The story of Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the first black artists to join the Forever 27 Club due to his sudden death at 27 of a fatal drug overdose.
How Did Basquiat Become a Member of the Club?
Jean-Michel Basquiat, of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, was known as the rock star of the artistic world of 1980’s America. He died of a heroin overdose in the year 1988 at the fateful age of 27, like so many of his gifted contemporaries, ending a life that yielded much and held the promise of even more and gaining a much-debated entry into the Forever 27 Club.
Basquiat was a gifted artist born in Brooklyn, New York City. His early life was a troubled one with his parents getting separated when he was just 7 years old and his mother suffering from depression and frequently being interred at institutions for the mentally ill. Basquiat was a rebel from adolescence and even attempted to run away from home on one occasion. Finally, dropping out of high school at the age of 17, he began to pursue his art with a vigour, selling painted T-Shirts at Greenwich Village and living with friends. Substance abuse in general and drug abuse in particular, however, began to form an unavoidable part of Basquiat’s artistic reality from a young age.
The Struggle Within and Without
In the year 1978, along with his friend Al Diaz, he formed a duo of graffiti artists, calling themselves SAMO, standing for ‘Same Old Shit’ and spraying the walls of New York City with cryptic epigrams and art.
Basquiat also entered the music scene in 1979, even if erratically, forming a band named Gray which was described as, “something between an art band and jazz”, by Michael Holman. SAMO had propelled Basquiat into the heart of the downtown art-scene by that time, and Gray made quite a splash. Basquiat did well, starring in a movie named ‘The New York Beat’ and getting featured in the New York/New Wave show at P. S 1 where the disturbing nakedness of his art began to garner a lot of attention nationally.
However, the 80s were also the years when substance abuse in the form of first cocaine and then heroin injection began to form an inextricable part of his life, slowly growing into an addiction which he would not be able to shake off. He became obsessed with the idea of an artistic ‘burning out’, living his life in a casual and intended disarray. He would exhibit paintings, paint with a vigour and then succumb to his growing need for drugs, doing marijuana, cocaine or heroin in massive amounts. The drugs had become a part of his system and rapidly began to tell on his health. Though in his 20s his skin was affected appearing blotchy, making him look older than his years.
Attempts to Come Clean
Basquiat in the last years of his life became more and more reclusive, avoiding even his erstwhile friends and refusing to address or even discuss his addiction. During his years of collaboration with Warhol he did manage to reduce his substance abuse, if not completely stop it, under the tutelage of his mentor. However, his declining productivity and popularity led him back to drug abuse time and again. He apparently went to Hawaii for prolonged long periods of time in an attempt to ‘come clean’ of his addictions and supposedly did stop taking drugs on his 1988 trip there but instead replaced them with alcohol.
On his return to New York in August 1988 Basquiat’s body finally gave up on him as he once more returned to drug abuse and finally on the 12th of August, he was found dead with a room full of new syringes and heroin and a twisted realization of his dream of immortality as a part of the Forever 27 Club.