How did Basquiat die? His untimely death


Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist who honed his skills on the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The dreadlocked artist was prodigiously talented and, sadly, eternally troubled. Basquiat was as famous for his extravagant spending as he was for his finesse with a paintbrush. 

“When he was good at what he was doing, which was often, he was the best,” Walter Hopps, director of the Menil Collection in Houston, described Basquiat to The New York Times. Basquiat’s paintings were masterpieces with cultural relevance that endeared him to the black community. 

Sadly, Jean-Michel died on 12th August 1988, aged just 27.

Basquiat died due to an accidental heroin overdose

Jean-Michel Basquiat spent a large portion of his income on heroin. A person familiar with the artist’s drug use told Vanity Fair:

“He had a legendary habit. It gave him a lot of cachet. He would drop $20,000 or $30,000 at a time. We’re talking ounces, not stuff that had been cut and put in bags. The expectation was quite general that he wasn’t going to be around for much longer.”

Basquiat’s drug use was New York’s worst-kept secret: dealers and private collectors offered drugs for his paintings. Jean-Michel tried to quit drugs, but his attempts failed. Basquiat listened to nobody except Andy Warhol, who convinced the painter to gradually reduce heroin usage. 

“Andy genuinely liked Jean Michel, and he was very, very hard on him, even about pot smoking,” Larry Gagosian, a Los Angeles dealer who sold Basquiat’s work, told The New York Times. Unfortunately, Warhol’s death in February 1987 destabilized Basquait, threatening to erase his progress. 

Jean-Michel kept trying to kick the heroin habit. He often traveled to Maui, Hawaii, to withdraw from drug use. Consequently, Basquiat became more efficient and better composed. The artist reportedly said that Hawaii’s beauty distracted him from drug use. 

Weeks before Jean-Michel’s passing, he traveled to Maui but cut his vacation short by several days. Basquiat planned to travel to the Ivory Coast to take a tribal cure for heroin. 

Reports claim that on 11th August 1988, Basquiat bought drugs in the East Village. Basquiat was so high that he fell out of his chair twice while painting. 

On 12th August 1988, Kelly Inman, a friend who lived in Basquiat’s rented residence, checked up on the painter at around 2:30; Jean-Michel was sound asleep. Three hours later, Kelly found Basquiat lying in a pool of vomit. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat died due to an accidental heroin overdose. Many people, including Basquiat, expected the painter to die due to his drug habit. Martin Aubert, a guitarist, talked to Vanity Fair about a conversation he had with Basquiat:

“He said, ‘I’m on heroin. I guess you don’t approve of that, but I have decided the true path to creativity is to burn out.’ He mentioned Janis Joplin, Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker. I said, ‘All those people are dead, Jean.’ He said, ‘If that’s what it takes.’”