I am really not sure where to start. Often I have found that my writing is tied to my emotions. When something riles me up I tend to really let loose and the words seem to flow seamlessly. But this is different. I am at once angry, heart-broken, sickened and well, sad. Sad to the point that words seem to be failing me. But obviously I am going to give it a try since you are reading this.
Throughout my life I have always gravitated to the underdog. Whether it was music or sports or life in general. When I was in high school (many, many years ago), my favorite band was Thin Lizzy, an Irish band that scored minimal success in the United States but maintained a huge European following. In some ways I think I felt a bit superior by being able to claim a band as my favorite that most did not even know existed. Popularity after all does not equate with being good. Look at American Idol.
I have always been a sports nut too, especially when it comes to college football and basketball. Growing up in the Detroit area you were immediately expected to root for either Michigan or Michigan State and worship at the altar of the Big Ten. Not me. I found the greatest satisfaction in following the Mid-American Conference, a conference that is forever in the shadows of the Big Ten but whose member schools still scare the bejeezus out of the big boys to the point where they shy away from playing schools of the MAC unless it is on their terms. This led me to start up a website called MAC Report Online (www.macreportonline.com) which today registers over 600,000 hits per month proving that I am not the only one who has a love for the underdog.
Movie star worship was never my bag though. I couldn’t really ever point to a favorite actor until I saw a movie called “Trust” starring a charming, engaging young actress named Adrienne Shelly. I was completely blown away by this little dynamo whose presence on-screen was such that you could not take your eyes off of her. Of course the fact that she was pretty much a virtual unknown and appearing in low-budget indie films cemented the fact that she would become my favorite actor. She clearly qualified as an underdog.I never understood why she didn’t get bigger roles or become a star. She had the talent and certainly had the presence of a star. But the fact that she received little notice and the general movie-going public had no clue who she was only endeared her to me I guess.
Adrienne Shelly made appearances in several independent films and I eagerly checked the Internet Movie Database (IMD) whenever I could to check on her latest films. You see, living here in Detroit you really do not get much more than the usual Hollywood pablum of blockbusters so any movies that Shelly made had to be viewed by me either on cable or via DVD or VHS. I have never seen one of her films in an actual theater and she made many that were far superior to the garbage being churned out. Her 2001 effort in “Revolution #9” was harrowing just as her role in “Sudden Manhattan” was quirky and engaging. She really had a special charm and sweetness packed into her slight 5’2″ 100 pound frame. I guess I can concede that I have had a bit of a crush on her.
So, why do I bring this up?
The other night I was watching TV when an ad appeared for a movie titled “Waitress.” At first it did not catch my attention as it appeared to be another run of the mill chick flick. But out of the corner of my eye I saw this cute little red-head in the ad and thought ‘hey, that looks like Adrienne Shelly!’ Sure enough it was and even better, at the bottom of the ad it read “written and directed by Adrienne Shelly.” Wow. A movie by my favorite actor that would actually have a nation wide release.
I had lost track a bit of her career after being tied up with my own career change and focusing so much on sports writing. The next morning I decided to check the Internet to get more information about the upcoming movie and was stunned to see that Adrienne Shelly was dead. Not just dead, but murdered. Worse, it had happened over six months ago, on November 1 and I was just now finding out about this horrible news. How did I miss it? Well, it received coverage in the New York press and a brief mention here and there but since she was no Anna Nicole Smith, her passing was no big deal apparently. But the circumstances of her death were truly gruesome.
It seems Ms. Shelly had the misfortune of having a run-in with an illegal immigrant who decided it was better to murder her than risk having her call the police as he was afraid such a call would lead to his deportation. The sniveling little coward, Diego Pillco, a 19-year old illegal alien from Ecuador, now sits in prison awaiting trial on second-degree murder charges. Apparently Mr. Pillco, to quote the New York Post, told police he was “having a bad day,” when he decided to snuff out the life of 40-year old Adrienne Shelly, a wife and mother of a 2-year old daughter. As best as I have been able to reconstruct it, here is the series of events that led to Ms. Shelly’s murder:
On the morning of November 1, 2006, Adrienne’s husband, Andrew Ostroy, a marketing executive, dropped her off at a Greenwich Village apartment building where she used an apartment as an office. The apartment below her office was being renovated and the workers apparently were making a lot of noise. Ms Shelly went down to ask for some peace and quiet and Mr. Pillco was the only one present. Pillco reacted by slamming the door on Ms. Shelly, striking her with the door and then pushing her out of the apartment. Ms. Shelly had the audacity to call him a “son of a bitch” and proceeded to head back to her office.
