The two met at a party at the Bridgehampton home of the Iranian painter Manoucher Yektai in August 1970. “I was sort of transfixed,” Ms. Kilgore recalled in an interview with Mr. Stevens. “I think I was unaware of anything else going on. And we just talked, looking straight at each other for a long, long time. And then he was leaving, and he said, ‘Am I ever going to see you again?’”
He would, frequently, for decades. She visited him until his death in 1997, even after he had slipped into dementia in the 1980s. While the two were never a couple in the formal sense (Ms. Kilgore lived primarily in Texas), they attended art fairs, like the Venice Biennale, and mingled with other artists in New York at the nightclub Max’s Kansas City and Fanelli Cafe, a venerable pub in SoHo.
In the Bohemian art world of postwar New York, appetites for self-indulgence tended to be large, and sexual mores loose, with relationships and romantic partners ever shifting.
For de Kooning, the relationship with Ms. Kilgore proved transformative. Prone to melancholy and given to epic benders, he was in a difficult period in life when he met her, Mr. Stevens said in a phone interview. For starters, he was entangled in stressful relationships both with his wife, the artist Elaine de Kooning, and Joan Ward, the mother of his daughter, Lisa.
Ms. Kilgore provided an escape. “He loved show tunes,” she said in an interview with Mr. Stevens. “We would sing songs together. I loved dancing, so I would dance. And do cartwheels outside the studio near a gazebo.” She tried to teach him to tango, she said, but “his feet were too big.”
Her joie de vivre mesmerized de Kooning. “I love you wherever you are forever,” he wrote in a letter to Ms. Kilgore. “You made me over …. You’re with me all the time even when you’re not with me.”