John Giorno, poet, Roslyn Heights native, dies at 82

Poet, artist and philanthropist John Giorno, who grew up in Roslyn Heights, died on Oct. 11. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

John Giorno, the poet, visual artist and philanthropist who grew up in Roslyn Heights and is credited a pioneer in the spoken word medium for poetry, has died. He was 82.

Giorno’s career saw him work with underground figures like author William S. Burroughs, performance artist Laurie Anderson, and pop artist Andy Warhol, with whom Giorno had a romantic relationship in the early 1960s.

Born in New York City, Giorno was the only child of immigrant parents who moved to Roslyn Heights and then Brooklyn, where he graduated from James Madison High School in Sheepshead Bay.

Originally employed as a stockbroker after graduating from Columbia University, Giorno befriended artists in the Greenwich Village scene in the late 1950s, and began dating Warhol in 1962 after meeting him at a gallery opening. A year later, the artist filmed Giorno sleeping for one of his first movies, the five-hour “Sleep.”

Shortly ending his romantic relationship with Warhol, in 1965 Giorno created the not-for-profit Giorno Poetry Systems, an artists’ collective and record label which recorded and distributed his works and those of his contemporaries as spoken word.

Years later, inspired by a conversation with friend Burroughs, then known for his controversial book “Naked Lunch,” Giorno created Dial-A-Poem, where callers could listen to recitations of poems by Allen Ginsberg, John Cage, Anne Waldmen and more, all performed by the poets themselves. Dial-A-Poem was installed at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970 as part of its “Information” exhibit, and evolved over time to feature other poets.

In the 1980s, Giorno became heavily involved in outreach towards AIDS patients, and according to The Guardian, Giorno Poetry Systems made emergency grants to those who fell ill from 1983 onward. He also worked more frequently, releasing an album with Burroughs and Anderson in 1981 called “You’re the Guy I Want To Share My Money With.”

Giorno was in the midst of completing a memoir entitled “Great Demon Kings,” which is scheduled to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, according to The New York Times. He is survived by his husband of eight years, the Swiss-born mixed media artist Ugo Rondinone.


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