Actress Theresa Saldana—best known for her roles in Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning boxing drama Raging Bull, and as Michael Chiklis’ wife on five seasons of The Commish—has died. An advocate for victim’s rights, whose own story of stalking-related trauma inspired her to found an organization devoted to helping other survivors of violence, Saldana was 61.
Acting since she was 12, Saldana came to prominence in the late ’70s, with roles in Robert Zemeckis’ Beatlemania movie I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and the 1978 vigilante thriller Defiance. In 1980, Martin Scorsese cast her as Lenora LaMotta, the fiery wife of Joe Pesci’s character Joey, in his adaptation of Raging Bull. Sparring verbally with Robert De Niro’s bellicose boxer Jake, she held her own against the force of De Niro’s cinematic rage:
Unfortunately, Saldana’s on-screen charisma also caught the attention of Scottish drifter Arthur Richard Jackson, who traveled to California in 1982, tracked Saldana down with the aid of a private investigator, and stabbed her 10 times in the chest and torso. Saldana was eventually rescued by a delivery man, who subdued her attacker until police arrived. (Jackson would spend the rest of his life in prison and mental institutes, dying in 2004.)
After her attack, Saldana spent several years recovering, before eventually going on to found Victims For Victims, a support and advocacy group devoted to helping those who had been similarly attacked. Her influence is partially credited for a number of federal laws designed to make it more difficult for stalkers to gather information about their victims. She also starred in a TV movie about her story, which aired on NBC in 1984.
In the 1990s, Saldana was cast on ABC’s The Commish, appearing opposite Michael Chiklis for five years as his character’s wife, Rachel. In 1994, she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her work on the show, and would eventually go on to marry one of her co-stars on the series, actor Phil Peters. Chiklis expressed his condolences on social media earlier today: