Blake Gopnik writes: “Pop Icon Andy Warhol Dies After Routine Surgery” ran the headline in The Houston Chronicle. Time magazine questioned how “the country’s most famous pop artist dies in a prestigious big-city hospital after a rather routine gallbladder operation.”
A routine surgery: Some version of that story was repeated around the world in the days and decades after the death of the 58-year-old artist, the 30th anniversary of which is on Wednesday.
Dr. John Ryan, a medical historian and retired surgeon, has recast the story line. “This was major, major surgery — not routine — in a very sick person,” Dr. Ryan, emeritus chief of surgery at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, said in a recent phone interview.
According to Dr. Ryan, who presented his findings on Sunday at the annual meeting of the Pacific Coast Surgical Association, Warhol’s death shouldn’t be seen as quite such a surprise. Since his retirement four years ago, Dr. Ryan, a jovial and sporty Seattleite, has been digging into Warhol’s medical history. (He got a push in that direction from his brother-in-law Hal Foster, a distinguished scholar who writes on Pop Art.) Dr. Ryan has found that the surgeon who performed Warhol’s final operation was working on someone with almost 15 years of gallbladder trouble and a family history of the same — Warhol’s father had his gallbladder removed in 1928, the year his famous son was born.
For at least a month before his death, Warhol had been ill, but had done his best to keep up his usual exhausting pace. His terror of hospitals had prevented him from getting any serious treatment. Even once Warhol had finally ended up in the office of Bjorn Thorbjarnarson, a leading surgeon — he was known for treating the Shah of Iran — Warhol had begged for some kind of stay-at-home treatment. “I will make you a rich man if you don’t operate on me,” the artist had said, Dr. Thorbjarnarson recalled during my visit to his New Jersey home in 2014. … (read more)
via The New York Times