Gianni Versace had a major illness before his death but was shot just as he was getting better
American Crime Story Series writer, Tom Rob Smith, said the designer had HIV in all likelihood since he recovered at the same time a new drug was being administered to HIV patients.
It's been twenty years since Gianni Versace's death, but many details about his life are still contentious.
The Italian fashion designer was rumored to be HIV+. In her book, Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in US History, writer Maureen Orth writes that Versace's autopsy results showed he was HIV+, a piece of information she gleaned from Miami detective Paul Scrimshaw.
During his life, Versace was openly gay and was in a long-term relationship with Antonio D’Amico. However, he never gave the public a hint of any lingering illness. It was indeed peculiar that he disappeared from public view altogether between 1994-1995, never explaining why.
Orth, in an interview to The Hollywood Reporter, said the designer was indeed afflicted with the AIDS virus. She said she was intimated of this by detective Scrimshaw and several others who claimed that Versace went to a Miami hospital once a week for treatment.
Orth further said, "It also goes along with other people who told me that he was very weak at one time and he needed [partner] Antonio to help him walk, and they came over to his house when he was having breakfast and he had 27 bottles of pills in front of him. Now, does that mean they’re for HIV? But the blood thing from on record from the Miami Beach, that’s pretty [solid]."
Ryan Murphy's FX show The American Crime Story: The assassination of Gianne Versace, which is largely based on Orth's book, seems to hold the same view. There's a scene in episode 2 titled Manhunt, which explores the designer's life before his death. Versace is seen lying on a bed next to two sick men. The designer speaks with the doctor and is informed that drug therapies take time to show results.
The episode implies that Versace did suffer from a serious illness before his death. Series writer, Tom Rob Smith, said the designer had HIV in all likelihood since he recovered at the same time a new drug was being administered to HIV patients.
However, the Versace family has denied Orth's account of the designer's illness. The family was reportedly unhappy about the show's portrayal of his illness. Versace's sister Donatella told the New York Times in 2006 that her late brother disappeared from the public view because he did have a disease.
She added that Versace had ear cancer and he couldn't attend public functions as his ear had enlarged. Interestingly, he seemed to be fine six months later. Donatella said at the time, "It was declared cured six months before he was murdered. We celebrated; we drink champagne and everything. Six months later, he was killed."
According to Murphy, the show's creator, the issue isn't about whether Versace had HIV or not; it is about how he overcame it. In Vanity Fair's podcast, Still Watching: Versace, he said, "I think it’s moving and powerful, and I don’t think there should be any shame associated with HIV."
According to the showrunners, the designer never went public with his illness for he was to sign a deal with Morgan Stanley, which would make his company public. The information that the company's head was afflicted with a life-threatening illness would have devalued the Versace brand, and it was a risk he wasn't willing to take.
It isn't clear if the designer's alleged murderer Andrew Cunanan knew or suspected him to be HIV+. However, Cunanan had killed five people in four states with whom he had had unprotected sex.
According to FBI files, Cunanan believed he had AIDS, which he had contracted from men he had been sexually intimate with. Although Cunanan wasn't tested, his paranoia drove him on the murdering spree, which claimed its last victim, Versace, on the morning of July 15, 1997.
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