Warhol was born Andrew Warhola on Aug. 6, 1928, in Pittsburgh, Pa. The youngest of three boys, Warhol showed early artistic promise and became the first in the family to attend college, earning a degree in pictorial design from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1949 [source: Andy Warhol Foundation].
After graduation, Warhol took the overnight bus to New York City, where he found consistent work as a commercial illustrator, providing playful sketches for leading fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, and acting as the art designer for advertisements, album covers, book covers and department store display windows. He even won commendations from the Art Director's Club and the American Institute of Graphic Arts [source: PBS].
Early in his career, he dropped the "a" from his name [source: PBS]. While he was building his professional resume, Warhol also developed personal art projects. In 1961, he placed some of his earliest Pop art canvases (featuring comic book frames) in the display windows at Manhattan department store Bonwit Teller [source: Osterwold].
The window display didn't lead to a gallery exhibition, but Warhol soon found his muse in Campbell's soup cans, an everyday object that epitomized mundane American life. Warhol's repetitive imagery of the soup cans and other common objects blurred the line between art, advertisement, meaning and emptiness. His first gallery show earned him write-ups in Time, Life and Newsweek magazines [source: Warhola.com].
Warhol bought a four-story brownstone in midtown Manhattan and transformed it into his studio and creative incubator. From 1963 through 1968, the East 47th Street building known as The Factory was a whirlwind of creative activity -- experimental film, art and music -- and served as the scene of an extended, drug-fueled party. He made hundreds of 16 mm films featuring his expanding coterie of friends, muses and hangers-on, whom he called the "superstars."
In the mid-1960s, Warhol created his first Pop sculptures of soap and cereal boxes, and launched the traveling multimedia project called Exploding Plastic Inevitable featuring the music of The Velvet Underground. In 1968, Warhol was shot in the chest by Valarie Solanas -- a disturbed writer who had appeared in one of his films -- but he survived the attack [source: PBS].
During the 1970s, Warhol launched Interview magazine and reinvented the idea of the society portrait, doing hundreds of commissioned works for celebrities and politicians. He wrote 10 books and a play -- all dictated into a tape recorder -- and even produced two shows for MTV.
Warhol died unexpectedly on Feb. 22, 1987, due to complications from routine gall bladder surgery. Thousands attended his funeral mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral [source: Andy Warhol Foundation].
On the next page, we'll take a deeper look at Warhol's artistic legacy.