Not to indulge in too much psycho-babble, I couldn't help but suspect the smile belied a rather hefty dose of pain. When I interviewed Rauschenberg eight years ago in his Greenwich Village building for a profile in this magazine, he revealed that even after he'd reached the pinnacle of the art world, he still couldn't win his parents' approval. Once when a hurricane was coming, Rauschenberg's mother boarded up the windows of her house with his paintings—facing inside. When he asked why, she told him, "You think I want the neighbors to know what you do?"

At one point in our leisurely chat, during which he downed a supersize vodka, I asked whether he missed performance art, since he had been one of its pioneers. "No," he responded, "because we're all performing." When I, somewhat densely, failed to grasp his meaning, he added, "You're performing now."

Rauschenberg seemed acutely aware that day of his mortality, repeatedly noting that time was a frustratingly finite material. I asked if he planned to finish his visual autobiography, 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece, which he'd begun in 1981. "Well, yeah, one day," he said with a hearty laugh. "If you get my drift."

Read Julie L. Belcove's profile of Robert Rauschenberg from our September 2000 issue.

Rauschenberg and Diane Keaton in 1997
Photo by Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images