Rebecca Schaeffer was an American actress and model who was killed by a stalker. She was a teen model before she shifted her focus to acting. Her most famous role is of ‘Patricia (Patti) Russell’ in the TV sitcom, ‘My Sister Sam’. Known to be very down-to-earth and beautiful, Rebecca had also appeared in a number of movies like ‘Radio Days’, ‘Out of Time’, ‘Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills’ etc. The saddest and most heartbreaking thing happened to Rebecca in 1989, when she was shot by an obsessed fan at the doorstep of her apartment in ‘West Hollywood’. She was only 21. The killer, Robert John Bardo, stalked Rebecca for three years, and shot her on the fateful day. Her killer was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. It was Rebecca’s death that prompted the introduction of first anti-stalking laws in the USA in 1990. California government changed its stalking laws to prevent the ‘DMV’ from releasing private addresses. It was done after Rebecca’s killer confessed that he found the late actress’ address through the ‘DMV’.
Childhood & Early Life
Rebecca was born on November 6th, 1967. Her birthplace is Eugene, Oregon in USA, but she was raised in Portland. She was the only child to her mother, Dana, and father, Dr. Benson Schaeffer. Dana was a writer and instructor at ‘Portland Community College’, while Dr. Benson was a child psychologist.
She went to ‘Lincoln High School’ in Portland. She was in High School (junior year) when she got her first modelling offer.
Even though she became a teenage model, she had always wanted to become a rabbi. She started modelling with appearance in various TV commercials and catalogues of various departmental stores.
Rebecca moved to New York City in August, 1984. While looking for work, she attended ‘Professional Children’s School’.
It was quite a task for her to find work as a model since her height (5 ft. 7 inches) was comparatively lesser than other models in the industry.
She was determined to become a model, and continued her struggle and went to Japan to find more modelling assignments. She didn’t get many due to her height so she decided to move back to New York to become an actress.
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In 1984, she got her first role in ‘ABC’s series, ‘One Life to Live’, where she played the character of ‘Annie Barnes’. It was before she went to Japan for modelling jobs.
It was a long-running series, and after it ended, she made her movie debut as an extra in Woody Allen’s, ‘Radio Days’ in 1986. Her small role was edited and it almost became invisible in the movie.
She continued working as a waitress and did other jobs to support her while looking to make a career in acting. She also made an appearance as ‘Miss Crowningshield’ in 1986’s ‘Amazing Stories’.
Her breakout role came in the sitcom, ‘My Sister Sam’ in the same year only. She played the role of ‘Patricia “Patti” Russell’ – a teenager who moved to San Francisco from Oregon to live with her sister, Samantha ‘Sam’ Russell, played by Pam Dawber.
She auditioned for the role, after she appeared on the cover of ‘Seventeen’ magazine’s cover, and the producers of the show found her perfect for the role.
The series was a hit amongst the audience in its first season, but was cancelled mid-way in its second season. The show lasted from 1986 to 1988.
In 1988, she played the character of ‘Pam Wallace’ in the TV movie called ‘Out of Time’. It was around the same time when she started shooting (as a supporting actress) for the movie ‘Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills’ which was set to be released in 1989.
After the movie was released, the tragedy hit Rebecca Schaeffer. Her other two movies, ‘The End of Innocence’ and ‘Voyage of Terror: The Achille Lauro Affair’ were released in 1990, after her death.
It was the morning of July 18, 1989, when Rebecca was killed by an obsessed stalker. She was living in her new apartment in Los Angeles at the time.
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Dressed in a yellow polo shirt, Robert John Bardo was roaming on the streets, asking for Rebecca’s address. He went to her apartment dressed as a delivery man, and showed her the letters he had written to her. After giving him an autograph, Rebecca told him to not return to her apartment again.
She was preparing for her audition in ‘The Godfather Part III’ when Bardo came for a second time, almost half an hour later, and shot her in her heart. Rebecca fell on the porch, and her last words were, ‘Why’? She died after thirty minutes.
Bardo fled away from the scene, but he was arrested the next day. He immediately confessed to the murder, tried and later sentenced sent to life time of imprisonment.
John was an obsessed fan of Rebecca, who claimed that he fell in love with her in a moment. It was also claimed that he was schizophrenic and felt like punishing Rebecca for her intimate scene in ‘‘Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills’.
before killing Rebecca, he had tried to meet her on several occasions, but was prevented by her security guards. He even carried a knife many a time, but failed to reach her.
He had previously tried to meet Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, and was also obsessed with child peace activist, Samantha Smith. He accepted that he was never as in love with any of his subjects as he was with Rebecca.
Her death resulted into review of the anti-stalking law system in the US. The state of California enacted ‘Driver’s Privacy Protection Act’ in 1994, which prevented the release of private addresses from ‘DMV’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Rebecca was dating director Brad Silberling at the time of her death. His 2002 movie ‘Moonlight Mile’ is said to be based on the life of Rebecca.
She rests at ‘Ahavai Sholom Cemetery’.
‘E! True Hollywood Story’ covered Rebecca’s murder in its first episode on March 29th, 1996. Her death was also discussed in ‘E! Television’s ‘20 Most Horrifying Hollywood Murders’.
Her story was also aired by ‘Investigation Discovery’ on November 6th, 2017, in the series called ‘The 1980s: The Deadliest Decade’ (Season 2 Episode 4). The episode was called ‘The Copycat Killer’.