On Brigid, Andy and the Healing Power of Crystals

04/19/2022     Books & Autographs


"I'm going to go to a doctor who puts crystals on you and it gives you energy ... I think it sounds like a good thing to be doing. Health is wealth." -- The Andy Warhol Diaries, Tuesday, July 31, 1984.

The colorful life of Brigid Berlin is as hard to encapsulate in a few sentences as is her over two-decade friendship with Andy Warhol. In the early years, Andy provided safe haven for Brigid to vent, and her catharsis is evident in her performance in the 1966 film Chelsea Girls. But while the Factory denizens nicknamed her Brigid Polk (for her method of poking amphetamine shots into herself and others), Andy called her The Duchess for her uptown upbringing and connections to royalty. Later, it was Brigid who introduced Andy to the tape recorder and Polaroid camera, items ever-present thereafter, and his Polaroids have become as iconic as his Soup Cans and Brillo Boxes. Brigid also steadfastly kept guard over Andy’s interests at the Factory as one of few confidants to be hired full-time. Andy said Brigid worked her way up from Superstar to Secretary, meaning that she was trusted and got closer to him as the years passed when so many from the early days were gone.

Brigid was notorious among friends and strangers for giving possessions away or destroying them. One year she famously told Andy that she preferred an Electrolux vacuum cleaner for Christmas instead of another one of his paintings. But it is a final object found at her bedside upon her death – unknown even to her last great friend and co-executor Rob Vaczy – that represents the deep connection between Brigid, Andy and eternity. The healing crystal that Andy Warhol had with him in the hospital when he died was retrieved from his jacket pocket and given to Brigid by Andy’s executor Fred Hughes.

It is a humble presentation: a small worn-out shoe polish pouch from the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. where Warhol visited several times in the 1980s housing a hexagonal quartz crystal and three Omamori acquired by Andy in Japan.

Andy Warhol learned of the healing properties of crystals in the summer of 1984. They became part of his pain management routine as he hoped to alleviate his increasing discomfort without surgery to remove his gallbladder. Crystals are mentioned at least a dozen times in The Andy Warhol Diaries in contexts ranging from the spiritually deep to the humorous to the questioning.

The most descriptive entry dates from Wednesday, August 15, 1984, when Warhol's "crystal doctor" reported to him "that I wasn't in touch with my pain. But it didn't hurt is the thing. But he said it was because I wasn't sensitive to the pain yet and that I would have to become sensitive to it. And he took my crystal and asked it, 'How long? ... So I'm going to wait four days and then I have to have it with me always and not more than ten feet away when I'm asleep. I really do believe that all this hokum-pokum helps, though. It's positive thinking. And it's why people wear gold and jewels. It does have something... He said I had some negative powers in me and I asked him how long I would have to come to him and he didn't tell me. It's so abstract. But you do feel better when you get out."

In the following year, 1985, Andy appears committed: "Look, I know people are ridiculous, but it's the crystals I believe in. They do work. When you think that these crystals were in the center of the earth and have all this energy" (Friday, April 19, 1985).

As Andy weakened, he either wore a crystal around his neck or carried one constantly. In a late entry, Andy's vulnerability peeks out: "Went down to the Palladium ... as we were standing looking over the balcony my crystal fell out of my stomach and onto the dance floor and I had to go down and find it. Wilfredo actually found it. Tony Shafrazi was next to me when it fell. It could've killed somebody. I wear it over my stomach between the surgical corsets and it just fell out."

Following a very late but successful surgery to remove his gallbladder, Andy Warhol died in a Manhattan hospital on February 22, 1987. Andy’s death was a surprise to all, and Brigid was away in England at the time. Upon her return, Brigid was given the pouch with the crystal and Omamori from his executor Fred Hughes. A powerful crystal in a Watergate Hotel pouch. How Andy. Brigid felt its force and put it away. Over thirty years later, Brigid kept the crystal close to her just as Andy did, seeking the solace of this object that represented her friend, this crystal he trusted to alleviate pain and help him. The crystal is deliverance. We trace no other of Andy Warhol's crystals presented to friends upon his death and consider it the most intimate and impactful of his possessions.

