LOS ANGELES (AP) – Theresa Saldana, the “Raging Bull” actress who survived a stalker’s brutal attack to become a crime victim’s advocate and reclaimed her entertainment career with “The Commish” and other TV shows, has died. She was 61.
Saldana had been suffering from pneumonia and died Monday at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to her longtime friend, Soorya Townley, who called the actress a “warm, caring person who always put others’ needs before her own.
Saldana co-starred in the 1991-96 drama “The Commish” as the supportive wife of Michael Chiklis’ police commissioner. Her most notable big-screen role was opposite Joe Pesci in “Raging Bull,” Martin Scorsese’s 1980 film starring Robert De Niro.
“I have such good memories of working with her on ‘Raging Bull,’ and I always admired the way that she handled the horrifying attack by a stalker – the good that she made of it,” Scorsese said. “She was a wonderful actress and a fine human being.”
In 1982, Saldana was repeatedly stabbed by an obsessed man in front of her West Hollywood apartment. The attack was stopped by a then-water deliveryman, Jeff Fenn, who held the man for police.
Scottish drifter Arthur Jackson served more than a decade in prison for the crime before he was extradited to Great Britain to face charges in a case there.
Saldana, who endured a prolonged hospitalization, was both physically and mentally scarred and received treatment for both problems. She went on to found a support and lobbying group, Victims for Victims, and played herself in the 1984 TV movie “Victims For Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story.” She also wrote “Beyond Survival,” a memoir.
In a 1992 interview with The Associated Press, Saldana said her recovery was long in coming but complete.
“It’s been a decade and it’s over now, finally,” she said. “If someone brings it up I remember, but I don’t think about it all the time. It’s certainly not a formidable part of my life anymore. I’m happy and excited. I’m doing really well.”
She and actor Phil Peters, who had a recurring role on “The Commish” as police Sgt. William Frawley, married in 1989 and had a daughter, Tianna.
Saldana was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1954 and was adopted at five days by an Italian-Puerto Rican family.
Her first film appearances came in 1978 with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Nunzio.” Other movie credits included “Defiance,” ”The Evil That Men Do” and “Gang Warz.”
Her TV credits included “T.J. Hooker” and “Matlock” in the early and mid-1980s, “Diagnosis Murder” in the ’90s and “The Bernie Mac Show” in 2003.