Theresa Saldana, actress in 'Raging Bull' and 'The Commish,' dead at 61

Actress Theresa Saldana, known for movies including “Raging Bull” and nominated for a Golden Globe for her work on TV’s “The Commish,” has died after an illness, according to a family member. She was 61.

Although a prominent actress, Saldana was perhaps best known for surviving a knife attack by a disturbed fan outside her West Hollywood apartment in 1982 in which she was stabbed 10 times. The attack was among the earliest to bring attention to celebrity stalking and the fine line between being a fan and dangerous fanaticism.

Saldana played herself in a 1984 TV movie, “Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story.” The movie was nominated for one prime-time Emmy Award. Saldana also founded the advocacy group Victims for Victims, which fought for anti-stalking laws. She also published a memoir, “Beyond Survival,” in 1987.

On playing herself and re-creating the near-fatal attack, Saldana told The Times in 1984, “I hope it stands as an example, not just to victims of crime but to others who have been through a tragedy, that you can get through almost anything.

“If a girl can get through being butchered almost to death, if one can do that, then almost anything is surmountable. There is something about almost dying that gives you great strength – if you do survive, and if you do fight back.”

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Aug. 20, 1954, Saldana first gained attention for her role in Robert Zemeckis’ Beatle-mania-themed 1978 film “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” In 1980 she also appeared in “Defiance” alongside Jan-Michael Vincent and in Brian De Palma’s “Home Movies.”

But it was her role in Martin Scorsese’s 1980 film “Raging Bull” that really seemed to signal her emergence. In the film, frequently cited as among the best of the 1980s and ranked in the top five on the American Film Institute’s list of the Greatest American Films of All Time, she played the wife of Joe Pesci’s character, brother to Robert De Niro’s boxer Jake La Motta.

After the 1982 attack, she worked mostly in episodic television, with roles on such quintessentially ’80s-era shows as “T.J. Hooker,” “Cagney & Lacey,” “Simon & Simon,” “Matlock,” “Hunter,” “Falcon Crest” and “MacGyver.”

Saldana was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1994 for her role on “The Commish,” where she played the wife of the title character, a police commissioner played by Michael Chiklis.

On Twitter on Tuesday, Chiklis posted a message that said, “Painful to hear the news of Theresa's passing. My family & I extend our love, condolences & support to her family in their time of grieving.”

It was on the morning of March 15, 1982, that Saldana, then 27, was stabbed outside her apartment in West Hollywood. Her Scottish-born attacker, Arthur R. Jackson, had attempted to reach her via agents in both New York and Los Angeles, eventually finding her whereabouts from a family member in New York and representing himself as someone working for Scorsese.

A passing Sparkletts water truck driver, Jeff Fenn, subdued Jackson until police and paramedics arrived.

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FOR THE RECORD

11:30 p.m.: A previous version of this article said the Sparkletts water truck driver’s name was Jeff Finn. It is Jeff Fenn. 

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Jackson was convicted of attempted murder and held in California state prison until being released in 1996 and deported to the U.K., where he was committed in 1997 to a psychiatric institution after pleading guilty to killing a man 30 years earlier. Jackson died in 2004.

Saldana is survived by her husband, Phil Peters, and a daughter.

Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

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