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Adrienne Shelly

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Subject: Waitress (film), 2006, Murdered actresses, Abingdon Square Park, 21st-century American actresses
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Adrienne Shelly

Adrienne Shelly
Born Adrienne Levine
(1966-06-24)June 24, 1966
Queens, New York, USA
Died November 1, 2006(2006-11-01) (aged 40)
Manhattan, New York, USA
Years active 1989–2006
Spouse(s) Andrew Ostroy

Adrienne Levine (June 24, 1966 – November 1, 2006), better known by the stage name Adrienne Shelly (sometimes credited as Adrienne Shelley), was an American actress, director and screenwriter. Making her name in independent films such as 1989's The Unbelievable Truth and 1990's Trust, Shelly later took up writing and directing and wrote, co-starred and directed the 2007 film Waitress, which won five awards and numerous film festival accolades.

On November 1, 2006, Shelly was found dead in her Greenwich Village work studio. Although her death was initially thought a suicide, police later arrested a construction worker who confessed to murdering Shelly when she caught him robbing her apartment. Shelly's husband established the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, which awards scholarships, production grants, finishing funds and living stipends to artists. In her honor, the Women Film Critics Circle gives an annual Adrienne Shelly Award to the film that it finds "most passionately opposes violence against women."

Early life

Of Russian Jewish descent,[1] Shelly was born Adrienne Levine in Queens, New York, to Sheldon M. Levine and Elaine Langbaum. She had two brothers, Jeff and Mark, and was raised on Long Island. She began performing when she was about 10[2] at Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center. She made her professional debut in a summer stock production of the musical Annie[1] while a student at Jericho High School[3] in Jericho, New York. She went on to Boston University, majoring in film production, but dropped out after her junior year and moved to Manhattan.[4]


Shelly's career breakthrough came when she was cast by independent filmmaker Hal Hartley as the lead in The Unbelievable Truth (1989) and Trust (1990).[5][6] Trust was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, where Hartley's script tied for the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.[7]

She appeared in a number of films during the 1990s, and as she segued toward a behind-the-camera career, she wrote and directed others, including 1999's I'll Take You There, in which she appeared along with Ally Sheedy. She won a U.S. Comedy Arts Festival Film Discovery Jury Award in 2000 for direction of the film, and Prize of the City of Setúbal: Special Mention, at the Festróia (Tróia International Film Festival) held in Setúbal, Portugal, for best director.[6][8]

Shelly also guest-starred in a number of television series including Law & Order, Oz and Homicide: Life on the Street. She played major roles in over two dozen off-Broadway plays, often at Manhattan's Workhouse Theater.[4] In 2005 she appeared in the film Factotum starring Matt Dillon.

Her last known work was writing, directing, co-set- and costume-designing, and playing a supporting role in the film Waitress, starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion,[9][10] which premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.[11] Shelly's daughter, Sophie, has a cameo at the end of the film.[10]

Personal life

Shelly, who took her professional surname after her late father's given name,[1] was married to Andrew Ostroy, the chairman and CEO of the marketing firm Belardi/Ostroy.[12] They had a daughter, Sophie (born 2003), who was two years old at the time of her mother's death.[13] Shelly described herself as an "optimistic agnostic."[2]


The 40-year old Shelly was found dead at approximately 5:45 p.m on November 1, 2006. Her husband, Andrew Ostroy, found her hanging by a bed sheet[14] from a shower rod in the bathtub[12] of the Abingdon Square apartment in Manhattan's West Village that Shelly used as an office.[12] It initially appeared to be a suicide.[14] Ostroy had dropped her off at 9:30 a.m. that day, and the building's doorman told journalists that he had accompanied Ostroy at his behest after Ostroy had not heard from Shelly that day. Upon reaching the apartment, they found that the front door was unlocked.[12]

An autopsy was performed the following day. The New York City Police Department was suspicious of sneaker prints in the bathtub that did not match Shelly's shoes (she was found wearing only socks). Shelly's husband also indicated that there was money missing from Shelly's wallet. He denied allegations that she would have committed suicide.[15]

