If you were a certain age in New York City in the mid-1970s, let's say anywhere from nine to 85, you did not go longer than a week without seeing the face of Steve Rubell in one of the tabloids, his arm around this or that illuminati. Born in New York City in 1943, Rubell went to high school in Brooklyn and college in Syracuse, where he became friends with fellow Sigma Alpha Mu brother Ian Schrager. Rubell did stints in the National Guard and tried his hand at a few steakhouses, before he and Schrager decided to tap into the disco craze and open a club in midtown Manhattan called Studio 54.
From practically the day it opened in 1977, Studio 54 was a high-wattage forcefield sucking in all manner of celebrity and politician and megastar and freak, Grace Jones and Andy Warhol and Jerry Hall and Ed Koch, Keith Haring and Cher and Michael Jackson and Brooke Shields, Truman Capote and Mikhail Baryshnikov and Liza Minelli and any number of leather-boys, each at various times pictured with Rubell, who appears preternaturally sweaty, though maybe it was the cocaine, which was in no short supply. Nor was cash, Rubell apparently once saying that the club brought in more money than the mafia, which probably had something to do with he and Schrager skimming $2.5 million from the club's receipts. Busted for tax evasion, they got Roy Cohn to defend them because of course. Alas, each did prison time. Released in 1981, Schrager would go on to become one of the world's most successful hoteliers, and Rubell to open the New York club the Palladium.
In 1985, Rubell was diagnosed HIV+, which developed into AIDS. In 1989, he checked into the hospital under an assumed name and died on this date in 1989. His funeral was attended by Studio 54 regulars Bianca Jagger and Calvin Klein, and Mike Myers would play him in the feature film 54, released that same year.