We are indebted to Pat Hackett and Brigid's co-executor Vincent Fremont for conversations regarding Andy's crystal. We thank co-executor Rob Vaczy, who has provided his written recollections. The crystal is accompanied by a double-exposure photograph presenting Brigid and Andy's faces together, both in their later years, best friends in death as is in life.

— Specialist Peter Costanzo

Andy Warhol's Crystal and Omamori
The following is what was told to me by Brigid Berlin about Andy Warhol’s crystal and omamori and my recollections about the same. — Rob Vaczy

When Andy died, Brigid was in London. She took the next plane back to New York where she was met by reporters on both sides of the Atlantic, hoping that she would make a statement about Andy’s death. When she got to New York, it was on or about the time of his funeral that Brigid asked Fred Hughes, Andy’s business manager and executor of his estate, if she could have “Andy’s crystal” as a memento. This is the group of artifacts that Fred gave to her, which he retrieved from the jacket pocket Andy wore to the hospital when he went in for gallbladder surgery on February 20, 1987. Along with his crystal were three Japanese omamori, together housed in a tan, cotton Watergate Hotel shoe pouch. These items were with Andy when he died.

I first became aware of the crystal and omamori in 2014 when Billy Name came over to Brigid’s apartment to discuss a book of his that was being published, for which Brigid was a contributor. Though it is debatable whether Billy was the first to introduce Andy to “healing crystals,” it was for this reason that Brigid chose to bring them out on this occasion. Brigid went on to tell the story of how she came to possess the items, adding that Andy kept the crystal and omamori with him at all times, up until the day he died. This story was repeated to me by Brigid on several occasions, as it was to Brigid’s close friend, Pat Hackett, who was Andy’s confidant, diarist and editor of The Andy Warhol Diaries. Brigid might have told others, but to my knowledge we were the only ones who knew of their existence.

The collection of artifacts include Andy’s crystal, three omamori amulets with obi, and Watergate Hotel shoe pouch. This is exactly what was presented to me when I first saw them in 2014. The obis indicate that the omamori are from the Kyoto Temple in Japan—specifically, the Heian Shrine—a place that Andy visited twice, once in 1956 and again in ’72. Drawings exist of Andy’s rendering of the shrine from this time period. Brigid suspected it was from one of Andy’s stays at the Watergate Hotel that he obtained the shoe cleaner pouch in which he kept his crystal and omamori.

According to Benjamin Liu, Andy’s personal assistant in the 1980’s, Andy most likely purchased the crystal at Astro Minerals on 34th Street and Madison Avenue or it was given to him by his crystal “doctor.” The doctor would then program the crystal to direct its energies towards the ailments that Andy felt needed attention. Benjamin also stated that Andy would always keep the crystal in a static place—a jacket pocket—knowing that it would be with him at all times. Brigid concluded that Andy must have incorporated the omamori with the crystals as a way to enhance their powers and to act as a talisman to ward off “bad energy."

Brigid and Andy had a long history of discussing the “pain in his side,” which Brigid had always insisted was his gallbladder. She would often lament the fact that he waited so long to have it properly treated and, as a consequence of that surgery—or, more accurately, due to the negligence of the hospital’s post surgery care—Andy died on February 22, 1987. After Brigid died in 2020, it was while going through one of her two matching bed tables where I found, nestled next to a pair of old rosary beads, the Watergate Hotel shoe cleaner pouch containing Andy’s crystal and omamori. They have been in my possession ever since.

— Rob Vaczy, New York, April 2022


The Duchess of Warhol: The Estate of Brigid Berlin
Auction Wednesday, April 27, 2022 at 10am
Exhibition April 23-25

Lot 1174
The Treasured Possession of a Best Friend: Andy Warhol's Crystal and Japanese Omamori presented to Brigid Berlin upon his death.
Estimate: $50,000-70,000