VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: Cocaine Cowboys (1979)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the July 19, 2022 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

Filmed at Andy Warhol’s summer home in Montauk — he also shows up as himself — Cocaine Cowboys is the story of Dustin (Tom Sullivan), who starts the movie being interviewed by Warhol, who acts like he doesn’t know the tale we’re about to hear even if he’s the one that saves the day.

In his November 1, 1978 diary, Warhol said, “Tom Sullivan came by to show Cocaine Cowboys to us on a Betamax. He was smoking marijuana, and it was funny to smell it at the office. Paul Morrissey watched a little of it and said it was too slow, and Brigid was in and out and thought so, too, but I liked it. And I decided I’m not so bad in it. They only let me do one take and I think if I’d been able to do more I would have gotten better. But I was better than in my first film, The Driver’s Seat.”

Sullivan had come into the orbit of the Warhol Factory during the days of Studio 54. The story of his life in this movie is, well, pretty much the story of his life. He was described as having a “pirate-king image” and having “pockets overflowing with wads of cash and a black-leather-gloved hand disfigured in a fiery plane crash.” He was sleeping with both Warhol’s personal assistant Catherine Guiness and former First Lady of Canada, Margaret Trudeau.

He also brought “two German geeks” with him: producer Christopher Gierke and actor turned director Ulli Lommel, who would use the Warhol connection in his resume for the rest of his life, endlessly remaking and remixing The Boogeyman and making serial killer movies. Ah, maybe I’m being disingenous. He did work with Fassbinder and again with Warhol for the film Blank Generation.

Writer Victor Bockris said, “Sullivan and Lommel cooked up a story about a drug smuggler who tries to get out of the business by turning himself into a rock star. A band was rounded up and, in imitation of the Rolling Stones, Montauk was used as a base for their rehearsals. The veteran actor Jack Palance was made a cash-in-advance offer he could not refuse to star as the band’s manager and shooting commenced in June.”

During the filming, the police busted the movie for weapons possession and took $25,000. The night before, Albert Goldman claimed that “the Colombians had shown up and threatened to kill him (Sullivan) and he gave them a million in cash.”

The movie is an attempt to tell the real story of Sullivan’s life. His band is ready to make the big time, but their manager (Palance) makes them move cocaine to make extra money. One day, while traveling by plane, they notice a cop car at the airport just as they’re about to land with enough powder — more on powder in a minute — to go to jail beyond the end of time. They toss it near an estate and head out on horses to get it back.

They don’t try all that hard. They just hang out, play music, convince a maid to have a baby powder-aided makeout session and then Andy solves the case like an animated cartoon dog.

So yeah: a marijuana dealer’s vanity project that has the man who gave Indiana Jones his hat (Richard Young), Lacey from The Boogeyman (and Olivia, too), Palance proving he didn’t know the meaning of the word no and Warhol getting paid four grand to use his house and show up and take Polaroids of people while playing himself.

Sullivan died two years later at the age of 26. Needless to say, it was sudden and mysterious.

You can watch this on Tubi.


Warhol Stars. Cocaine Cowboys. Accessed May 11, 2023.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.