Press reports on November 6, 2006, stated that police had arrested construction worker Diego Pillco, a 19-year-old Ecuadorian illegal immigrant[16] who confessed to killing Shelly after she complained about the noise he was making in the apartment below hers. Pillco said that he "was having a bad day".[16][17] Police said Pillco had made a taped confession implicating himself in the murder.[18][19]

Diego Pillco entered his guilty plea on February 14, 2008. He said that, contrary to his original story, Shelly had not complained about noise, but had in fact caught him stealing money from her purse after he slipped unnoticed into the apartment. When she tried to call the police, he grabbed the phone and covered her mouth as she began to scream. After Shelly fell, Pillco tied a bed sheet around her neck and decided to strangle her. Originally, Pillco claimed he didn't know Shelly was still alive when he hanged her, but in court he admitted to choking her with a sheet, tying it around her neck and stringing her up to make it look like she committed suicide.[20] The medical examiner determined that Shelly was still alive when hanged.[21] Pillco was sentenced to 25 years in prison without parole on March 6, 2008.[22]

At Pillco's sentencing on March 13, 2008, Shelly's husband, along with family members, said that they would never forgive him.[23] Andy Ostroy said of Pillco " are nothing more than a coldblooded killer" and that he hoped he would "rot in jail".[23]

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".[23]


Shelly's husband sued contractor Bradford General Contractors, which had hired Pillco.[24] The complaint alleged that Shelly would still be alive if the contracting firm had not hired him.[24] Ostroy also sought to hold the owners and management of the building liable for Shelly's murder.[24] According to a New York Post article, among other allegations, the complaint stated that "'Pillco was an undocumented immigrant...' as were his co-workers,[24] and that "it was in Bradford General Contractors' interest not to have 'police and immigration officials [called] to the job site' because that would have ground their work to a halt".[24] On July 7, 2011, the lawsuit was dismissed by Judge Louis York. The court determined that Ostroy had not established legal grounds to hold the contractor liable, writing "While this court sympathizes with [Ostroy's] loss, plaintiffs have not presented sufficient legal grounds upon which to hold Bradford ... liable for Pillco's vicious crime",[25] and that there was likewise insufficient evidence presented to find that either the building's management agents or its owners "had reason to believe that Pillco was a dangerous person who should not have been allowed to work at the premises"[25] in order to find them vicariously liable. Ostroy was said to be considering an appeal.[25]


Shelly in 1992 on the set of Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me

Following his wife's death, Ostroy established the Adrienne Shelly Foundation,[26] a non-profit organization that awards scholarships, production grants, finishing funds and living stipends through its partnerships with academic and filmmaking institutions NYU, Columbia University, Women in Film, IFP, AFI, Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute and the Nantucket Film Festival. One of its grant recipients, Cynthia Wade, won an Academy Award in 2008 for Freeheld, a short-subject documentary which the Foundation helped fund. As part of its annual awards, the Women Film Critics Circle gives the Adrienne Shelly Award to the film that "most passionately opposes violence against women".[27]

On February 16, 2007, the NBC crime drama series Law & Order broadcast an episode, "Melting Pot", that was a thinly-veiled dramatization of Shelly's murder.[28][29] Shelly herself had guest-starred on the show in the 2000 episode "High & Low".[30]

Shelly's film, Waitress, had been accepted into the 2007 Sundance Film Festival[31] before her murder. The film, starring Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, Jeremy Sisto, Andy Griffith and Shelly herself, was bought during the festival by Fox Searchlight Pictures for an amount between $4 million and $5 million (news accounts on the actual amount vary), and the film realized a final box-office draw of more than $19 million.[32] Waitress maintains an 89% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[33]

Waitress and its cast have together won five film awards and received other nominations in various categories, including an Audience award for a feature film at the Newport Beach Film Festival, where cast member Nathan Fillion also received a Feature Film award for his role in the film; the Jury Prize at the Sarasota Film Festival for narrative feature; the Wyatt Award by the Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards; and nominations for a Humanitas Prize and an Independent Spirit Award for best screenplay.[34]

Ostroy produced Serious Moonlight, a film written by Shelly and directed by Hines. The film stars Meg Ryan, Timothy Hutton, Kristen Bell and Justin Long. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2009 and was released later that year in December.

