John Giorno, the famed American poet and visual artist, has died at the age of 82. Giorno was an AIDS activist and the subject of Andy Warhol’s 1963-film “Sleep.” In the film, which last for five hours, Giorno is depicted sleeping nude for the entire length of the movie.
Giorno’s death was confirmed on October 12 in an Instagram post from his friend Lee Ranaldo. Giorno passed away on October 11.
Giorno was a following of Tibetan Buddhism and regularly practices meditation. He was native of New York City and graduated from James Madison High School, the same high school attended by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Senator Bernie Sanders.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Giorno Had Worked as a Stockbroker Before Meeting Andy Warhol & Dedicating His Life to the Arts
Giorno had worked as a stockbroker following his graduation from Columbia University. He became involved in the arts in 1962 after a meeting with Andy Warhol. According to a Poetry Foundation profile, “The influence of pop art and Warhol’s Factory are evident in Giorno’s work.”
In a 2013 interview with Interview Magazine, Giorno said of his relationship with Andy Warhol, “Andy was very difficult emotionally. We had this great love affair in a sense.” Giorno went on to say that Warhol “was peculiar” and that he really enjoyed performing oral sex on men, sometimes on random occasions. Giorno said about Warhol, “Andy Warhol had a beautiful body and a big dick.”
Giorno once told the Brooklyn Rail in an interview that he read a copy of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” during spring break and it “blew [his] mind.” Ginsberg and Giorno became friends in later life.
2. Giorno Had an Exhibition Displaying in New York City at the Time of His Death
At the time of his death, Giorno had been exhibiting new work at the Sperone Westwater gallery in New York City. The exhibition, titled “Do the Undone,” is due to be exhibited until October 26. The press release for the show refers to Giorno living and working out of his studio in the Bowery in Lower Manhattan for over 50 years.
3. Famously, Giorno Set Up ‘Dial-a-Poem’ in 1968
In 1968, Giorno set up a concept known as “Dial-a-Poem.” The service allowed members of the public to call a number and hear a live recording of a poem. Giorno has said that the idea of “Dial-a-Poem” came from a conversation he had with fellow poet William Burroughs. Among the poets featured on “Dial-a-Poem” were Frank O’Hara, John Ashberry and Laurie Anderson.
At the time of writing, “Dial-a-Poem” is still active on +1 641-793-8122. In the past, in addition to poems, callers would also here political and activist speeches from time to time.
4. Giorno Is Survived by His Husband, Ugo Rondinone
Giorno is survived by his husband, Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. Rondinone had set up a multi-part exhibition dedicated to his husband titled, “Ugo Rondinone: I ♥︎ John Giorno.” The purpose of the exhibition was to present a portrait of “Giorno’s astonishingly wide-ranging artistic career” as well as being “a joyous celebration of Giorno’s ubiquitous presence in contemporary culture, as well as his myriad contributions to it.”
Ronidinone is originally from the town of Brunnen, Switzerland, and now lives in New York City. The couple spent some of their time at home on the North Fork of Long Island. Rondinone told Architectural Digest in 2014 that part of the reason the couple chose to buy a home out there was because Giorno “spent a lot of time on Long Island as a child, so for him this house was a homecoming.” In the same feature, Giorno said of their home, “I can work anywhere, but this place is genuinely inspiring.”
5. News of Giorno’s Death Has Led to an Outpouring of Emotion on Social Media
As news of Giorno’s death spread, friends, colleagues and fans have taken to social media to express their grief and to pay tribute. Here are some of the most poignant messages: