Today in history, August 12, 1988, Jean-Michel Basquiat died of a heroin overdose at his art studio in New York City. He was just 27 years old.
Basquiat’s life unfolds on screen in 2 films of note: most recently, director Tamra Davis’ 2009 documentary, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, which, in short, follows a rare interview that Davis shot with Basquiat 20+ years ago, chronicling the meteoric rise and fall of the young artist.
In New York City of the 1970s, he covered the city streets with his graffiti tag ‘SAMO.’
In 1981 he put paint on canvas for the first time.
And by 1983 he had become an artist with “rock star status,” achieving critical and commercial success, though constantly confronted by racism from his peers.
In 1985, he and Andy Warhol became close friends and painting collaborators, but they parted ways and Warhol died suddenly in 1987.
Basquiat’s heroin addiction worsened, and he died of an overdose in 1988 at the age of 27.
At the height of his very short, blistering career, he was 25 years old, and today his canvases sell for millions of dollars.
Davis’ film intimately details the life of the young charismatic Basquiat, an artist of enormous talent whose fortunes mirrored the roller-coaster quality of the downtown art scene he seemed to embody.
Featuring interviews with Julian Schnabel, Larry Gagosian, Bruno Bischofberger, Tony Shafrazi, Fab 5 Freddy, Jeffrey Deitch, Glenn O’Brien, Michael Holman, Diego Cortez, Annina Nosei, Kenny Scharf, among many others.
The film is currently streaming on Netflix, so you’re just a few clicks away from watching it for the first time (if you haven’t already seen it), or watching it again (if you have).
Prior to Davis’ documentary was Jeffrey Wright’s gutsy turn as Jean-Michel Basquiat, in a scripted feature film titled Basquiat, directed by Julian Schnabel, the notoriously prickly artist, with a cast that also included Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, and David Bowie.
Wright said that he had to take up painting and shed 30 pounds to play Basquiat in the film.
The film went on to gross just over $3 million in theaters and received generally favorable reviews, with a 70% “fresh” rating at review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.
And by the way, it’s also streaming on Netflix currently, so a double-dose of Basquiat on screen, to celebrate his life and death – one fictionalized, the other non-fiction.
Both films are also available on Hulu, so you can watch them there for free (with commercials of course). I embedded the Hulu player for Radiant Child below: