Todd Brassner, who died in a fire at Trump Tower on Saturday, loved fast cars, electric guitars, expensive watches and making long, erudite pronouncements about art and art history.
“It haunts me,” said Stephen Dwire, 67, a musician and music producer who had been friends with Brassner since they were 14-year-olds in Harrison, New York, in Westchester County. “He said, ‘This is getting untenable,'” Dwire said. “It was like living in an armed camp. But when people heard it was a Trump building, he couldn’t give it away.”
Brassner, 67, lived alone amid a collection of about 100 vintage electric guitars, 40 guitar amplifiers dating to the 1930s, 150 ukuleles and artwork by Robert Indiana, Mati Klarwein, Jack Kerouac and others.
Officials from the Fire Department declined to comment on the damage to Brassner’s extensive holdings. On Sunday, they had not determined the cause of the blaze, which also injured four firefighters.
“We send our prayers and deepest condolences to Mr. Brassner’s family and loved ones,” a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization said Sunday.
Brassner’s apartment in Trump Tower, built in 1983, did not have sprinklers, which were not required. In 1999, after two deadly fires in high-rise apartments, New York City enacted legislation requiring sprinkler systems in most new residential buildings and existing properties that were extensively renovated.
Real estate developers, including Trump, fought the sprinklers, arguing that they were unnecessary and would add $4 per square foot to the cost of an apartment.
James Long, a spokesman for the Fire Department, said Sunday that residents in a fireproof building, like Trump Tower, were safest inside their apartments rather than evacuating.
Damage from the fire was visible from Madison Avenue and 56th Street. Fifty floors up, facing east, a pair of large horizontal windows were punched out, and the glass and metal facade above appeared scorched and sooty. A metal work platform lowered from the roof hung beside the gutted apartment.
For Brassner, the building was a prestigious address for dealing art, and his early years there echoed his successes in the nexus of the art and music worlds.
“He led a very out-there life,” said Jodi Stuart, who was Brassner’s first girlfriend and had been in and out of his life since. “Out there in sports cars, out there in rock ‘n’ roll, playing Hendrix on guitar, bigger than life.”
For much of Brassner’s life, she said, “You never saw him without his Jaguar.”
“We used to go to the Fillmore East and Max’s Kansas City,” Stuart said. “Todd got right in with the Factory and Andy Warhol. He picked em: Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, Jaguars, beautiful homes, beautiful women.”
Brassner was one of two sons born to an art dealer and lighting manufacturer named Jules Brassner, who introduced him to Warhol. Todd Brassner fit right into the Warhol orbit, and often went shopping with the artist, said Stuart Pivar, a collector who was very close to Warhol.
“They were like two 14-year-olds, seeing the world,” Pivar said. “And he was very knowledgeable about pop art.”
Though Brassner enjoyed the high life, “he was a very family-oriented guy, and we often talked about our parents,” said Howard Murray, a television director who grew up with Brassner and reconnected about a decade ago. “He always talked about his mom talking Yiddish.”
But in recent years, Brassner started leaving the apartment less and less frequently, and he resisted offers from friends to visit or bring food. Blake Gopnik, who wanted to interview Brassner for a biography of Warhol, said he set up a number of meetings. “But he always made some complicated excuse,” Gopnik said.
Brassner’s struggle with drugs brought him into contact with “shady characters, who snookered him out of masterpieces,” Pivar said. The apartment was so cluttered Brassner could barely move, Pivar said.
He filed for bankruptcy in 2015, but soon after he inherited money from his father. “He showed up at my house the next day in a brand-new red Lamborghini,” Pivar said. “That was Todd.”
Stuart said she thought Brassner did not want his friends to see him in declining health.
“We tried very hard to meet with him or have lunch or dinner with him,” she said. “He wanted us to know the Todd that was before. Not the Todd who was impaired. He suffered a lot.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.