Ostroy also spearheaded a move to establish a memorial to his wife. On August 3, 2009, the Adrienne Shelly Garden was dedicated on the Southeast side of Abingdon Square Park in NYC at 8th Avenue and West 12th Street. It faces 15 Abingdon Square, the building where Shelly died.[35]


Year Title Role Notes
1989 The Unbelievable Truth Audry
1990 Trust Maria Coughlin
1990 Lonely in America Woman in Laundromat
1992 Big Girls Don't Cry... They Get Even Stephanie
1992 Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me Dannie
1993 Hexed Gloria O'Connor
1994 Opera No. 1 Fairy #2
1994 Sleeping with Strangers Jenny
1994 Homicide: Life on the Street Tanya Quinn Episode: "A Many Splendored Thing"
1994 Teresa's Tattoo Teresa / Gloria
1994 The Road Killers Red
1994 Sleep with Me Pamela
1995 Kalamazoo
1997 The Regulars
1997 Sudden Manhattan Donna Writer and director
1997 Grind Janey
1997 Early Edition Emma Shaw Episode: "Phantom at the Opera"
1998 Oz Sarah Episode: "Ancient Tribes"
1998 Wrestling with Alligators Mary
1999 I'll Take You There Lucy Writer and director
Festroia International Film Festival Prize of the City of Setúbal - Special Mention
The Comedy Festival Film Discovery Jury Award for Best Director
2000 Dead Dog Mrs. Marquet
2000 Law & Order Wendy Alston Episode: "High & Low"
2000 The Shadows of Bob and Zelda Zelda
2001 The Atlantis Conspiracy Samantha TV movie
2001 Revolution #9 Kim Kelly
2004 Tiger: His Fall & Rise Terry
2005 Factotum Jerry
2007 Waitress Dawn Writer, director, and co-star
Sarasota Film Festival Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature
Nominated — Humanitas Prize for Sundance Film Category
Nominated — Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay
Year Title Role Notes
1994 Urban Legend Writer & Director 26-minute short film[36]
1997 Lois Lives a Little Writer & Director
1997 Sudden Manhattan Writer & Director
2000 The Shadows of Bob and Zelda Writer & Director
2009 Serious Moonlight Writer


