John Giorno was born on December 4, 1936, in New York City.

After earning a BA from Columbia University in 1958, Giorno established himself as an active presence in New York’s art scene, lauded for his starring role in Andy Warhol’s five-hour film Sleep (1963). A life-long collaborator, he staged multimedia events with Robert Rauschenberg, developed new recording techniques with Bob Moog, and performed alongside William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. In 1967, he published his first monograph, Poems, and his first LP, collaborating with Rauschenberg and Les Levine on the artwork and designs for both.

Giorno created Dial-A-Poem at The Architectural League of New York in 1968, which was subsequently included in the landmark group exhibition Information at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970. Dial-A-Poem was both celebrated and censored for its selection of readings and speeches by poets and activists. Giorno was unwaveringly unapologetic in his use of politically-charged and sexually salacious content, using his work as a platform to draw attention to his own status as a gay man, to police violence in America, and to the harrowing statistics associated with the war in Vietnam. 

In 1971, Giorno visited India and Nepal with Allen Ginsberg, where he gave the Dalai Lama a copy of his book Balling Buddha and met his teacher, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche. A Buddhist strain began to form in Giorno’s work, and, in the 1980s, Giorno’s lofts at 222 Bowery became a space for communal practice in his adopted lineage of Nyingma Buddhism.

An artist of self-described “promiscuous compassion,” Giorno has always worked just as much to elevate the work of others as he has on his own. In 1965, he created an organization he called Giorno Poetry Systems, which was initially a pseudonym for his own political organizing and the creation of artworks. In 1972, he launched GPS Records, releasing over forty LPs, cassettes, videopaks and CDs featuring a wide range of new wave, no wave, punk, and other artists, musicians, and poets. In 1974, GPS officially became a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, with a mission to support artists, poets, and musicians. 
In 1984, GPS established the AIDS Treatment Project as an emergency response to the impacts of the epidemic on artists’ lives provided funding for artists living with AIDS through the early 2000s.

Giorno was not just a poet but an artist and a performer. In 1969, recognizing that the written word could be powerfully transformed into spoken word, he began a performance practice that he pursued throughout his life, pioneering a distinct and unique style. In 1981, he formed The John Giorno Band and performed at various punk rock venues.
In 1989, he made his first Poem Paintings, using a font designed for him by Mark Michaelson. Phrases taken from his poems, combining his interest in Buddhist spiritual texts with his Pop sensibility, were silk-screened on canvas. He continued and expanded his painting practice for the next thirty years.

Giorno met the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone in 1998, beginning a relationship that lasted the rest of his life, and married in 2017. During the late 2000’s and early 2010’s, Giorno collaborated with a younger generation of artists, including Pierre Huyghe, Michael Stipe, and  Rirkrit Tiravanija. A major retrospective of Giorno’s work, I ♥ John Giorno, was curated by Rondinone for Palais de Tokyo in 2015, and was re-imagined for 13 spaces in New York City in 2017, and a website (

Giorno retired from performing in 2017 and spent the last two years of his life in meditation, artmaking, writing poetry, and working on his memoir, Great Demon Kings. His iconic poem prints, paintings, prints and drawings continue to show in museums and galleries around the world. 

Giorno died in his home at 222 Bowery in 2019. 

In 2020, his non-profit began operating under the name The John Giorno Foundation, but in honor of Giorno's legacy and building on GPS's long history of extraordinary events, LPs, and grants, it returned to its original name in 2023 and currently operates as Giorno Poetry Systems.

John Giorno’s CV is available here.

Film stills of John Giorno in Andy Warhol's "Sleep" (1963)

John Giorno at 222 Bowery, c. 1969. Photo by Gianfranco Mantegna

John Giorno with Dial-A-Poem in New York, 1970. Photo by Gianfranco Mantegna
John Giorno in front of Mt. Everest, 1971

John Giorno in front of 222 Bowery, 1996. Photo by Christian Lantry

John Giorno, 2018. Photo by Marco Anelli