Author Eve Babitz, who captured and embodied Los Angeles culture, dies at 78


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Eve Babitz, the author known for her hedonistic chronicles of Los Angeles drawn largely from her own life, died Friday at the age of 78.

According to her sister, Mirandi Babitz, the cause of death was complications from Huntington’s disease. Babitz, who, after living for many years in West Hollywood, had recently stayed in an assisted living facility in Westwood, has died at UCLA Medical Center.

Babitz’s books oscillated between fiction and non-fiction, but it was all rooted in his own experiences. Her books included “Eve’s Hollywood”, “Slow Days, Fast Company”, “Sex and Rage”, “Black Swans” and the “I Used to Be Charming” collection, published in 2019.

Her writing described a world of decadent glamor with fine detail but also a sense of open-hearted joy, often shared with the tasteless candor of a close friend deep in a soggy late afternoon lunch. The exaggerated details of Babitz’s own life – some of his known former lovers include Jim Morrison, Ed Ruscha, Harrison Ford, and Steve Martin – have at times threatened to distract from his work.

The title essay of the latest collection covers an accident that nearly killed her in 1997: Babitz was seriously burned when a cigar she smoked while driving set her skirt on fire. (“I used to be lovely,” she told a caregiver about her appearance as she healed.)

Subsequently, she largely retired from public life. Once a ubiquitous presence that permeated the art, literature and rock music worlds of Los Angeles, it has fallen into relative obscurity until in recent years a new generation has revived its reputation. and its heritage. This is in part thanks to the work of a biographer, Lili Anolik, who published “Hollywood’s Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of LA” in 2019.

“She could be tough, she could be kinky, but she was still a delight,” Anolik said. “I only knew her when her health deteriorated, and she might have lost a marble or two, and she was always almost indecently charming: an easy laughing girl, liked to eat and, if you made her talk about the past, told the best stories. His knowledge of bravery was intact until the end.

“I think it meant a lot to her,” Mirandi Babitz said of her sister’s late literary return. “She was very happy that all of these things happened. I think she said a few times that it was a little hard in her 70s to get all this attention, but she was very happy that people really got her job.

Even writing about serious incidents, including the life-changing accident, Babitz never lost his sharp but oddly dynamic wit. “My friends would kill me if I died,” she recalls when a paramedic arrived.

“She knew what she was doing,” said author Matthew Specktor, who wrote an introduction to the 2016 reissue of “Slow Days, Fast Company”. “She understood what she was writing and the way she wrote was not frivolous at all. But she knew how to keep a certain lightness of mind or tone which does not negate the seriousness of the work.

Babitz was born in Los Angeles on May 13, 1943. Her father, Sol Babitz, was a violinist on the 20e Century Fox Orchestra and her mother, Mae, were an artist. Her godfather was composer Igor Stravinsky, and her young life was surrounded by bohemian friends of her parents. She attended Hollywood High School.

In 1963, Babitz posed nude while playing chess facing the artist Marcel Duchamp in a photograph by Julian Wasser who would acquire international notoriety. Babitz would later write in detail about the encounter in a piece collected in “I Used to Be Charming”.

After some time designing album covers for Atlantic Records, including releases from Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, and Linda Ronstadt, she turned to her writing. Her first book, “Eve’s Hollywood”, was published in 1974.

Eve Babitz was photographed in Hollywood in 1997, shortly before a devastating near-fatal accident.

(Paul Harris / Getty Images)

Babitz has often been compared to Joan Didion, who has also channeled the spirit of Los Angeles into essays, although in style or affect they are almost opposite. Among the tumultuous and absurdly long dedications in “Eve’s Hollywood” – which also included the Eggs Benedictine at Beverly Wilshire and the sand pads at Musso and Frank – Babitz mentioned Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, thanking “the Didion- Dunnes for having to be what I’m not.

“Eve was perfectly in tune with the ultra-decadent, ultra-debauchery 1970s, which just happens to be the decade in which she did her best job, and yet she was more or less ignored,” Anolik said. “Joan Didion, meanwhile, became a superstar with 1967’s ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’, a dark and anxious collection of essays, written at the height of the super-groovy, flower-child era. So Didion’s success – or at least the timing of Didion’s success – is as counterintuitive as the timing of Eve’s late vogue.

“Eve only really got famous in the last six or seven years, during a period that could be described as Puritan or Neo-Victorian, certainly not as fun, which she and her books still have. summer, ”Anolik said. “My personal theory is that there is a prevailing mood right now; but then there’s a mood under that mood, and when you tap into the underlying mood, you really have something. If Didion was our secret superego then, Eve is our secret ID now.

Over time, Babitz’s work was largely exhausted. After the publication of an Anolik play in Vanity Fair in 2014, followed by reissues of his old books, the revival began to take off, with a new generation discovering the work, the character and the survivor behind it. The unabashed quality of Babitz’s writing, his energy and unvarnished honesty, heralded the era of the online personal essay – perhaps another reason for its rediscovery.

“She’s an extremely literary writer who wears this very easily and it’s appealing, kind of a good role model for everyone,” Specktor said. “And of course, the fact that she put on such a figure, who wouldn’t want to be that on some level, who wouldn’t want to live that way?” She had fun and was not ashamed of both having fun and questioning him as a literary subject.

She would bring her handwriting and say, “Who’s going to kill me if I write this?”

Mirandi Babitz on her sister, the author Eve Babitz

Blurring the lines between essays and fiction, memoir and storytelling, Babitz has made his life his art and his art his life in a way that could have been easier to envy from afar than to those caught up in it. in its orbit.

“She brought me her books before publishing them,” recalls Mirandi Babitz. “She would bring her handwriting and say, ‘Who’s going to kill me if I write this?’

“And sure, sometimes I would get mad at her and give her warnings,” she added, “but I knew she was going to do it anyway. Because she had written it down and it was still good, it was still real and interesting. So why not? “

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