1989 – Steve Rubell dies. He was the mastermind behind Studio 54, and was played by Mike Myers in the movie of the same name.
Steve was born in Brooklyn to a lower-middle class family, typical in Brooklyn in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The five foot five Rubell was known for his charming personality all through his school years. An avid tennis player with little desire for higher learning he did attend upstate Syracuse University. With marginal grades he did graduate and continue on to earn a Master’s in finance. It was in college that he met Ian Schrager, an avowed heterosexual that was the complete opposite of Rubell. A deep bonding friendship ensued that would alter both of their lives.
Upon graduation Steve joined the National Guard and after completing his tour of duty he moved back to New York. Back in the Big Apple he took a job with a brokerage firm on Wall street and was soon running the back office. It was at this point that he decided to become an entrepreneur. He started with two restaurants, a small eatery in Bayside, Queens and a smarter place in New Haven, Connecticut called “The Tivoli.”
Ian had by this time begun practicing real estate law. Rubell hired Ian in 1974 to help him pull together a chain of “Steak Lofts” that Steve had aquired. The two became partners in a “Steak Loft” in Douglastown, Queens. Steve at the time was not a partier, Ian was. The two began making the rounds of New York’s nightlife when Ian decided that the two should enter into the nightclub business.
Their first venture was in Boston, followed by a club in Queens called “The Enchanted Garden.” The next stop would be Manhattan and a full scale attack on New York, nightlife and disco history.
The building at 254 west Fifty Fourth Street was an old televison studio and former home of shows by Jack Paar, Perry Como, Jack Benny and Johnny Carson, as well as to such game shows as Beat The Clock and What’s My Line. Upon accquiring the property, demolition and construction took over a year. But it’s doors swung open in April 1977 and magic was about to be made. The rest is history and the stories abound, for more in depth coverage of the club itself consult “The Last Party” by Anthony Haden-Guest.
The music stopped for Rubell and partner Ian Schrager when both were indicted on Federal income tax charges involving more than $2.5 million that was skimmed from club receipts over a period of three years. Both pled guilty and served 13 months in prison. They sold “54″ shortly after their release in January 1981. The club still stands and all rumors of it’s destruction were, just that, rumors. After the WKTU-FM’s Last Dance Party in 1996, it was scheduled for demolition. A Cyberdome was going to be built as an entertainment/dance club. The deal fell through, leaving the Studio still standing. It now hosts private parties and special events.
In 1985, Steve found out that he was H.I.V. positive. His friend and business partner, Ian was also tested at the same time and had a better result… negative. He, despite his many conquests, was extremely lucky.
Steve’s relationships apparently, were not monogamous, as he dated many men before meeting the man of his dreams. He finally met Bill Hamilton while in Southampton, Long Island. Bill would remain with Steve for the rest of his life.
Steve suffered from chronic bronchitis, but in June, 1989 he fell sick. He began taking AZT in hopes of abating the disease. Unfortunately, he continued to take drugs and drink, compromising what little immune system he had left.
In the last weeks of his life his condition deteriorated very quickly. He grew thin and so did his hair. His excuse for his appearance was always the same, the side effect from liver disease. Hamilton became his round the clock nursemaid because he wouldn’t allow anyone else around him. He also refused to go to the hospital until the very end. Seldom would he go out, the only time he would show up at an event would be when a close friend was at a social affair. He would take care to cover his thin hair with toupees and always sported an artificial tan to mask his pallor.
By July he was really sick. He had just come back from a weekend in Southampton and was now moving much slower. Suffering from flu like symptoms, he progressively grew worse. He was now vomiting constantly and not being able to keep fluids down. On Sunday, July 23, 1989, Steve checked into the Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan, under a different name. The nurses were on strike and there was no one to care for him but Hamilton. Rubell’s body had now ceased to function.
That Monday a nurse finally came in, but Steve did not want her to touch him. His lungs were filling up with fluids and his breathing was labored. They had to sedate him and give him oxygen so that was the last day Hamilton was ever able to speak to Rubell again. By nightfall, he was out of it. Although he was stable, he was not improving. Friends Ian, Don Rubell and Deborah Hughes joined Hamilton at Rubell’s bedside.
Tuesday night at 7:10, Rubell finally passed away. Hamilton left the hospital and ended up moving in with Ian.
Steve was buried in Beth Moses Cememtery in Farmingdale, New York.