*This is not an exact transcript, but rather an outline of my notes.
Adrienne Shelly made a career out of roles featuring powerful women. She was an actress, director, and screenwriter. She’s probably best known for her work on Broadway and for playing the role of Dawn in the movie Waitress which she also wrote and directed.
She was born Adrienne Levine in Queens, NY on June 24, 1966. She began performing at age 10 and started attending Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Center.
She made her professional debut in a summer stock production of Annie while she was in high school.
In the late 80s and early 90s, Adrienne started appearing in independent films like The Unbelievable Truth and Trust. She also guest starred in a number of shows like Law & Order and Oz, and she played major roles in over two dozen Broadway plays.
Adrienne had a tendency to play some really dark, difficult roles. But what’s interesting is that those who’ve worked with her describe her as a joyous, playful, fun-loving person who just loved life. And it really just shows how great of an actress she was.
She also liked to portray powerful women or have powerful women portrayed in her films.
During the 90s, Adrienne shifted her interest to working behind the camera, and in 1999 she wrote and directed the film I’ll Take You There, for which she won a U.S. Comedy Arts Festival Film Discovery Jury Award in 2000 for direction of the film.
In 1994, Adrienne married Andy Ostroy, the chairman and CEO of the marketing firm Belardi/Ostroy. The two of them had a baby in 2003, a little girl named Sophie, who actually makes a cameo appearance at the end of Waitress.
Adrienne actually wrote the screenplay for Waitress while she was pregnant with Sophie.
The film was submitted to the Sundance Film Festival in 2006, and Adrienne was eagerly waiting to find out if it would get accepted. She even joked that they should send pies to the judges (pies were a central theme in the movie) but it turned out they didn’t need to-- the film was accepted and it was one of the top films. The film was actually bought by Fox Searchlight Pictures for over 4 million dollars. Unfortunately, the exciting news didn’t reach Adrienne in time.
Adrienne had leased an apartment in Manhattan’s West Village that she used as an office. Her husband, Andy, dropped her off there at 9:30 AM on November 1st, 2006. This would be the last time he saw her alive.
Throughout the day, Adrienne didn’t call or text him the entire day, so by the end of the day, it’s like 5:45 in the afternoon and she hasn’t called him to pick her up or anything, and he can’t reach her.
So he goes to the apartment building and asks the doorman to accompany him up to the apartment. When they got there, they found her body hanging from a shower rod in the bathtub, with a sheet around her neck.
NYPD immediately assumed this was a suicide. But Andy pointed out that the front door was unlocked and there was money missing from her wallet.
The autopsy concluded that the cause of death was from neck compression. Andy was understandably pushing the police to look further, that there’s no way this was a suicide. His wife was happy and excelling in her career, and she would never leave her 2 year old daughter motherless.
After pushing and pushing, the police re-examined the bathroom more carefully, and they found something interesting-- a shoe print in gypsum dust on the toilet, right next to where the body was found. That footprint was matched to another set of shoe prints (they were Reebok sneakers btw) in the apartment directly below hers, where construction was being done on the day of Adrienne’s death.
They discovered the work being done there was overseen by a contractor named Louis Hernandez.
The worker was named Diego Pillco, a 19 year old immigrant from Ecuador. Diego didn’t speak any english, he had only been in the US for a few months. He reportedly paid $15 million to be smuggled into the country, and still owed $12 million more. He and his brother were living in the apartment complex, the landlord was letting them live in a basement apartment unit.
The police brought Diego in for questioning, and he admitted to murdering Adrienne almost immediately. It took less than 30 minutes to get it out of him. But he didn’t tell the whole truth the first time around. Or the second time around.
First he said that she was complaining about the construction noise, but there was a language barrier and things got heated and an argument ensued, and he threw a hammer at her head. She tried to get away, and he panicked that he was going to call the landlord or the police, which could get him deported.
Then he changed the story, saying that she complained about the noise and they argued, and she slapped him and he punched her back, causing her to fall and hit her head and fall unconscious.