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  2. ^ a b Rhys, Tim (August 1, 1996). "Indie Film Sweetheart Adrienne Shelly".  
  3. ^ Snyder, Steven; with contribution from Rocco Parascandol (November 3, 2006). "Remembering Talents of a Local Star". Newsday. Archived from the original on July 5, 2012. Retrieved November 5, 2006. 
  4. ^ a b Hevesi, Dennis (November 4, 2006). "Adrienne Shelly, 40, an Actress, Film Director and Screenwriter, is Dead". (New York Times). Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  5. ^ Baker, Al (November 3, 2006). "Manhattan: Actress Found Dead in Her Office". (New York Times). Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  6. ^ a b "Adrienne Shelly". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 3, 2006. 
  7. ^ "Trust"Awards for . Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 5, 2006. 
  8. ^ "I'll Take You There"Awards for . Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 3, 2006. 
  9. ^ "Actress Adrienne Shelly found dead". Canada: CBC. November 3, 2006. Archived from the original on November 14, 2006. Retrieved November 3, 2006. 
  10. ^ a b Gordon, Devin (May 7, 2007). "A Recipe Worth Sharing". Newsweek 149 (14-26). Retrieved July 10, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Sundance Film Festival Announces Films in the Premiers, Spectrum, New Frontier, Park City at Midnight and From the Sundance Collection Series". Sundance Film Festival 07. 2006. Retrieved December 18, 2006. 
  12. ^ a b c d Philip Messing; Mark Bulliet; Dan Mangan (November 3, 2006). "Indie-Film Star 'Suicide' Stunner". New York Post. Archived from the original on July 5, 2012. Retrieved July 5, 2012. 
  13. ^ Alison Gendar; John Lauinger; Barbara Ross Corky Siemaszko (November 7, 2006). "Killer Staged Her 'Suicide'". New York: Daily News. 
  14. ^ a b Alison Gendar; Michael White (November 3, 2006). "Actress Found Hanged in Village Apartment". New York Daily News. 
  15. ^ "Husband: Actress-wife's death suspicious". ABC Inc., WABC-TV New York. Retrieved November 5, 2006. 
  16. ^ a b Larry Celona; Murray Weiss; Dan Mangan (November 7, 2006). "Star's Suicide was Killer Cover-up". New York Post. Archived from the original on November 14, 2006. Retrieved November 13, 2006. 
  17. ^ "Adrienne Shelly's husband sues contractor". United Press International. November 5, 2008. 
  18. ^ "NYPD questions a person in death of actress Adrienne Shelly". Newsday. 
  19. ^ "Brooklyn Man Charged With Murder of Actress". CBS Broadcasting. Associated Press. 2006. Retrieved November 7, 2006. 
  20. ^ Hartocollis, Anemona (February 15, 2008). "In Guilty Plea, Actress’s Killer Changes Story to Robbery". The New York Times. 
  21. ^ Hartocollis, Anemona (December 14, 2006). "Murder Suspect Admitted Hanging Actress, Police Say". The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2008. 
  22. ^ Vozick-Levinson, Simon (February 22, 2008). "Monitor".  
  23. ^ a b c Italiano, Laura (March 14, 2008). ROT,' BASTARD! Hubby damns Shelly Slayer in court"'". New York Post. p. 19. Retrieved March 14, 2008. 
  24. ^ a b c d e Gregorian, Dareh (November 4, 2008). "Kin Sues Firm in Actress Murder". New York Post. Retrieved November 4, 2008. 
  25. ^ a b c Gregorian, Dareh (November 1, 2006). "Judge Throws Out Wrongful-Death Suit in Slaying of "Waitress" Actress Adrienne Shelly". Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved July 7, 2011. 
  26. ^ "Adrienne Shelly Foundation". Archived from the original on 7 April 2008. Retrieved March 14, 2008. 
  27. ^ "WFCC: 'Changeling' best movie about women". (United Press International). December 15, 2008. Retrieved December 22, 2008. 
  28. ^ Gill, John Freeman (February 11, 2007). "Murder, They Wrote". (New York Times). Archived from the original on 13 February 2007. Retrieved February 17, 2007. 
  29. ^ TV Guide Online, Inc. (2007). Episode Detail: Melting Pot. Retrieved February 17, 2007.
  30. ^ CNET Networks, Inc. (2007). summary for Adrienne Shelly. Retrieved February 17, 2007.
  31. ^ David Carr (January 19, 2007). "Sundance Dream Most Notable for an Absence". The New York Times. 
  32. ^ "Waitress (2007)". IMDB. Retrieved June 16, 2009. 
  33. ^ "Waitress (2007)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 30 July 2008. Retrieved August 1, 2008. 
  34. ^ "Awards for Waitress". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 10, 2009. 
  35. ^ Carlson, Jen (August 3, 2009). "Adrienne Shelly Memorial Garden Dedicated Today". Gothamist. Retrieved July 5, 2012. 
  36. ^ "Adrienne Shelly biography". Yahoo!. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 

External links

  • Adrienne Shelly at the Internet Movie Database
  • The Adrienne Shelly Foundation
  • Biography for Adrienne Shelly at Yahoo! UK & Ireland
  • Jones, Malcolm; "An ‘Unbelievable’ Talent"; Newsweek; November 10, 2006.
  • Beyond Belief (TCM Movie Morlocks)
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