Actress, Victims Advocate Theresa Saldana Dies At 61

Jun 8, 2016
Originally published on June 10, 2016 6:35 pm

Theresa Saldana, an actress and victims advocate, died Monday in Los Angeles at the age of 61.

She worked in movies such as I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Raging Bull.

In 1982, she was stabbed 10 times outside her West Hollywood apartment by a man who had become obsessed with her. She survived the attack, and the man was convicted of attempted murder. But Saldana told NPR the man continued sending her disturbing, threatening letters.

As a way to cope with the trauma, she turned to other victims of violent crimes. She helped start support groups, and encouraged others to do the same. She starred in a TV movie about her life, titled Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story.

In 1984 she told NPR, "as you see in the film, the period when I finally meet other victims is when I take a step toward help. When you meet with other people is when you realize you're not alone, and it's easier to cope when you're not the only one who's been through it."

She continued acting, getting her most prominent starring role in the 1990s TV show The Commish.

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Actress Theresa Saldana died Monday. Her four-decade career included roles in movies like "Raging Bull" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." She starred in the 90s TV show "The Commish." But as NPR's Andrew Limbong reports, she was best known as a victim of violent crime who became an advocate for others.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: In "Raging Bull," Theresa Saldana was cast in a small part as Lenore LaMotta, the put-upon wife of Joe Pesci's character, Joey.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RAGING BULL")

THERESA SALDANA: (As Lenore LaMotta) Are you going to start with me now?

JOE PESCI: (As Joey LaMotta) When people are talking, you don't interrupt. It's none of your business, especially if it's my brother and his wife. It has nothing to do with you. Now get out of here. Go inside. Get out. Take the baby inside.

SALDANA: (As Lenore LaMotta) Come on. Let's leave the grouches here, OK?

LIMBONG: The Brooklyn-born actress' career was on its way up. Then in March of 1982, she was attacked violently by a man who had become obsessed with her. He stabbed her 10 times.

She recovered physically, but found the trauma of the incident hard to deal with. Saldana turned the story around. She starred in a movie inspired by the incident titled "Victims For Victims: The Theresa Saldana Movie."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VICTIMS FOR VICTIMS: THE THERESA SALDANA STORY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Operator, it's an emergency. I need the paramedics please.

SALDANA: (As herself) I can't breathe.

LIMBONG: She spoke about the movie to NPR in 1984.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SALDANA: As you see in the film the period when I finally meet other victims is when I take a giant step forward towards help, and that is pretty common with victims. A lot of people feel as though they're the only person in the world who have been through such a thing. When you meet with other people, you realize that you're not alone, and it's easier to cope with when you're not the only one who's been through it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VICTIMS FOR VICTIMS: THE THERESA SALDANA STORY")

SALDANA: (As herself) Wouldn't it have been better for us if we'd known each other before this?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) We've really been lucky.

SALDANA: (As herself) Why don't we try and get that across to other people?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Other victims?

SALDANA: (As herself) There have to be thousands who feel just the way we do who will be helped if they talk to another victim.

LIMBONG: Saldana founded Victims for Victims, a support and advocacy group for those affected by violent crimes. She was also steadfast when years later the man who stabbed her and continued to send her threatening letters from jail was up for parole. She said this to NPR during that time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SALDANA: I have no intentions of allowing this man to kill me, and I don't want to live a life of fear and have my entire family live a life of fear.

LIMBONG: Her attacker remained in jail. Saldana continued to work on screen beyond this. Most notably, she starred in the 1990s TV show "The Commish" for which she received a Golden Globe Nomination. She was 61-years-old. Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.