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STUDIO 54 owner Steve Rubell: Pasha of Disco
December 2, 1943 - July 25, 1989
He was the flamboyant co-founder of Studio 54, a nightclub that gave birth and nurtured the disco era. His resilience to failure allowed him to make a come back after a tax evasion conviction. Unfortunately his very successful life was cut short by complications related to A.I.D.S. It was however, originally reported in his obituary that he died from complications resulting from hepatitis and septic shock, a condition they said was caused by a bacterial infection.
During his lifetime he was considered a master of promoters. Studio 54 was an extremely successful club that was popular with celebrities, politicians and society figures. The nightclub which was located on West 54th Street, hence the name, opened it’s doors in April, 1977. The music stopped when Rubell and partner Ian Schrager were both 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 unlike Steve was heterosexual and 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.
According to author Anthony Haden-Guest, 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.
This is the map where Steve is buried. He is located in Blk 21, Sander's Association, Grave 2, Plot 15.
Both grave photos donated by "E" (not to be confused with "C" from "The Bronx Tale!")