Steve Rubell was an American entrepreneur, best known for co-owning the New York disco ‘Studio 54.’ Steve was born into a Jewish family. Like his father, who was a skilled tennis player, Steve, too, played tennis while growing up. Although he loved the game, he never wished to build a career in the sport. He joined ‘Syracuse University’ and earned a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in finance. During his university years, he met Ian Schrager, who also became his future business partner. After college, Steve joined the ‘National Guard.’ He later worked with a brokerage firm. Eventually, he opened two restaurants, one each in Connecticut and Queens, New York. In 1975, Ian and Steve were introduced to the thriving disco market of New York. Steve decided to invest in the disco industry. He opened a club called ‘Douglaston Manor’ in Queens and then opened ‘Studio 54’ in Manhattan in 1977. However, in 1978, Steve and Ian faced charges of tax evasion and obstruction of justice, and their club was sold off. Steve was imprisoned for 3 and half years. After being released from prison in April 1981, Steve opened a hotel called ‘Executive Hotel,’ with Ian, on Madison Avenue.
Childhood & Early Life
Steve Rubell was born on December 2, 1943, in Brooklyn, New York, to Philip and Ann Rubell. He grew up with his younger brother, Donald. His parents were conservative Jews.
When Steve was born, his father worked as a postmaster. Over time, he became a skilled tennis player. Steve, too, loved playing tennis but never made a career in the sport. He wanted to be rich and thus opted to study finance and the stock markets.
Steve attended ‘Wingate High School.’ Following his high-school graduation, he moved to Syracuse to study finance at the ‘Syracuse University’ in New York. He obtained both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in finance from the university.
Despite the fact that he was not interested in a tennis career, he was no less than a star player of his college tennis team. He was the captain of his team, and in his senior year, he played 17 games and won all of them.
He was good in academics and was also a member of the ‘Sigma Alpha Mu’ fraternity. While at the university, he met Ian Schrager, who went on to become his life-long friend and business partner.
After finishing college, he went out in search of a well-paying job. However, he ended up being in the ‘National Guard.’ He moved out of the city for a military intelligence duty and later returned to New York City. He then began appearing for job interviews.
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As soon as he returned from the ‘National Guard,’ he earned a steady job at a brokerage firm. However, the constant drive to start something of his own compelled him to quit his job and partner with his college friend Ian Schrager, to start a business.
They initially tried to start a chain of restaurants, opening two restaurants named ‘Steak Lofts.’ One of the restaurants was in New York and the other was in Mystic, Connecticut. The business went smoothly for a while in the early 1970s.
However, back then, discotheques and clubs were popping up everywhere, and it was a highly lucrative business opportunity. Steve befriended Billy Amato, a famed disco promoter. Billy was the executive vice president of ‘20th Century Fox Records.’ Billy was also a highly influential man who knew many people from the industry.
He introduced Steve and Ian to John Addison, who ran a disco called ‘La Jardin.’ In 1975, Steve and Ian were convinced about entering the business. They soon opened two clubs, one in Boston and the other in Queens.
The club in Queens, New York, was called ‘The Enchanted Garden.’ It was later renamed ‘Douglaston Manor.’ Both the clubs ran perfectly fine for the next 2 years, making both Ian and Steve invest in the business furthermore.
In 1977, they launched the club called ‘Studio 54,’ which was named after the street where it was located. It was formerly a dubbing and radio/TV studio owned by ‘CBS.’ Ian and Steve decided to retain many of the old TV and theatrical sets. It took them only 6 weeks to transform the film and TV sets into a nightclub.
The club became widely famous within a short span. The club started when the disco culture was at its peak and New York was arguably the hub for discotheques and dance clubs. One more reason for the popularity of the club was its exclusivity.
Many major celebrities visited the club from time to time, further enhancing its market value. The disco only allowed entry to people after making sure of their status and social class. The club also provided an open drug use policy. Owing to these reasons, the club became famous worldwide.
However, the success of the club did not last too long. Steve gave a controversial interview in 1978, stating that only the mafia made more money than the club. This got the attention of the ‘IRS,’ and the place was raided. Many inconsistencies were found in the financial statements of the company, and Steve and Ian were booked for tax evasion, unreported income, and obstruction of justice. They were both sentenced to 3 and half years in prison.
In November 1980, ‘Studio 54’ was sold for $4.75 million.
In April 1981, Ian and Steve were released from prison. Following this, they opened a hotel on Madison Avenue. The hotel was initially named ‘Executive Hotel’ and later renamed ‘Morgans.’
Family, Personal Life & Death
Steve Rubell had been a closeted gay almost all his life. He never came out in the open about it. In 1985, he discovered that he had contracted HIV. He passed away from complications related to AIDS, on July 25, 1989. Septic shock and hepatitis were noted as the causes of his death, and both these conditions were complicated by his struggle with AIDS.
His funeral was attended by celebrities such as Bianca Jagger and Calvin Klein, who were regulars at ‘Studio 54.’
In 1998, the film ‘54,’ based on the story of ‘Studio 54,’ was released. The film starred Mike Meyers as Steve.
Steve has been called the “Lord of the Disco” in a documentary made on his life.