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The Heartbreaking True Story of Murdered Actress Adrienne Shelly – and How Her Legacy Lives on with Hit Broadway Musical Waitress

Waitress: Murder of Adrienne Shelly Is the Tragic Story Behind Broadway Musical
Adrienne Shelly
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05/04/2016 AT 11:25 PM EDT

After working on Waitress, the indie film she wrote, directed and starred in with Keri Russell, for almost two years, actress Adrienne Shelly couldn't wait to hear if the movie had won a coveted spot at the Sundance Film Festival.

"When I first read the script, I told her, 'This is going to be a big film,'" her husband, Andy Ostroy, 56, tells PEOPLE in the new issue. "The pages just turned themselves."

Shelly would never learn that Waitress became one of the top films of the prestigious festival – or that it became a success when it hit theaters in May 2007 and now, almost a decade later, a newly Tony-nominated hit musical on Broadway.

On Nov.1, 2006, Ostroy found Shelly, 40, hanging from a shower rod in the Manhattan apartment where she worked and wrote her scripts. Five days later, police arrested Diego Pillco, a 19-year-old construction worker who confessed to killing her, staging it to look like a suicide.



The Heartbreaking True Story of Murdered Actress Adrienne Shelly – and How Her Legacy Lives on with Hit Broadway Musical Waitress| Crime & Courts, Tony Awards, Waitress, Adrienne Shelly

Adrienne Shelly

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For more on Adrienne Shelly, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Pillco first told authorities he killed her after he said they argued about construction noise in the building. He later changed his story, saying he murdered her when she caught him trying to rob her purse. "It was an incredibly horrific, unfathomable time," says Ostroy, 56. "It was the worst thing that could ever happen."

In 2008, Pillco was sentenced to 25 years in prison without parole and will be deported when he finishes his term.

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."

Shelly's Legacy Endures

After Shelly's death, Ostroy sought to do good in her name. In 2006, he created the Adrienne Shelly Foundation to support women filmmakers, with board members including Paul Rudd, Cheryl Hines, Michelle Williams and Russell. The foundation has partnered with top filmmaking institutions including the Sundance Institute, the American Film Institute, the Independent Filmmakers Project, Women in Film, the Tribeca Film Institute, Columbia University and Rooftop Films.

The foundation has also awarded 60 production grants since its inception, including one to Cynthia Wade in 2007, who won an Academy Award the following year for her documentary Freeheld.

"She said she couldn't have made that film without our support," he says. "To help a filmmaker win an Academy Award with help from our foundation made us realize the impact that we could have – and so soon."

"Starting the foundation was the right thing to do for Adrienne and the right thing to do, period," he says. "I think Adrienne would have loved that we are helping filmmakers like her in her honor and in her name."

Waitress Hits Broadway

When Broadway producers Barry and Fran Weissler saw Waitress, about an unhappily married pregnant woman with a talent for baking pies, they knew it had the makings of a hit stage show.

"I saw the movie and thought, 'This is heartwrenching and touching and funny,'" says Barry Weissler, who has produced dozens of hit shows, including Chicago."I thought it would make a great musical."

The Heartbreaking True Story of Murdered Actress Adrienne Shelly – and How Her Legacy Lives on with Hit Broadway Musical Waitress| Crime & Courts, Tony Awards, Waitress, Adrienne Shelly

Waitress the musical

Joan Marcus



The musical, which stars Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller, is directed by Diane Paulus, and features a score by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, opened April 24 after selling out in previews. On Tuesday, it landed four Tony nominations for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Actress and Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

"When I found out it was heading to Broadway, I was thrilled," says Ostroy. "When I look at Adrienne's life, career and legacy, she had this film that did really well, is now on Broadway and she has impacted the lives of so many female filmmakers."

"I have seen that out of tragedy, something really good can come, otherwise it's all in vain. Her murder didn't stop her from going on, even if in name only."
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