Edith Minturn Sedgwick was born in Santa Barbara, California on April 20, 1943 to Alice Delano de Forest and Francis Minturn Sedgwick, a sculptor, philanthropist and rancher. She was named after her father’s aunt and was referred to as Edie.
The Sedgwick family was long established in both Massachusetts and United States history. Edie’s seventh-great grandfather, Robert Sedgwick, was the first Major General of the Massachusetts Bay Colony settling in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1635. Edie’s family later originated from Stockbridge, Massachusetts where her great-great-great grandfather Judge Theodore Sedgwick had settled after the American Revolution. Theodore Sedgwick was the first to plead and win a case for the freedom of a black woman, Elizabeth Freeman, under the Massachusetts Bill of Rights that declared all men to be born free and equal. Sedgwick’s mother was the daughter of Henry Wheeler de Forest (President and Chairman of the Board of the Southern Pacific Railroad, and a direct descendant of Jesse de Forest whose Dutch West India Company helped to settle New Amsterdam.) Jesse de Forest was also Edie’s seventh-great grandfather.
Sedgwick’s paternal grandfather was the historian and acclaimed author Henry Dwight Sedgwick III. Her great grandmother, Susanna Shaw – Minturn, was the sister of Robert Gould Shaw, the American Civil War Colonel. Her great-great grandfather, Robert Bowne Minturn, part owner of the Flying Cloud, is credited with creating and promoting Central Park in New York City. And her great-great-great grandfather, William Ellery, was a signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence.
She was a cousin of actress Kyra Sedgwick.
Although she appeared in magazines, Sedgwick never became an accepted part of the fashion industry. According to senior Vogue editor Gloria Schiff, “She was identified in the gossip columns with the drug scene, and back then there was a certain apprehension about being involved in that scene… People were really terrified by it. So unless it involved very important artists or musicians, we played it cool as much as we could – drugs had done so much damage to young, creative, brilliant people that we were just anti that scene as a policy.” However, editor-in-chief of Vogue, Diana Vreeland, called her an exemplar of the era’s youth culture.
The Warhol days
In January 1965, Sedgwick met artist and avant-garde filmmaker Andy Warhol at Lester Persky’s apartment. She began going to The Factory regularly in March of 1965 with her friend, Chuck Wein. During one of those visits, Warhol was filming his interpretation of the novel, A Clockwork Orange, aptly titled, Vinyl. Despite Vinyl’s all-male cast, Warhol put Sedgwick in the movie. She also made a small cameo appearance in another Warhol film, Horse, when she and fellow Factory regular Ondine entered towards the end of the film. Although Sedgwick’s appearances in both films were brief, they generated so much interest that Warhol decided to create a vehicle in which she would star.
The first of those films, Poor Little Rich Girl, was originally conceived as part of a series featuring Edie called The Poor Little Rich Girl Saga. The series was to include Poor Little Rich Girl, Restaurant, Face, and Afternoon. Filming of Poor Little Rich Girl started in March of 1965 in Sedgwick’s apartment. The first reel shows Sedgwick waking up, ordering coffee and orange juice, and putting on her makeup in silence with only an Everly Brothers record playing. Due to a problem with the camera lens, the footage on the first reel is completely out of focus. The second reel consists of Sedgwick smoking cigarettes, talking on the telephone, trying on clothes, and describing how she had spent her entire inheritance in six months.
On April 30, 1965, Warhol took Sedgwick, Chuck Wein and Gerard Malanga to the opening of his exhibit at the Sonnabend Gallery in Paris. Upon returning to New York City, Warhol asked his scriptwriter, Ron Tavel, to write a script for Sedgwick. The result was Kitchen, starring Sedgwick, Rene Ricard, Roger Trudeau, Donald Lyons and Elecktrah. After Kitchen, Chuck Wein replaced Ron Tavel as writer and assistant director for the filming of Beauty No. 2, in which Sedgwick appeared with Gino Piserchio. Beauty No. 2 premiered at the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque at the Astor Place Playhouse on July 17.
Although Warhol’s films were not generally a commercial success and were rarely seen outside The Factory, as Sedgwick’s popularity grew mainstream media outlets began reporting on her appearances in Warhol’s underground films and her unusual fashion sense that consisted of black leotards, mini dresses, and large chandelier earrings. Sedgwick also cut her hair short and colored her naturally brown hair with silver spray creating a similar look to the wigs Warhol wore. Warhol christened her his “Superstar” and both were photographed together at various social outings.
Throughout 1965, Sedgwick and Warhol continued to make films together, namely, Outer and Inner Space, Prison, Lupe and Chelsea Girls. However, by late 1965, Sedgwick and Warhol’s relationship had deteriorated and Sedgwick requested that Warhol no longer show any of her films. She asked that the footage she filmed for Chelsea Girls be removed. Sedgwick’s footage was replaced with footage of Nico with colored lights projected on her face and The Velvet Underground music playing in the background. The edited footage of Edie in Chelsea Girls would eventually become the film Afternoon.
Lupe is often thought to be Sedgwick’s last Warhol film, but Sedgwick filmed The Andy Warhol Story with Rene Ricard in 1966, almost a year after she filmed Lupe. The Andy Warhol Story was an unreleased film that was only screened once at The Factory. The film featured Sedgwick, along with Rene Ricard, pretending to be Andy Warhol. It is thought to be either lost or destroyed.
