This image is from the trailer for “The Andy Warhol Diaries,” distributed by Netflix.

Who was Andy Warhol? He was the pioneer of pop art and the silkscreen print. He was an artist, producer, author and photographer. He’s hailed as the genius of the 20th century, a true renaissance man. But that doesn’t answer the question. Behind all the soup cans and soda bottles, the silver wigs and large glasses, who was Andy Warhol?

In 1989, two years after Warhol’s death, his personal diary was published as a work of 1,200 pages, edited by his friend Pat Hackett. Netflix’s new docuseries, “The Andy Warhol Diaries,” draws from these entries, from 1968 after he was shot until the time of Warhol’s death in 1987. Over the six-part series, we hear from other artists, Warhol museum curators, cultural figures, Warhol’s confidantes and the loved ones of those closest to him (Warhol’s past boyfriends and one close co-worker died, so the loved ones of those people were asked to contribute). These contributors, along with pictures and videos of Warhol’s work and life combined with an AI voice of Warhol reading his diary entries paint a picture of an Andy Warhol that few people really knew.

Warhol was known for his detached public personality and evasive answers to intimate questions. His diary gives detailed insight into what was really going on behind the scenes. The series is chronological, beginning with Andy’s early life in Pittsburgh and ending with his death and the cultural impact it had. Most central to Warhol’s story, however, are Warhol’s own struggles between his self-image, religion and sexuality. Over and over, viewers are presented with Warhol’s self-deprecating dialogue: “I’m just a freak.” What emerges is the image of an outcast who just wants to feel accepted.   

Warhol’s relationships are central to his identity. The series dedicates a full episode to each of Warhol’s closest relationships: one each to his lovers, Jed Johnson and Jon Gould, and one to his close collaborator Jean-Michel Basquiat. While the language of the diary as it pertains to these three relationships may seem plain and monotone in that AI voice, the contributions from Warhol’s close confidantes and loved ones, as well as pictures and videos included in the project, evoke a deep sympathy for Warhol. This was a man who loved deeply and wholly, and who experienced a type of loss that no one should have to go through, all while existing as a prominent public figure.

The docuseries does a great job of showcasing just how much of an outsider Warhol was. He was one of the first celebrities to truly milk his status: He expanded into film, television, photography, modeling and literature. He helped produce hardcore sex films and frequently attended New York’s wildest nightclubs. It’s hard to believe the same guy who painted Campbell’s soup cans also produced a movie that included throwing a baby out of a window. He promoted new, up-and-coming technologies. And yet, Warhol was still not accepted into the art world. Whether it was his artistic style, his sexuality or his methods of marketing himself, critics came at Warhol left and right.

It’s easy, then, to see just how much Warhol’s relationships meant to him. When Johnson left Warhol after a 12-year relationship, Warhol wrote, “I just need to be in love now. Or I’ll go crazy.” He then immediately pursued Gould, a VP at Paramount Pictures. “The Andy Warhol Diaries” makes it clear that finding someone to love — someone who loves him — is what made Warhol feel accepted. If he could find someone who would love him unconditionally, Warhol would feel more comfortable in his own skin. He finds this in Gould and, later, in a non-romantic relationship with artist Basquiat. It’s all wrapped up in the glamor of stardom and the craziness of the art world, but ultimately, Warhol’s need for intimacy isn’t a feeling that’s new to anyone.

The series wraps up with a final episode that dives into the true meaning of Andy’s last work: the silkscreen prints of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.” What used to read as the same detached style of Warhol’s is reimagined with what we now know about him. We know now that Andy lost Gould to AIDS, and we know just how much the AIDS epidemic impacted him. Thus, while Warhol’s public image comes across as aloof, the Last Supper reinforces the painful personal struggles that he was immersed in — showing the world that Andy Warhol was just like the rest of us: human. 

Daily Arts Writer Swara Ramaswamy can be reached at