Leaving Town Alive
updated 05/17/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/17/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT
IT STARTED VERY SLOWLY. IN JULY 1987, I took my parents to see Regis Philbin's The Morning Show. I had appeared on the show many limes. Afterward, Regis told me, "I got your letter about the dog." He showed me a letter that someone wrote to him pretending to be me. I didn't think anything of it. But shortly after that I started getting fake legal documents in the mail about suing Regis. Of course. I disregarded those too.
But one day in the fall of 1987, I was standing in the lobby of the ABC studios in New York City, saying goodbye to my boyfriend at the time. Just after he walked out of the building, this little, well-dressed man came up. grabbed me, turned me around and started screaming at me about a dog and throwing phony legal documents at me. It was only a matter of seconds until he was thrown out of the building. I immediately connected the dog and the legal documents and put two and two together. I called the police, because it's unusual for a fan to attack you. The police said not to worry, this guys probably not dangerous, don't think anything about it. So I tried to forget about it.
A week or two later, I had a day off. I got a call in the afternoon from a production assistant at One Life telling me that the same man had come to the studio. Because I wasn't there, he had slashed his wrists on the front steps. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital. He used my name as his next of kin. That's when I began to get freaked out. A week later, in October 1987, I started getting death threats from him at work. He would write things like, "Death to the blond whore" and "Do you want to die at home or at work?" Some of the letters were written in blood. Some had swastikas on them.
Then the FBI got in touch with me. because five years earlier this man had threatened President Reagan. They had a file on him. The doctors had diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic. They put him on medication, and supposedly he was fine. That started a pattern that would go on for the next two years. Every time he would threaten me, he would be institutionalized for 60 to 90 days. Then the doctors would say he was fine and he would be released to a halfway house. Not just any halfway house. They would release him to the closest halfway house to where I lived and worked, and they continued to do that no matter how I tried to get that changed. It was 10 blocks away.
I moved once because I got scared he knew where I lived. But time would go by, and I'd think it was all over, and then I'd get a call from the FBI saying, "Don't leave your house" or "Just go to work and go home. We have reason to think he-obsessed again, and we don't know where he is." It was on and off. They would find him, usually armed with a butcher knife. I was informed by the police and the FBI that until he harmed me there was nothing that could be done. I don't know much about him, except that he's a former mathematics professor. He loved to send me cards on holidays talking about our wedding, which would be in a cemetery.
At first you're very calm about it. There's a lot of denial and believing what everyone says—that it'll go away. But little by little it started to erode my life. I stopped going out as much, and I never went anyplace by myself. I had somebody do all my shopping for me and started having to take cars to and from work. Once he disappeared for three weeks, and the cops lost track of him. I hired 24-hour-a-day armed security guards. The stalker was found trying to get into the Secretary of State's office in Washington, and an FBI agent told me he had a meat cleaver with him—and my picture. I had to get away, get out of the public eye for a while, and hope he'd go away. I quit One Life in the winter of 1990 and moved away from New York. I had been working for years and saved my money. I look a break and just hung out for a while.
But it wasn't over. After a year and a half, my publicist talked me into coming back to New York for a week to do a celebrity tennis tournament and Regis's show. It was my first trip back. I flew in and checked into a hotel. I got up that morning and an ABC limo came to drive me to the show. I got out and the limo driver was walking me in. In the crowd was the stalker. I saw him. I saw his face. He chased me into the building. I ran, screaming for the guards to stop him. Unfortunately, the guards just scared him away. I left first thing the next morning. It was pretty devastating. I haven't been back since.
When you know there's somebody out there who wants to kill you and you don't know where he is and he can pop up at any moment, it's sort of like this: Imagine you're alone in a dark parking lot and you hear noises and you still have to go to your car. You keep looking behind you because you think you hear somebody. Well, what if you aren't imagining a person is there, you know he is. Every time you walk into a dark house, you know he's there. Every time you walk down a dark street, you know he's there....
I've had people say to me, "Well, you chose to he famous. But nobody should have to pay that high a price for what they do for a living. I don't know that I'll ever feel safe. But I've reached a point where I have to go on with my life. I can't hide anymore. I do my own laundry, and I go to the grocery store myself. When you haven't been able to do those things, it means a lot. Right now I'm coproducing a movie of the week based on my story. I'm also working on a book, and I have a boyfriend. It was hard to tell him about what had been happening in my life. He's a very nice guy, very normal. We've been together for a little over a year.
I don't know what it is about me that triggered this. Over the years I've thought of all the possibilities—maybe it's my hair. fine. I can cut it off and dye it. Or dress a different way. But I'm at a place now where I think, "This is me. I'm not going to give up any more parts of me."