Steve Rubell, 45; Former Co-Owner of Studio 54
the co-owner of Studio 54 who reigned over New York’s night life during the disco craze until his arrest for skimming club receipts, died Wednesday. He was 45.
Rubell, who was convicted of tax evasion at the height of his club’s popularity, died of complications from hepatitis and septic shock at Beth Israel Hospital, said publicist Dan Klores, who would not elaborate.
Rubell befriended celebrities from Liza Minnelli to Madonna during his 25 years of business dealings with his partner and college buddy Ian Schrager.
The pair became the toast of Manhattan night life after opening Studio 54 on April 26, 1977, playing host to Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor and Cheryl Tiegs night after night. Rubell’s activities earned prominent mention in “The Andy Warhol Diaries,” a current best-seller.
Rubell, the extrovert of the pair, could often be found hanging out inside, being seen with the stars while checking out business. His mother counted the club’s receipts in the basement.
Rubell often worked the club’s front door, selectively admitting celebrities and night-crawlers, spurning others queued outside. Among those he failed to recognize and refused: John Kennedy Jr. and Warren Beatty.
The high life ended with a 1979 tax evasion conviction after authorities discovered $300,000 in cash in the trunk of Schrager’s car.
The Rubell and Schrager tried to avoid prosecution with a deal to testify against President Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, claiming that the official had snorted cocaine in their club. That deal went nowhere and Jordan was never charged.
In January, 1980, Rubell and Schrager were sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison but their sentences were reduced after they turned in several other club owners. They were released from prison Jan. 30, 1981, and sold Studio 54 a short time later.
Rubell and Schrager returned to New York, channeling their efforts into the hotel business. Within four years, they were operating Morgans Hotel and running another nightclub, the Palladium.
Once again, Rubell became a club scene presence. On opening night at the Palladium, Boy George, actor Matt Dillon and other celebrities turned out and the club took off.
The pair continued their hotel work, renovating and reopening the Royalton Hotel in Manhattan. They were in the process of renovating the Century Paramount Hotel off Times Square and had bought the Barbizon Hotel.
Rubell also discussed plans to develop a resort in Florida or the Caribbean.
Rubell is survived by his parents, a brother, a niece and a nephew.
A private funeral service was planned for today.