Freddie Herko was a premier dancer at the Judson Dance Theater—a wild, beautiful man whose performances were charged with his eccentric persona—until he got sucked into the drug scene. Beat poet and Off-Off-Broadway playwright Diane di Prima was a good friend of Herko; he told her that he “needed speed to push his body so he could dance the way he wanted to. He felt otherwise he didn’t have a chance; he had come to dance too late in life to make it work for him.” Over time, Herko mixed amphetamines with LSD and other drugs, all of which shattered his physical and mental health. “He had seen his dancer’s body with acid eyes,” di Prima recalled, “and seen how he had ravaged it with speed and neglect. Or, as he put it, he had ‘destroyed his house.’ ” Michael Smith shared an apartment with Johnny Dodd at 5 Cornelia Street, where Herko spent the final moments of his life. “It was only a matter of time, and nobody could do anything about it,” Smith said. “You can’t stop people from taking drugs. He was just kind of fading away.” On October 27, 1964, Herko stopped by the apartment when Smith was away and asked Dodd if he could take a bath—after which he rose from the water, put Mozart’s Great Mass in C on the turntable, and began dancing around the room. Dodd just sat there, feeling like something was amiss, then Herko danced out the open window and leapt five stories to his death.
From Chapter 12 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore