The headline on page one of The Houston Chronicle read, “Pop Icon Andy Warhol Dies After Routine Surgery.” How the “country’s most famous pop musician dies in a prominent big-city hospital following a relatively ordinary gallbladder procedure” was a mystery, according to Time magazine.
A regular operation: In the days and decades following the 58-year-old artist’s demise, which marks its 30th anniversary on Wednesday, some variation of that narrative was circulated throughout the globe.
The plot has been revised by the retired surgeon and medical historian Dr. John Ryan. In a recent phone interview, Dr. Ryan, emeritus chief of surgery at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, said, “This was major, major surgery — not ordinary — in a very sick person.
Warhol’s passing shouldn’t be taken as a huge shock, according to Dr. Ryan, who presented his research on Sunday at the Pacific Coast Surgical Association’s annual meeting. Dr. Ryan, a cheery and active Seattleite who retired four years ago, has been researching Warhol’s medical background.
He received encouragement to move in that path from his eminent Pop Art historian brother-in-law Hal Foster. Warhol’s father had his gallbladder removed in 1928, the year his famous son was born, and Dr. Ryan has discovered that the surgeon who carried out Warhol’s final operation was operating on someone with nearly 15 years of gallbladder trouble and a family history of the same.
Warhol struggled with his illness for at least a month prior to his passing, although he tried to keep up his strenuous routine. His fear of hospitals has kept him from receiving any kind of medical care.
Andy Warhol pleaded for some sort of at-home care even after he ultimately found himself in the office of renowned surgeon Bjorn Thorbjarnarson, who was famed for treating the Shah of Iran. Dr. Thorbjarnarson remembered the artist has remarked, “I will make you a rich man if you don’t operate on me,” when I went to his New Jersey home in 2014.
He now resides in Florida and is 95 years old. When the ill man was finally placed on the operating table at New York Hospital three days later, Dr. Thorbjarnarson felt justified in his decision to reject Warhol’s entreaties (now NewYork-Presbyterian).
As he was removing the gallbladder, the surgeon claimed that he discovered it to be completely gangrenous.
Dr. Ryan’s research revealed that Warhol had been taking speed every day for years, had been dehydrated and malnourished from not eating much in the previous month, and was still dealing with the aftereffects of being shot by a vengeful hanger-on in 1968.
He had nine damaged organs and had been proclaimed brain-dead in the emergency room; only a brilliant surgeon and brilliant luck had spared his life at that point.
He never entirely recovered from his gunshot wounds, and it took a very long time. He was left with a huge hernia, a split in his abdominal muscles, and a lifetime of difficulty eating and swallowing.
To keep his bowels in, he donned girdles. In 1987, Dr. Thorbjarnarson would therefore have been forced to reconstruct Warhol’s abdominal wall in addition to the challenging gallbladder resection.
By that evening, Warhol was in his room making calls after the procedure seemed to go well. When his private nurse visited him at 4 a.m., he still seemed to be in good health. But approximately two hours later, she discovered him unconscious and blue, and attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
According to the results of an autopsy, Warhol’s death was caused by “ventricular fibrillation,” which means that his heart had stopped beating.
Sudden mortality following surgery is not particularly surprising, according to Stewart Redmond Walsh, professor of vascular surgery at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
He said that when a sick body undergoes the shock of a large procedure, the stress on the entire system, including the heart, can occasionally be deadly.
Warhol “was unlucky,” according to Dr. Walsh in a phone conversation, but the artist’s misfortune was more akin to being hit by a car while crossing the street than it was a lightning strike.
When Dr. Ryan entered the information from Warhol’s case into the American College of Surgeons‘ brand-new surgical risk calculator, it estimated the patient’s chance of passing away at 4.2 percent.
In June 1968, Warhol narrowly avoided death when his doctor predicted that the artist would live through the night. Death took the longer odds in their second encounter and prevailed.
The renowned artist passed away in New York City on February 22, 1987. According to History, after being shot by journalist Valerie Solanas in 1968, Warhol developed a dread of hospitals.
After having gallbladder surgery, the artist passed away in 1987 from a heart arrest. The source claims that Warhol put off the treatment for years because of his fear of hospitals.
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