Bob Dylan and Bob Neuwirth
Following her departure from Warhol’s circle, Sedgwick began living at the Chelsea Hotel, where she became close to Bob Dylan. She is rumoured to have been one of the inspirations behind Dylan’s seminal 1966 opus Blonde on Blonde, and the raucous stomper “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”. It was also claimed that the phrase “your debutante” on the track “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” referred to her. Dylan’s friends eventually convinced Sedgwick to sign up with Albert Grossman, Dylan’s manager. Sedgwick and Dylan’s relationship ended when Sedgwick found out that Dylan had married Sara Lownds in a secret ceremony – something that she apparently found out from Warhol during an argument at the Gingerman Restaurant in February 1966.
According to Paul Morrissey, Sedgwick had said: “‘They’re [Dylan’s people] going to make a film and I’m supposed to star in it with Bobby [Dylan].’ Suddenly it was Bobby this and Bobby that, and they realized that she had a crush on him. They thought he’d been leading her on, because just that day Andy had heard in his lawyer’s office that Dylan had been secretly married for a few months – he married Sara Lowndes in November 1965… Andy couldn’t resist asking, ‘Did you know, Edie, that Bob Dylan has gotten married?’ She was trembling. They realized that she really thought of herself as entering a relationship with Dylan, that maybe he hadn’t been truthful.”
Several weeks before the December 29, 2006 one-week release of the controversial film Factory Girl, described by The Village Voice review as “Edie for Dummies”, the Weinstein Company and the film’s producers interviewed Sedgwick’s older brother, Jonathan, who asserted that she had “had an abortion of the child she was (supposedly) carrying by Dylan”. Jonathan Sedgwick, a retired aeroplane designer, was flown in from Idaho to New York City by the distributor to meet the starlet playing his late sister, Sienna Miller, as well as to give an eight-hour video interview with details about the purported liaison between Edie and Dylan, which the distributor promptly released to the news media. Jonathan claims an abortion took place soon after “Edie was badly hurt in a motorcycle crash and sent to an emergency unit. As a result of the accident, doctors consigned her to a mental hospital where she was treated for drug addiction.” No hospital records or Sedgwick family records exist to support this story. Nonetheless, Edie’s brother also claimed “Staff found she was pregnant but, fearing the baby had been damaged by her drug use and anorexia, forced her to have the abortion”.
However, according to Edie Sedgwick’s personal medical records and oral life-history tape recorded less than a year before her death for her final film, Ciao! Manhattan, there is credible evidence that the only abortion she underwent in her lifetime was at age 20 in 1963. Throughout most of 1966, Sedgwick was involved in an intensely private yet tumultuous relationship not with Bob Dylan, but with Dylan’s closest friend, Bob Neuwirth. During this period, she became increasingly dependent on barbiturates. Although she experimented with illegal substances including opiates, there is no evidence that Sedgwick ever became a heroin addict. In early 1967, Neuwirth, unable to cope with Sedgwick’s drug abuse and erratic behavior, broke off their relationship.
Sedgwick auditioned for Norman Mailer’s play The Deer Park, but Mailer thought she “wasn’t very good… She used so much of herself with every line that we knew she’d be immolated after three performances”.
In April 1967, Sedgwick began shooting Ciao! Manhattan, an underground movie. After initial footage was shot in New York, co-directors John Palmer and David Weisman continued working on the film over the course of the next five years. Sedgwick’s rapidly deteriorating health saw her return to her family in California, spending time in several different psychiatric institutions. In August 1969, she was hospitalized in the psychiatric ward of Cottage Hospital after being arrested for drug offenses by the local police. While in the hospital, Sedgwick met another patient, Michael Post, whom she would later marry. Sedgwick was in the hospital again in the summer of 1970, but was let out under the supervision of a psychiatrist, two nurses, and the live-in care of filmmaker John Palmer and his wife Janet. Staunchly determined to finish Ciao! Manhattan and have her story told, Sedgwick recorded audio-tapes reflecting upon her life story, which enabled Weisman and Palmer to incorporate her actual reality into the film’s dramatic arc.
When Sedgwick married Post in July of 1971, she reportedly stopped drinking and abusing drugs. Her sobriety lasted until October, when pain medication was given to her to treat a physical illness. She remained under the care of Dr. Wells, who prescribed her barbiturates, but she would demand more pills or say she had lost them in order to get more. Sedgwick often combined the medications with alcoholic beverages such as vodka.
On the night of November 15, 1971, Sedgwick went to a fashion show at the Santa Barbara Museum, a segment of which was filmed for the television show An American Family. After the fashion show, she attended a party and was supposedly attacked by a drunken guest who called her a heroin addict. Sedgwick phoned Post, who arrived at the party and, seeing that she was disturbed by the accusations, took her back to their apartment around one in the morning. On the way home, Sedgwick expressed thoughts about the uncertainty of their marriage. Before they both fell asleep, Post gave Edie the medication that had been prescribed for her. According to Post, Sedgwick started to fall asleep very quickly, and her breathing was, “bad – it sounded like there was a big hole in her lungs,” but he attributed that to Edie’s heavy smoking habit and went to sleep. When Post awoke the following morning, Edie was dead. The coroner ruled Sedgwick’s death as “undetermined/accident/suicide”. The time of death was estimated at 9:20 A.M. The death certificate claims the immediate cause was “probable acute barbiturate intoxication” due to ethanol intoxication. Sedgwick’s alcohol level was registered at 0.17% and her barbiturate level was 0.48mg%. She was 28.
Sedgwick was buried in the small Oak Hill Cemetery in Ballard, California in a simple grave. Her headstone reads “Edith Sedgwick Post – Wife Of Michael Brett Post 1943-1971”. The family attended her memorial service.