“Rene Ricard is a poet and movie star,” reads one of his biographical notes in Artforum; unlike many such notes, it was absolutely true. He arrived in New York from Acushnet, Mass., at 18, having changed his name to Rene from Albert Napoleon Ricard, which sounds like a row of liqueur bottles. He presented himself at the Factory, where Andy Warhol assigned him to wash dishes in “Kitchen” (1965). He didn’t fare much better in his other parts: He is silent in “Chelsea Girls” (1966) and unseen in “The Andy Warhol Story” (unscreened; 1966) and “****” (shown once; 1967). But he went on to parody his superstar abjection, rather movingly, in Eric Mitchell’s “Underground U.S.A.”
He was a movie star and a poet, but also an art critic and a painter. In his diaries, Warhol called him “the George Sanders of the Lower East Side, the Rex Reed of the art world.” He did not mean it as a compliment. But while there’s no question that Rene was an acid-tongued gossip, he was an Olympian acid-tongued gossip, far beyond the realms of mere columnists. In a better world, he would have been our Baudelaire — and he may yet be that, given the culture’s propensity for posthumous compensation.