Halston's Studio 54 air vent death: Did it really happen?

23 May 2021, 18:00

Ewan McGregor as Halston, entering Studio 54
Ewan McGregor as Halston, entering Studio 54. Picture: Netflix

By Emma Clarke

The new five-part Netflix series centres around fashion designer Halston and his hedonistic lifestyle - and features many scenes at iconic New York nightclub, Studio 54.

Fashion designer Halston is the subject of a brand new Netflix biopic.

Starring Ewan McGregor and featuring performances by Krysta Rodriguez, Rebecca Dylan and Bill Pullman, the limited series covers Halston's early career as a hat maker, as well as the opening of his Madison Avenue boutique and the crumbling empire he and his team created.

In addition to conveying the artist's illustrious (and at times tumultuous) career, the series also delves into his personal life - including his relationship with partner Victor Hugo, his friendship with Liza Minnelli, and, of course, his visits to Studio 54.

Arguably one of the most shocking scenes in the Netflix show is during episode four, titled The Party's Over. Liza is (quite literally) spinning out on the dancefloor, before she passes out. Meanwhile, a partygoer scales the building to try and find a way into the exclusive club.

Finding that the exits are locked, she climbs into an air vent to try and gain access. It is only after the club is raided by police that her body is found in the shaft, having suffocated to death.

But was there really an air vent death at Studio 54, as depicted in Netflix's Halston? Here's the true story...

READ MORE: Meet Krysta Rodriguez, the actress who plays Liza Minnelli in Netflix's Halston

Did someone die in the air vents at Studio 54?

During a 2018 documentary featuring co-founder Ian Schrager, it was revealed that someone had been found dead in the air vents of the club.

That said, while the tragedy did occur, it wasn't a woman who died, as shown in the Netflix show. It was, rather, a man dressed in black-tie.

According to Schrager, the club had a code for the types of guests and people who could and couldn't get in; "No Goods" referred to those who would never get in and "No F*** Ups" were the club's VIPs who were always permitted entry.

Pop artist and regular guest, Andy Warhol, once famously said Studio 54 "was a dictatorship on the door but a democracy on the dance floor."

Bianca Jagger releasing white doves at Studio 54
Bianca Jagger releasing white doves at Studio 54. Picture: Getty

Why was the New York club Studio 54 shut down?

Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell opened the club in 1977, which was a converted CBS television studio.

Very quickly, they "went from being really almost nobodies to being the social arbiters of the world overnight," documentary maker Matt Tyrnauer said. 

After newspaper reports that the club had made $7million in its first year, the IRS raided the nightclub and arrested Schrager and Rubell for skimming.

Of the raid, Schrager said: "You know that was probably the worst, one of the worst days of my life."

Liza Minnelli, Halston, Elizabeth Taylor and Betty Ford at Studio 54
Liza Minnelli, Halston, Elizabeth Taylor and Betty Ford at Studio 54. Picture: Getty

Did Schrager and Rubell go to jail?

Having pleaded guilty to tax evasion, they spent 13 months in prison and had to pay a fine of $20,000 each.

The club was then sold, before the pair later launched a boutique hotel business. Rubell died of AIDS in 1989.

In 2017, Schrager received a pardon from President Barack Obama.

"It brought absolute closure of everything. You know, I'll always have the wound. It never goes away. It's always there, but it brought closure to me," Schrager said. 

Which celebrities used to party at Studio 54?

Studio 54 attracted New York's well-heeled elite and celebrity guests, including Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli, Anjelica Huston, Bianca Jagger and Cher.

Halston often frequented the club and even threw Bianca Jagger a white-themed party, at which she and Minnelli released white doves.

Halston (Ewan McGregor) and Liza Minnelli (Krysta Rodriguez)
Halston (Ewan McGregor) and Liza Minnelli (Krysta Rodriguez). Picture: Netflix

Is Studio 54 still there?

After it exchanged hands, the club was turned into a music venue for rock gigs. It then completely closed in the lates 1980s.

Having remained vacant for over a decade, the space was then transformed by the Roundabout Theatre Company, with its production of Cabaret.

To this day, it is the permanent home of the acting company.

Halston is available to watch on Netflix now.

Netflix's Halston - Inside the fashion designer's relationship with Victor Hugo

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