These Photos Prove How Wild Studio 54 Really Was
Studio 54 was the place to be in its heyday. The hottest celebrities and wildest outfits could be seen on the dance floor, and illicit substances flowed freely among partiers. To this day the nightclub remains a thing of legend, even if it has been transformed into a theater. But, thanks to photographers who were in the right place at the right time, we can get glimpses of what a crazy night out at Studio 54 was truly like.
The Birth of Studio 54
Originally opened as an opera house in 1927, Studio 54 became a popular nightclub in 1977. Having been used as a radio and television studio for CBS, the building was still full of TV sets and lighting equipment when Steve Rubell transformed it into a place for drinks, music and dancing.
Doormen didn't let just anyone inside, but if you were lucky, you could get into the club without having connections in high places. The criteria for entry weren't clear-cut — you simply had to have the look and style they wanted to see inside the establishment.
Crowds Like No Other
The nightclub was typically packed full of people. It seemed as though thrill-seekers young and old wanted nothing more than to get a taste of Studio 54's soaring reputation. Despite spending only $400,000 on preparations for the nightclub, owner Rubell indicated Studio 54 made over $7 million in profits in the first year.
One of the many famous faces to grace the dance floor of Studio 54 was that of legendary singer Diana Ross. She made appearances at the nightclub more than once throughout the years and was there on its last day of operation under Steve Rubell in 1980. In fact, she sang that night with Liza Minnelli.
A Birthday Party to Remember
It was relatively common for famous figures to throw their birthday parties inside Studio 54. They served copious amounts of alcohol, played the loudest music and sometimes had mini food fights on the dancefloor.
A Celebrity Mashup
Studio 54 produced many star-studded photo opportunities. This crowd is made up of well-known, successful individuals: Fashion designer Halston and actress Bianca Jagger are on the left, followed by film director Jack Haley Jr. and actress Liza Minnelli in the back right. In front is famous artist Andy Warhol.
You might not think of famous authors as the rowdiest group of people, but Truman Capote didn't fit into any stereotypes. Capote was an occasional visitor to Studio 54 and got down with the best of them. Here he is enjoying an anniversary party for Andy Warhol's magazine, Interview.
Studio 54 was crazy all year long, but things got especially wacky for Halloween. The nightclub threw an annual Halloween party and expected guests to wear the most shocking, over-the-top costumes that you could think of. Without a great costume, you weren't getting in.
No Shirt, No Problem
This couple wears scant Halloween costumes resembling a mermaid and some kind of sea creature, and their choice of style was not out of the ordinary at Studio 54. In fact, some women were often topless at Studio 54 parties, in nothing more than tiny thong bottoms and boots.
If there was one person who loved going out to Studio 54, it was Bianca Jagger. She was an actress and human rights activist who was married to Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger at the time. Not only did she love a good time, but she also knew how to master the dance floor.
It wasn't just the celebrities known to enjoy partying who indulged in a night out at Studio 54. In this picture, Robin Williams is with his then-wife Valerie Velardi and Studio 54's own Santa Claus. Williams appears to be accepting a drink from the jolly character.
One of Studio 54's main attractions was its complex lighting. Given that it used to be an actual studio, the interior had ample lighting equipment to create pulsating light shows. Another thing it often had, as a result, was strange performances. Sometimes the venue hired dancers or had fashion models walking the crowds.
Nightlife anywhere was sure to have drugs involved — we’re talking about the 1970s, here. What made Studio 54 different, however, was that drugs were practically encouraged inside. People partook in various questionable substances, and in this photo, they’re inhaling laughing gas in the middle of the dance floor.
It wasn't just actors and singers who showed up to party at Studio 54 — sometimes it was political figures. Margaret Trudeau was the wife of the Canadian Prime Minister at the time, and she loved to let loose.
When you're a wealthy celebrity, you're going to want to have the best of the best. After all, you have so much money that you have to find some way to spend it, right? That's why Sylvester Stallone decided he needed to pay a visit to the most famous disco in the United States.
A Tolerant Environment
At a wild place like Studio 54, there weren't lots of rules about what to wear or who to be. If you wanted to dress in next to nothing and wear lots of makeup, you were encouraged. You were also welcomed with open arms if you were a drag queen.
The many singers who passed through the joint didn’t leave without belting out a few notes of their own. Diana Ross and Liza Minelli performed for Rubell, and in this photo, Stevie Wonder took to the piano at his secretary's birthday party. Steven Stills is playing the drum, and 300 other people are in attendance.
This photograph offers a glimpse into New Year's Eve at Studio 54. This potentially dangerous display marked the end of the nightclub's first year open. Performers drop down from the ceiling, held by nothing but a cord connected to their legs.
In the club's first year open, Cher showed up to the scene at Studio 54. She is seen here in colorful ‘70s makeup, big hair and a risque lace top. At the time, she would have been in the midst of releasing her 1977 album, Cherished.
Trouble in Paradise
Unfortunately, Studio 54 came up against some problems during its successful run. Owner Steve Rubell is standing in his office in this photograph after, he claimed, federal police raided the area in search of drugs. The club's explosive success had attracted attention from authorities, and they thought Studio 54 might be connected to organized crime.
That's right — the King of Pop did indeed attend a gathering or two at Studio 54. Here he is pictured alongside Liza Minnelli and Bianca Jagger at the New Year's Eve party of 1977. As you can see, this was long before his dramatic transformation and eventual controversies in the public eye.
Part of the lure of a nightclub like Studio 54 is that you went home with plenty of stories to tell about the wacky things you saw go down inside. Here we see one of those notable moments where an elderly woman is dancing with a young man.
For the younger generations who might not know, Elizabeth Taylor was a star like no other during her time. Fans would say she had eyes the color of lavender, and her performances in films like Cleopatra and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will forever go down in cinema history.
At Studio 54, the taboo wasn't seen as undesirable — instead, it was invited inside. This photograph was taken at the first Halloween party and shows two men dressed in taboo fetish gear, one man miming cutting the other. This type of thing wouldn’t have been allowed in just any nightclub.
In case you don't recognize her, that's Dolly Parton at an afterparty in Studio 54. She's just finished with a 1978 concert, following up a Grammy nomination for Best Country Vocal Performance. Her hair is blonder and bigger than ever.
If you thought you'd seen it all when it came to crazy Studio 54 performances, you'd be mistaken. In this picture, women pose on top of giant reflective pillows in the middle of the crowd. The spectacle is complete with their revealing outfits, but by Studio 54 standards, their dress is modest.
Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller
If you found yourself fortunate enough to make it inside Studio 54 in 1978, you might’ve come upon a scene like this one. Highly respected clothing designer Diane von Furstenberg is perched on a couch with media mogul Barry Diller. (The pair later married — but not until 2001).
Farrah Fawcett and Shirley MacLaine
Dressed in their best and taking stock of the nightclub, famous actresses Farrah Fawcett and Shirley MacLaine are photographed with club owner Steve Rubell. While these two women may not have been the craziest partiers, they certainly appreciated a good night out.
Both famous celebrities and regular bystanders alike managed to have a rockin’ good time at Studio 54. In this picture, well-known English actor Michael Caine is laughing and dancing with his wife Shakira, while partygoers frolic on behind them.
One for the History Books
Studio 54's peak was intense but short-lived. The man who made it famous, Steve Rubell, was only in charge from 1977 to 1980. After those three years, the experience of partying at Studio 54 just wasn't the same. No other nightclub has been able to rival it in reputation and A-list guests since.