Cruising New York City With Video Blogger Nelson Sullivan In The 1980s

Sullivan shows us New York City - and makes us want to be there with him

“Thanks to his scrupulous attention, Nelson’s left behind a treasure trove of late-night videos that, even more than the Warhol diaries, trenchantly capture the party years in all their gleeful decadent fun.”

– Michael Musto on New York City video blogger (vlogging) Nelson Sullivan in the July 10, 1989 issue of OutWeek


Nelson Sullivan NYC


In Nelson Sullivan’s ‘The Piers in New York City in 1976’ we are catapulted back to a time of freedom, fun and difficult realities.

In this first video, Sullivan (March 15, 1948 – July 4, 1989) takes us on a tour of The Piers in 1976, those decaying wood and steel structures extending into the Hudson River along New York City’s West Side Highway from Manhattan’s Christopher Street up to Chelsea. It was a busy gay cruising spots back then.



Until his fatal heart attack in 1987, Sullivan spent much of his time recording the scene in downtown Manhattan on a heavy VHS camera. In his almost 2,000 hours of footage, we see throbbing nightclubs like The Saint, The Limelight, Danceteria and Tunnel, Palladium, Pyramid Club and the hymned CBGB.

Leading faces of the time appear on camera as Sullivan seems to effortlessly take us into the heart of the crowd he belongs to and interacts with, chatting with the like of Lady Bunny, RuPaul, Andy Warhol, Larry Tee, Michael Alig and the Club Kids, Leigh Bowery, Sylvia Miles, Michael Musto, Albert Crudo and John Sex.



“Nelson was our New York liaison, and he introduced us to the city. Every time I walk around New York I think of him all the time. He taught us about the West Village, about Fire Island, and he introduced us to Tennessee Williams movies. He was our gay educator and taught us about our birthright, our cultural inheritance. And he always supported me, no matter what.”

– RuPaul in his 1995 autobiography Lettin’ It All Hang Out



A Walk from Washington Square to the East Village in 1985

It’s a beautiful day to enjoy the scenery between Washington Square and the East Village around Avenue A. Nelson Sullivan made this video on July 28, 1985:



“Watching one of his tapes is not like watching anything else. It’s about as close to being there as you can possibly be. The camera’s on from the moment he leaves the house, gets into the taxi and walks into the club, wandering around the bar and the audience and twisting round the corridors backstage, looking at everyone getting ready for the show. For some people the very sight of his lens is enough to precipitate a mini-show ‘

Starbooty! Starbooty! Starbooty! No. Starbooty! Starbooty! Starbooty! Yea!” they screech. Then he backs up, pans around, returns to the audience and tapes the show. And there are no edits! The only cut is when he turns the camera off when he gets back home.”

– Blitz Mag


The Triple Birthday Party in 1987 part 1 – RuPaul and Michael Alig arrive

On November 19, 1987 Nelson Sullivan had a birthday party at 5 Ninth Avenue for his friends Albert Crudo, RuPaul and Dick Richards who all had birthdays around that time:



A Trip to Avenue A in NYC

Nelson takes the bus to meet his brother Marko at a restaurant on Avenue A. Along the way he meets some of the interesting people in the East Village.

“When a major sporting event is interrupted for five minutes while they run the beer commercials, you know that the original ideals behind that event have been tossed right out of the sixth floor window”

– Neil Sullivan


Stopping at McDonald’s in 1989

Nelson Sullivan was on a road trip from Atlanta to his hometown of Kershaw, South Carolina, when he stopped at this McDonald’s in Washington, Georgia, for some lunch.



Train Ride to Coney Island in 1987

Enjoy the sights and the graffitti as Nelson, photographer Liz Lizard and her family, Michael Musto and Albert Crudo take the subway from Union Square to Coney Island on June 20, 1987.



See more at: Funtone, NYU Fales Library & Special Collections, The 5 Ninth Avenue Project

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