In 1983, wowlebrity Nelson Sullivan began videotaping his friends at clubs like Limelight, Danceteria, the Tunnel, the Pyramid Club, and Area. In addition to the clubs, he also recorded East Village art gallery opening, street protests, and parties in his own home, which was a Factory-esque meeting place for his burgeoning superstar friends like RuPaul, Lady Miss Kier, John Sex, and Dean Johnson. Upon his sudden death of a heart attack on July 4th, 1989, Michael Musto noted “Thanks to his scrupulous attention, Nelson’s left behind a treasure trove of late-night videos that, even more than the Warhol diaries, trenchantly capture the party years in all their gleeful decadent fun.”
Over the years, interest in Nelson and his video collection has eponentially grown, through both the Internet and archival collections. You can find them in full at NelsonSullivan.tv and on YouTube at the 5 Ninth Ave Project.
Now, they’ve been indexed and sorted into categories, making searches for your favorite downtown superstar that much easier! Categories include: Club kids (“The Clubkids Spread Christmas Cheer”), CBGBs (“RuPaul at CBGBs 1985”), Larry Tee (“Th Opening Night of Love Machine”), Dee-Lite (“Dee-Lite at the World”), Lady Bunny (“Lady Bunny Needs Coke Money”), John Sex (“A Glamorous Cab Ride with John Sex”), and James St James (“Lis E Looks for James St James at the Limelight”)…
Check them all out here.
And watch a few BEYOND ICONIC moments he captured below.
Beyond the confines of downtown New York Nelson Sullivan wasn’t particularly famous, but within its boundaries (from 14th Street to Houston Street and from 5th Avenue to Avenue D) everyone knew Nelson because almost every night he was going out and documenting his surroundings. During the last ten years of his life he shot over 1800 hours of tape, capturing himself and his friends in the glossy facade of Manhattan’s Downtown life that has been perpetuated in urban legend. Sullivan chronicled the rise and fall of many of his friends and peers including Michael Musto, RuPaul, Dean Johnson, Deee-lite, Ethyl Eichelberger, Sylvia Miles, Michael Alig and countless other denizens of a demimonde being ravaged by AIDS, heroin, and anomie. Nelson himself died tragically from a heart attack on July 4, 1989- only three days after quitting his full time to so that he could produce his own cable television show of his footage.
A prolific, yet relatively unknown videographer, Nelson Sullivan was a visionary. His revolutionary style is a combination of cinematic and in-camera editing techniques. Carrying the camera at arm’s length, he was able to gracefully move about his subjects, embracing them on tape. His technique is so fluid that viewers often see Nelson walk across the screen and wonder who’s pointing the camera. Nelson’s relationship with his audience is so synergetic at times as to simulate personal memory as opposed to dispense information.
Nelson Sullivan’s oeuvre is more than one man’s diary. It is a portrait of society’s misfits gathering to create something rich and strange from almost nothing and against all odds. Nelson knew he lived in interesting times, and he worked hard to capture more than a video freak-show. In addition to taping up-and-comers such as RuPaul and Michael Musto, Sullivan sought to tape New York’s outcasts, the wannabes, the has-beens, and the never-will-be’s. Whether his subjects were on the way up, or trapped in a downward spiral, Nelson strived to candidly capture life under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. These videos were Sullivan’s labor of love; they provide a window to the past, and invite viewers to experience the lows and highs of an almost mythical era. It is the essence of the American dream, or as Nelson said, “The pravda of the matter.”