John (“Johnny”) Reinhold has lived quite a life. The globe-trotting, Studio 54-going, art-loving diamond dealer has no shortage of tales to tell—not least involving his long-standing relationship with arguably the most important artist (and cipher) of the 20th Century, Andy Warhol.
These days, Reinhold is called upon to recount tales of his days and nights running with the art crowd. And while he clearly savors these memories, he’s also understandably circumspect, the inevitable result of knowing figures whose lives are subject to the scrutiny of writers, filmmakers, and a general public still hungry for personal details. Nonetheless, on the occasion of Andy Warhol Photo Factory, Reinhold was kind enough to tell us about how he became a close friend of Warhol’s, and how that friendship played a crucial role in his (and Warhol’s) life.
As told by John Reinhold, Andy Warhol’s friend and confidante:
I started collecting art when I was quite young, and I always wanted to meet the artists because in the books I was reading, I always thought, “How the hell do people know about Manet or Monet?” I was very fortunate that my first cousin was Henry Geldzahler, the youngest curator ever at the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art]. Henry introduced me to many artists—many of whom today are quite famous. I met most of these artists in the 60s. All of a sudden, in 1978, Henry called me up on the telephone and he said, “Johnny, now it’s time for you to meet Andy.” That’s how it all started.
Andy lived on 66th street, and he came to my office on 48th and 5th, and we spent a few hours together. Then, later in the afternoon, he called me up and said, “Johnny, would you like to have dinner tonight? I was terribly excited because, as I said, I wanted to know what went on in the minds of artists. So, right away I said, “Yes, Andy, I would love that.” Then Andy went on to list six, seven, eight different people who were coming to dinner. I said, “Andy, thank you very much, but I thought you meant having dinner just the two of us. I’m really not interested in having dinner with a whole bunch of people.” That was true, particularly because I had just met him. So he changed it—he got rid of all those people, and we had dinner alone.
Andy always wanted to have people around. He was very interested in certain people, in their lives, and what was going on. Very often he would put a small tape-recorder on the table in the restaurant. He would let everybody know it was there, but then people would start drinking and they’d forget and he could ask them questions that normally, perhaps, they wouldn’t answer.
In those days, in ’78, Andy very, very rarely went out one-on-one because, he had been stabbed, and he was afraid. Generally, he went out in groups. So this was really extraordinarily rare for him. From my point of view, I didn’t care—my feeling was if you’re gonna get to know someone, you get to know them if you’re alone with them, not with a bunch of other people around.
The dinner was great because I really got to know him and he really got to know me. Andy was closed in many, many ways. Over time I got to know him better. We spoke a minimum of three times every single day if we were in the city. Sometimes even more. If we were somewhere else in the world, we spoke once a day. He liked the telephone very much. He had telephone-itis. It [the relationship] was just something that worked.
He’s written up as not being generous. It’s been written that he pushed people into committing suicide or getting crazy with drugs, and that’s not the case. He was one of the most generous people that I knew. I’ll never forget this: every single time we went home from wherever we were, and there was some kid in the car, regardless of what hour of the night—3:00, 4:00 in the morning—he always took money from his pocket and gave it to the kid to pay the taxi. It sounds like some silly thing, but he went out every night, and he always did that.
The images that are strong in my mind are the Polaroids for the portraits. I remember going down to the factory and Andy taking the Polaroids. He did two portraits of me, and he did two portraits of my daughter. I remember the suit that I was wearing—it was a linen Armani suit. I traveled a tremendous amount, and I used to wear it around the world. It would always wrinkle, and the people in the Far East would think I slept in my suit, but it was the in look at that moment.
Knowing Andy definitely changed the course of my life, no question about it. I can’t put this all on Andy, but I went to Studio 54 constantly. I probably went the first time with Andy. I went two to three times a week, and then later, I would go to all these other clubs—Xenon, Area, Palladium. It was a wonderful, wonderful period of time in my life and in many people’s lives. Things were easy. Things were free in the sense that you could do whatever you wanted at any time. It was a crazy, crazy time. I learned a tremendous amount from him.”