Issue 34 Testing Summer 2009

Inventory / From Acne to X-Ray

Brian Dillon

“Inventory” is a column that examines or presents a list, catalogue, or register.

Andy Warhol suffered three medical emergencies during his fifty-nine years. At the age of eight, following a bout of rheumatic fever, he developed St. Vitus’s Dance, or Sydenham’s chorea (named after the seventeenth-century English physician Thomas Sydenham), a disease of the nervous system that is characterized by involuntary movement, disturbed gait, grimacing, and hypotonia or abnormally low muscle tone. The illness left Warhol with skin problems for which he was still trying to find a cure well into middle age. His second major incapacitation famously occurred on 3 June 1968, when he was shot at close range by Valerie Solanas; for the rest of his life he wore a corset that held him together where his ruined abdominal muscles could no longer.

Until his last illness, Warhol’s health was by all accounts average, if not exactly robust, considering the damage already done to his body. For most of his life, however, he maintained constant vigilance over his body and its minor failings. He fretted about his bad skin, about “catching” cancer, about his fluctuating weight, about colds that he was convinced presaged pneumonia, about brain tumors and strokes, blood pressure and blackouts. In the last years of his life, he worried most about AIDS, and assiduously avoided those (even close friends or ex-lovers) whom he knew to be suffering from the “magic disease.”

Warhol’s diary—begun in 1977 for the purpose of recording his expenses—contains numerous references to his ailments, anxieties, and the various treatments to which he had recourse in the ten years he had left to live. The published version of The Andy Warhol Diaries (1989) includes an extensive index but adverts to Warhol’s illnesses and fears only in its listing of his references to his several physicians and alternative health practitioners. The partial index to the Diaries that I have compiled below similarly lists those names, but also attempts an inventory of the diseases (real and imaginary) that most troubled him, the symptoms with which he presented at the offices of his various doctors, and the cures in which he put his faith. The reader may note that Warhol makes comparatively few references to his gall bladder, an infection of which (this after years of refusing treatment for his gallstones) led to his admittance to New York Hospital on 20 February 1987. He died there two days later.

acne, 53; AW concerned that treatment makes him ill, 64; caused by lack of sleep, 83; failure of regular treatment, 389; AW notices pimple on dermatologist’s face, 409; Retin-A treatment works only on one half of face, 464
AIDS, 483, 486, 490, 541, 571, 582, 584, 687, 781, 800; aka “gay cancer,” 429, 441, 442, 469; AW fears others believe he has contracted, 497; illness of Robert Mapplethorpe and death from, 572, 793; aka “the magic disease,” 781
allergy, 608, 789; suggestion that AW allergic to potatoes, 608
antibiotics, 390
apple: as cure for insomnia, 407
banana: aids memory, 407
Beaton, Cecil: AW observes effects of stroke on, 113
Bernsohn, Dr. (crystal therapist), 590, 591, 594, 596, 598, 601, 617, 620, 624, 628, 641, 643, 644, 645, 655, 656, 661, 663, 678, 683, 685, 692, 701, 713, 727, 744, 763, 787, 790
biopsy: on lump in neck, 50; AW in pain following, 51; neck swollen following, 52
blackout, 386
blood tests, 255; AW suspects that physician throws tests away, 576
blood pressure: up from 78 to 97, but AW unsure of significance, 85
brain tumor: aka “the Dark Victory disease,” 386
Burke, Dr. Karen (dermatologist), 499–500, 506, 511, 523, 524–525, 529, 538, 540, 552, 563, 614, 634, 641, 675, 694–696, 706, 745, 806
cancer: possibility of contagion, 45; incidence in children in New Jersey, 127; AW’s suspicion of in Diana Vreeland, 145; death of Steve McQueen from, 342
cold, common: daiquiri perhaps responsible for, 386
collagen, 511, 523, 614; dermatologist suggests semen as rejuvenating substitute for, 540
cough: as source of contagion, 100
Cox, Dr. Denton (general practitioner), 29, 69, 70, 85, 121, 122, 132–135, 138, 142, 152, 153, 211, 255–257, 286, 318, 334, 335, 380, 386–388, 391, 442, 452, 463, 483, 486, 490, 540, 568, 576, 578, 581, 583, 594, 664, 708, 739, 770, 806–807
crystals, 590, 598, 600; used to treat pancreas, 591; relation to positive thinking, 596; skepticism of friends regarding healing properties of, 622, 744; AW advised to brush against forehead to aid sleep, 624; energy derived from center of earth, 643; AW’s crystal requires recharging, 692; AW’s skepticism regarding healing properties of, 697; AW’s crystal falls from balcony at Palladium, 732
dentist: tries to convince AW to have X-rays, 53, 164
eyes: AW tries soft contact lenses, 66; broken blood vessel, 78
face, 177, 213; sunken cheeks following weight loss, 497
face lift: observed in friends and acquaintances, 205, 410
feces: canine, AW fears may catch disease from, 524
fever, 91
gall bladder: treatment for, 134–135, 142, 256; diet and, 279; advice to Brigid Polk regarding, 394; AW hides severe pain from, 801
garlic: efficacy against illness, 278
health: life not worth living without, 387
hepatitis: fear of catching from kiss, 422
homeopathy, 692
hospitals: AW’s unease in waiting room, 54; as resembling concentration camp, 126; AW attends emergency room after falling and hurting arm, 424
kiss on cheek: potential danger of contagion, 48, 278
Legionnaires’ disease: outbreak on 35th Street, 166; AW concerned about at Fairmont Hotel, 325
Li, Dr. Linda (chiropractor), 563, 565, 568, 569, 574, 579, 583, 588, 590, 592, 594, 598, 602, 608, 617, 654, 655, 663, 665, 667, 680, 688, 692, 693–695, 722, 723, 729, 770, 780, 786, 787, 789, 797, 802, 805, 806
neck, 50, 54
nose: unsightly veins removed from, 194
pain: in chest, at altitude in Colorado, 250; possible muscle spasm or kidney stone, 540, 578; while exercising, 545
pills, 152
pneumonia, 387
Rees, Dr. (plastic surgeon), 322, 409, 410, 500
Reese, Dr. (crystal therapist), 600, 617, 628, 643–644, 656, 661, 701, 744, 803
Sartin, Janet (cosmetologist), 376–377, 380, 389, 409, 413, 451, 461, 712, 770
shooting: effect on creativity, 182; continued physical effects, 250
skin, 53, 391
stitches, 54
stroke: fear of, 113
teeth: cleaning, 65
throat, sore: caught from kiss, 278
Valium: AW resolves to stop taking, 390
vitamins: prescribed to improve condition of skin and hair, 407; AW feels better after stops taking, 409; placed on body to determine dosage required, 579
weight: fluctuation of AW’s, 279, 380, 381, 390, 394, 400, 403
X-ray, 134–135, 256, 386–387; AW’s fear of, 53

Brian Dillon is UK editor of Cabinet, and AHRC Research Fellow in the Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Kent. His memoir, In the Dark Room (Penguin, 2005) won the Irish Book Award for non-fiction. His Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives will be published by Penguin in September 2009 and by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (as The Hypochondriacs) in February 2010.

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