Rebecca Lucile Schaeffer (November 6, 1967 – July 18, 1989) was an American actress best known for her role in the sitcom My Sister Sam. Schaeffer was stalked and then murdered by an obsessed fan, prompting the passage of anti-stalking laws in California.
Early life and career
Schaeffer, the only child of a child psychologist and a writer, was raised in Portland, Oregon where she attended Lincoln High School and aspired to be a rabbi. As a teen, she began modeling and appeared in television commercials and as an extra in a television movie. She then moved to New York to pursue acting. After landing the cover of Seventeen magazine, she tested successfully for the part of Patti Russell on the CBS sitcom My Sister Sam.
After the series ended in 1988, Schaeffer went on to appear in Radio Days (although much of her performance was deleted), Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, The End of Innocence and the television movie Out of Time. She also served as a spokesperson for the children's charity Thursday's Child.
On July 18, 1989, Schaeffer was murdered by Robert John Bardo, an obsessed fan who had been stalking her for three years. Bardo had become fixated on Schaeffer after his previous fixation, child peace activist Samantha Smith, was killed in an airplane crash. Bardo wrote several letters to Schaeffer, one of which was answered by an employee from Schaeffer's fan service. In 1987, Bardo traveled to Los Angeles in an attempt to see Schaeffer at the My Sister Sam set, but was turned away by CBS Television City security. Angry, he returned a month later armed with a knife but again security guards prevented him from gaining access to the actress. Bardo returned to his native Tucson and forgot about Schaeffer for a while; he became preoccupied by pop singers Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.
In 1989, after viewing Schaeffer's film Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, in which she appeared in bed with a male actor, Bardo became enraged and decided that Schaeffer should be punished for becoming "another Hollywood whore." Having read that Theresa Saldana's stalker, Arthur Richard Jackson, had obtained Saldana's address through a private investigator, Bardo approached a Tucson detective agency and paid them $250 to get her home address through California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records. Bardo's brother helped him get a handgun because he was underage (Bardo was then 19).
Bardo then traveled to Los Angeles for a third time and, after locating Schaeffer's apartment, wandered the neighborhood asking passersby if Schaeffer actually lived there. Confident that the address was correct, he rang the doorbell. Schaeffer, who was preparing for an audition for a role in The Godfather III, answered the door. Bardo showed Schaeffer the letter and autograph she had previously sent him and, after a brief conversation, Schaeffer asked Bardo not to come to her home again. The two shook hands and Bardo left. He then walked to a local diner and ate breakfast. An hour later, Bardo returned to Schaeffer's apartment for a second time. Schaeffer answered the door again with "a cold look on her face," Bardo later said. Bardo pulled out a gun from a brown paper bag and shot her once at point-blank range in the chest in the doorway of her apartment building. Schaeffer screamed and collapsed in her doorway as Bardo fled. A neighbor phoned paramedics, who arrived to transport her to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Schaeffer was pronounced dead 30 minutes after her arrival. The following day, Bardo was arrested in Tucson, after motorists reported a man darting through traffic on Interstate 10. He immediately confessed to the murder.
Bardo was tried by prosecutor Marcia Clark, who later became famous for her role in the O.J. Simpson trial. Convicted of capital murder in a bench trial, Bardo was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Following Schaeffer's murder and Saldana's assault, California laws regarding the release of personal information through the DMV were drastically changed. The Driver's Privacy Protection Act was enacted in 1994, which prevents the DMV from releasing private addresses. The law's effect has subsequently been diminished by online address search services. Schaeffer's life and death became the topic of the first E! True Hollywood Story, which originally aired on March 29, 1996.
At the time of her death, Schaeffer was dating director Brad Silberling. Her death would serve as the inspiration for Silberling's 2002 film Moonlight Mile.