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Versace on the ground: tragedy in a fashion empire

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By Twitter user @ACSFX

By Twitter user @ACSFX

By Twitter user @ACSFX

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Ryan Murphy’s latest installment in his award-winning “American Crime Story” franchise has everyone talking. According to Show Buzz Daily, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” had 2.22 million viewers glued to their screen on the night of its premiere; by the following morning, Versace’s name was the most searched-for topic on the internet.

While it will only have nine episodes in total, “American Crime Story” has already proven itself to be Emmy-nominated material. The costume and set designs are absolutely phenomenal, and the resemblance between the actors and the people they are portraying is uncanny. From the heartbreaking emotions of Versace’s widowed lover Antonio D’Amico played by Ricky Martin to the tour de force that is Versace’s sister Donatella played by Penélope Cruz, “Versace” has all of the glamor, sex and scandals that make for quality television.

Undoubtedly, the most unforgettable element of this season’s hottest show is its antagonist, Andrew Cunanan. Portrayed by the charismatic Darren Criss, best remembered as Blaine Anderson from “Glee,” also created by Ryan Murphy, Andrew Cunanan is the true subject of the series. The first ten minutes of episode one are a chilling performance of the one thing Cunanan would be best known for doing: murdering acclaimed fashion designer Gianni Versace played by Édgar Ramírez. From there, viewers are taken back in time — and inside Cunanan’s mind — to explore the events that led to this shocking crime.

Only two episodes have aired so far, but that’s more than enough to prove that this is the role of Criss’ career. The actor does a first-rate job as Cunanan, capturing his desire for attention and the outrageous lengths he took to be noticed.

Not much was known about Andrew Cunanan back in 1997 when he shot Versace on the front step of his Miami mansion; as a matter of fact, not much is known about him to this very day. This is not surprising, as Cunanan himself was a pathological liar who made himself impossible to find. One can imagine how much trouble this caused the FBI as they embarked on what would be dubbed “the largest failed manhunt in U.S. history.”

What little is known about Cunanan lies within the pages of Maureen Orth’s “Vulgar Favors: The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” is derived from. Orth writes of a man-child obsessed with his image whose reckless behavior ultimately led to his own self-destruction.

 

Family

Andrew Phillip Cunanan was born on August 31, 1969. He was the youngest child of Pete and Mary Ann Cunanan and clearly the favorite of their four children.  Pete and Mary Anne wanted the best for Andrew, at any cost. Mrs. Cunanan would frequently dress up her son and make sure he always looked his best, a routine that Andrew would obsess upon later in life. Pete would frequently remind Andrew that in order to succeed in this world, you had to appear successful.

The key word here is “appear”. The Cunanan’s had a modest income at best, as Pete was barely able to hold down his position as a stockbroker. The family could hardly afford their $189,000 townhouse in Rancho Bernardo, California, but that didn’t prevent Andrew from getting the biggest bedroom in the house.

Pete eventually left his family and returned to his homeland in the Philippines, leaving behind an emotionally unstable Mary Ann and a spoiled rotten son who no longer had a father to buy him the finer things in life (which were completely out of Pete’s price range to begin with).

But that didn’t stop Andrew from wanting to create the perfect image of himself.

Education

From an early age, Andrew was a big reader. He was known to spend most of his time indoors, studying the pages of an encyclopedia. When he was in the seventh grade, Andrew’s IQ stood at 147 and was inducted into his school’s gifted program.

Andrew was well-liked by his teachers because of his manners and intelligence. The other students knew him for his flashy fashion choices and tall tales. He desperately wanted acceptance from people who held a greater social status than he did; Cunanan spoke of a father who owned the Coca-Cola and Wrigley Chewing Gum factories.

When Andrew attended The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California, he showed a strong interest in history, particularly the twenties and thirties in France and England. He thought of them as the “gay eras”, a comment that underlined his sexuality. While Cunanan had a beautiful mind, he never applied himself. Instead, he chose to hang out with “the druggies” and expressed no interest in going to college.

Regardless, Andrew was voted “Most Likely to Be Remembered” when he graduated from Bishop in 1987.

