Michel Basquiat


Anthony Haden-Guest wryly reflects on why/how he was not responsible for the death of Jean-Michel Basquiat (but heard the accusation repeatedly.) See excerpts below and read the full article here.

Over the following weeks I heard the accusation again. And again. The origin, I learned, was the Radiant Child, a documentary directed by Basquiat’s former girlfriend, Tamra Davis. During the course of this scene, the writer Glenn O’Brien discusses the artist’s drug overdose and observes that he had been really worried “about an article that Anthony Haden-Guest was writing for New York magazine.”

Thanks for the mention, Glenn. But that wasn’t quite the way it was.

Yes, I had been commissioned to write a profile of Basquiat, though by Vanity Fair, not by New York. It was to be about his remarkable career, with the timely touch that he was kicking heroin. So I had a first interview with him in his studio on Great Jones. He was open to difficult subjects, such as his family, and told me that he was “controlling” his heroin use. I set off to do the other stuff one does before getting back to him for a second interview. But then the collector Ethel Scull telephoned. “Anthony,” she said. “You are putting Jean-Michel under a lot of pressure.”

Meaning: Basquiat was still trying to kick drugs and that this project was not helpful.

No problem, I said. I would take care of it. I called Basquiat and told him I would put the story off until he was up for it.

Time passed.

I didn’t see the artist again until about one in the morning on a Friday night in August 1988, in Club MK on West 16th Street.

I hadn’t known it was him right away. He looked fuller, both in body and face.

“That is you, Jean-Michel?” I asked.

“Yeah… ” He said. He was missing a front tooth.

I would learn that he had just returned from a trip to Hawaii. He OD’d very shortly after.

Then I did write the Vanity Fair article, both as a celebration and an obituary. In that piece I quoted Glenn O’Brien a couple of times. Of Basquiat’s OD he spoke thusly: “Everybody was sitting around, waiting for him to do what he did, so he could be the Jimi Hendrix of art. He burned out his body, I guess. But I don’t think he intended to die—I think he could have recovered.” [. . .]

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