Surgeon Who Saved Andy Warhol’s Life Has Died

THE DAILY PIC: In June '68, Giuseppe Rossi brought Andy back from the dead.

THE DAILY PIC (#1510): This little-known photo, taken by Robert Levin in May of 1981, illustrates two important things about Andy Warhol: The extent of his injuries from the shooting that nearly killed him in June of 1968, and the fact that he managed to survive and overcome them. His survival was almost completely due to an Italian-American surgeon named Giuseppe Rossi, who I’m sad to report died last Monday in Naples, Florida. He was born in 1928 – the same year as his most famous patient.

I had the wonderful luck to speak to Dr. Rossi a little while ago, in the company of the thoracic surgeon and medical historian John Ryan. We learned precious details about Warhol’s injuries (misreported in many accounts), about the touch-and-go course of the operation and about Rossi’s role in saving his patient’s life. Ryan – who knows infinitely more about such things than this art critic does – describes the operation as “one of the great saves in surgical history. The one bullet went through the right chest, the abdomen, and then the left chest, injuring nine organs in the process. Warhol was pronounced dead in the emergency room at Columbus Hospital, but Dr. Rossi got him to the operating room, saved his life, and fixed every problem.” And he did that thinking that Warhol was some Union Square homeless person, not, as has been claimed, because he’d been warned about the importance of his patient.

One tidbit from Rossi’s account of the operation that gives an idea of Warhol’s parlous state at the time: His organs were so full of holes that, over the course of the surgery, 12 units of blood had to be transfused into him. A normal male body without any leaks only holds about 10.

Today’s Pic shows the leak-free body that was Rossi’s gift to Warhol – and to all the art lovers who have profited from the two decades’ worth of “late” work that the artist went on to produce.

 


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