Neither of these accounts make sense though, because there was no blunt force trauma to her head. And if they had had an altercation at the construction site, she would have also had gypsum dust on her too, which she didn’t.
Ultimately, he was like “ok she never actually complained about the noise.” Allegedly, Diego was just working and doing his job, and he saw Adrienne head up to her apartment. He then decided to follow her up and rob her.
The door was left unlocked, so he went in and started taking money from her purse.
And she caught him.
She picked up the phone to call police, and Diego ran over to cover her mouth. There was a scuffle and they fell to the ground. She fought hard, scratching up his face.
Diego then grabbed a nearby bed sheet and began to strangle her with it. When she blacked out, he panicked and drug her body to the bathroom, and then put her in the bath and hanged her body from the shower head, using the sheet, to make it look like a suicide. And then he fled.
As it turns out, Adrienne hadn’t actually died from the strangling, so she was still alive when he drug her body through the house and hanged her in the shower, and that’s where she actually died.
Diego was sentenced to 25 years in prison with immediate deportation upon release.
Adrienne’s husband, Andy, ended up suing Bradford General Contractors, the company that had hired Diego. He sued them because for one, Adrienne would still be alive if they hadn’t hired Diego. But also, ALL of their employees were immigrants.
To be clear, Andy says he has no problems with immigrants-- but that the issue at hand was that due to the undocumented status of the employees, the employer did not keep a paper trail of the employees, which could make it really easy for one of them to flee in the case of crime, like this one. He also said that it was in the best interest of the contracting company not to call the police, because that would bring their work to a halt.
I think that argument would have more weight behind it if Diego had actually tried to flee. But the contracting company argued that they didn’t know Diego was dangerous when they hired him and that fact would remain whether or not he were an immigrant.
At the end of the day, the judge didn’t see legal grounds for the lawsuit and dismissed it.
In 2007, Andy Ostroy founded the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, which provided grants to help film students finance their independent film projects, supplement film school scholarships and awards, and produce readings of deserving scripts.
Andy thought this was something that would’ve made Adrienne really happy and proud to have her name associated with it.
"Through the foundation," he said, "we will not only help young women get their start in film, we'll help others make the transition from acting to directing, as Adrienne had done so successfully."
Women Film Critics Circle named an award after her. The organization now gives the Adrienne Shelly Award to the film that "most passionately opposes violence against women.
Adrienne had appeared in an episode of Law & Order in 2000 (E: High & Low), and in 2007, they released an episode loosely based on Adrienne (S17 E: Melting Pot).
In 2009, Andy Ostroy established a memorial garden for Adrienne, called the Adrienne Shelly Garden. It’s located on the southeast side of Abingdon Square Park in Manhattan, and it actually faces the building where Adrienne died.
In 2017, Waitress went to Broadway. The music and lyrics were written by Sara Bareilles and it’s magnificent. Seriously, watch this amazing musical or at least listen to the music, because it’s wonderful.
Sara Bareilles says it’s *absolutely* a tribute to Adrienne Shelly.
"We all really wanted to preserve her legacy and her vision," said singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles ahead of the show's 2019 London debut.
She says that she even invited Adrienne onboard the project.
Ostroy and their daughter Sophie, who was almost 3 when Shelly died, feel her loss every day. “She just loved Sophie so much,” says Ostroy. “I think of the way she looked at her and the adoration in her eyes. She was so joyful about being able to achieve her dreams and still be a mother.”
In remembering Shelly, Ostroy said that "Adrienne was the kindest, warmest, most loving, generous person I knew. She was incredibly smart, funny and talented, a bright light with an infectious laugh and huge smile that radiated inner and outer beauty... she was my best friend, and the person with whom I was supposed to grow old."
Those who’ve had the pleasure to work with Shelly note how ferocious and unintimidated she was. She made it clear what her vision was, and made sure that came through. Even when it came to acting, she started telling the stories she wanted to be a part of, rather than waiting for an agent to come around with her dream role. A woman like Shelly is exactly what Hollywood needed.