Personal Life

After he graduated from Bishop, Cunanan settled in the Castro district of San Francisco—one of the most liberated gay communities in the U.S. Here Andrew was able to make a name for himself, as only he could. He continued to lie about himself everywhere he went, making sure his stories would resonate with whatever social circle he happened to be dancing through.

Cunanan would collect his income by hustling; his preference was older and wealthier men who were “in the closet”. He considered these particular clients to be his ticket to the high life.

During this time, Cunanan met former naval officer Jeffrey Trail. While their relationship is slightly unclear, it is certain that Cunanan had an unhealthy idolization for Trail. Whatever Trail did, Andrew would have to do too.

Trail, who was struggling with his sexuality, eventually broke things off with Andrew to pursue a career in propane selling.

Heartbroken, Andrew knew he’d have to move on. He found the love of his life in architect David Madson. They pursued a long-distance relationship: Andrew remained in San Francisco and Madson lived in Minneapolis. They shared good chemistry, but Andrew’s lack of honesty was something David could not tolerate. Thus, Madson ended the relationship abruptly.

But the most unforgettable gentleman Andrew came into contact with was a kindly fashion designer from Italy.

Relationship with Versace

Gianni Versace was best known for linking the fashion world to the music world, as he was good friends with celebrities such as Madonna and Sting. He and his partner Antonio D’Amico were well-respected icons in the gay community.

Versace honored his roots in all of his creations: the icon of his company, Medusa’s head, reflects his Graeco-Roman art influence. Versace was the first fashion designer to employ celebrities in his marketing campaigns and gave them front-row seats in his shows.

Versace was a generous man; he spoiled his nieces and nephews and always said hello to his neighbors on his morning walks in Miami Beach.

Versace also designed costumes for musicals; he crafted the outfits for the San Francisco premiere of “Capriccio.”  On opening night, Versace and D’Amico were among the guests of honor. Also in attendance was Andrew Cunanan.

Versace actually mistook Andrew for someone else, a move Andrew was quick to take advantage. When the two met backstage, Versace thought he recognized Andrew from his Lake Como house near the Swiss Border (Andrew had never been to Italy). Regardless, Versace wanted to speak to Cunanan to see if he was familiar with the area. Cunanan spun another of his tales and claimed he was from Italy himself.

While this was his only known encounter with Versace, Andrew would add excessive details to the story as time went on.

Murders and Suicide

Eventually, there came a point in Andrew’s life when he lost his grip on reality; he was tangled in a web of lies he spun himself and was about to snap.

Cunanan began his infamous killing spree on April 27, 1997. His first victim was his old acquaintance Jeffrey Trail. Cunanan traveled to Minneapolis, where Trail was staying at the time. The two had an argument which ended with Andrew using a claw hammer to beat Trail to death. Cunanan proceeded to roll Trail’s body up into a rug and stuck it into the closet of his next victim, his ex David Madson.

Madson was found shot and killed on the banks of Rush Lake on May 3rd, 1997.

The next day, Cunanan traveled to Chicago and murdered prominent real estate developer Lee Miglin. Miglin was found taped up and killed with hardware tools in the basement of his home. As Cunanan made off with Miglin’s car, the FBI added Cunanan to their Top Ten Most Wanted list.

Andrew’s fourth victim was William Reese, a caretaker from New Jersey. Andrew shot Reese and stole his red pick-up truck after he heard on the radio that the FBI was tracking Miglin’s stolen car. Then, he headed to Miami and remained in hiding for two months.

Cunanan shot Gianni Versace twice in front of his Miami mansion on the morning of July 15, 1997. Police officers found Reese’s stolen car, Cunanan’s clothes, an alternative passport, and old newspaper clippings in a nearby parking garage but were never able to capture him.

Cunanan’s final victim was himself: a little over a week after killing Versace, Andrew shot himself in the head with the gun he had used to kill Madson, Reese, and Versace. He had stolen this gun from his first victim Jeffrey Trail. His body was found in the second-story bedroom of a Miami Beach houseboat.

Andrew Cunanan, the man “most likely to be remembered”, finally got the fame he wanted all his life.

“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX

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1 Comment

One Response to “Versace on the ground: tragedy in a fashion empire”

  1. Helen Ortiz on February 7th, 2018 5:46 pm

    Well written excellent story much enjoyed

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Versace on the ground: tragedy in a fashion empire