Pillco, fearing that she would call the police, then followed her back to her office where he overpowered her, struck her and she fell, hitting her head on a computer table. But she was not dead. Pillco though, in his confession, told police he thought he had killed her and now needed to make her “death” appear to be a suicide.
The illegal immigrant, who paid smugglers $12,000 to get him across the US-Mexican border, dragged the unconscious Shelly to the bathroom by tying a bed sheet around her neck. He then slung the bedsheet over the shower curtain rod and hanged the still unconscious but not dead actress to make her death appear to be self-inflicted. An autopsy later showed she died from “manual strangulation” and would have survived the blow that had rendered her unconscious.
Ms. Shelly’s lifeless body was discovered by her husband later that day as he had become worried that he could not reach her. At first police ruled her death a suicide but a footprint from an Alan Iverson Reebok sneaker tied Mr. Pillco to the crime scene and he later confessed. He of course has since pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.
This horrible tragedy played out because once again we do not enforce our own immigration laws. Now, a talented actress, loving mother and wife’s murder can directly be related to the fact that this Pillco character was here illegally. It was his fear of deportation that led him to murder this lovely person who had never harmed a soul in her life.
Spare me the bleating and rationalizing about illegal immigrants contributing to our society. This character came here illegally, a businessman, Louis Hernandez, hired him knowing he was illegal and many residents of the apartment building knew of his illegal status. Nobody though reported this to authorities. If one person would have stepped up, Adrienne Shelly would be with us today and her young daughter, Sofie, would be with her mother. All are culpable in this tragedy but that of course does not lessen Pillco’s guilt.
Sadly, Adrienne Shelly will never know that the movie that she had just completed three days prior to her murder would be accepted at the Sundance Film Festival, receive many accolades and then get picked up for national distribution by Fox Searchlight. Or maybe it was because of her death that recognition will come her way. Sadly, it seems that the plaudits she deserved will only come her way now that she has suffered this horrible tragedy. Such is Hollywood, I guess.
The entertainment industry can be callous to say the least. The hit series “Law and Order” already aired an episode based on Ms. Shelly’s murder. What makes this most distasteful is that Adrienne Shelly appeared in an episode of Law and Order back in 2000 making her the first actor to have appeared in a series and then be the real-life subject of a murder aired later on that same show.
Shelly’s husband, Andy Ostroy, has started the Adrienne Shelly Foundation which will award grants to encourage women in film. It has already raised a substantial sum. People close to Ostroy have stated that they don’t know if he will ever get over her murder. In an April interview, Ostroy confided that he still cannot sleep following his wife’s death. The Foundation hopefully will ease some of the pain and Shelly’s legacy will be established for years to come.
It is bitterly ironic that a subject that I have written on, stemming illegal immigration, would get so intertwined with the death of a little-known movie actor that I had come to admire. I will go see Ms. Shelly’s final film, “Waitress” this week when it opens here in Detroit. I may even shed a tear at the realization that Ms. Shelly will never appear in film again. Or maybe it’s because her daughter makes a cameo in the film and utters the words “bye mommy” on screen. Or maybe it’s because I just cannot fathom why we as a society have gotten to the point where we ignore our own laws to the point where our citizens have lost some of their basic rights, such as a right to live, while we coddle those who have no claim or business being here.
So, if you are in a Detroit theater this weekend and see some guy with tears in his eyes at a chick flick, well, that’s me. Normally I wouldn’t tolerate such behavior from any guy, but I hope I can be forgiven and won’t have my man card revoked.
Adrienne Shelly, RIP.