VERSACE'S DEEP SECRET

04/12/1999 12:00AM

Slain fashion designer Gianni Versace had the AIDS virus, if one is to accept the theory promoted by Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth in her new book, "Vulgar Favors." Orth contends that Versace, who was gunned down near his Miami home by serial killer Andrew Cunanan in July 1997, was so sick with the virus that by late 1995 he could barely walk a block, a fact known only to his immediate family. The reason for the secret, Orth says, was because Versace was preparing a public offering of stock in his fashion empire. His HIV condition was revealed as a result of his autopsy reports, Orth writes. A Versace family spokesman refuted Orth's contention, saying: "This is an example of an unprincipled individual using rumor and innuendo to capitalize on the memory of Gianni Versace." Orth, who stands by her book, is withholding comment until she appears on tonight's "Dateline NBC."

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