Rebecca Schaeffer was a budding actress in the 1980s. After a six-month gig as Annie Barnes on ABC’s “One Life to Live,” she was primed for success. Appearing in the TV movies “Out of Time” and “Voyage of Terror,” and the TV shows “Amazing Stories” and “My Sister Sam,” where she played Patti Russell for two seasons, Schaeffer was shot dead at her Los Angeles home on July 18, 1989 by her longtime stalker, Robert John Bardo. She was just 21 years old at the time. Nearly 30 years later, ABC’s “20/20” is taking a look back at Schaeffer’s murder with an emphasis on how stalking laws have changed in the aftermath of her death and what the show says is a behind the scenes look at what it’s like to have a stalker.
Featured in the two-hour documentary, entitled “Your Biggest Fan,” are interviews with actress Pam Dawber, star of “Mork & Mindy” and Rebecca’s co-star in “My Sister Sam”; director Brad Silberling, Rebecca’s boyfriend at the time of her death; Benson Schaeffer, Rebecca’s father; actress Dyan Cannon, who directed Rebecca in the film “The End of Innocence”; Erika Slezak (ex-Victoria Lord Buchanan, “OLTL”); and Marcia Clark, a former Los Angeles prosecutor who successfully prosecuted Bardo for Rebecca’s murder and later became well-known during the O.J. Simpson trial.
In a twist of fate, on the day of Schaeffer’s murder, the actress was set to meet with director Francis Ford Coppola to audition for the role of Mary Corleone in “The Godfather Part III.” Simultaneously, Bardo was headed to Los Angeles from Tucson, Arizona with Schaeffer’s home as his intended destination, an address he obtained from a private investigator he had hired. After encountering the actress at her home, Bardo left, and an unknowing Schaeffer went about her day without fully comprehending the man’s devilish intentions. Unfortunately, hours later, after opening the door to Bardo once more, Schaeffer received a bullet to the chest and died.
Bardo was apprehended after police discovered him in Tucson shouting that he had killed the actress while carrying a photo of her in his pocket. He was later convicted of first-degree murder and received a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.
Schaeffer’s murder sent shockwaves all across Hollywood and helped put precautions in place to protect celebrities from their stalkers.
In the clip below, watch as several people, including Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson, who had her own bout with a stalker 10 years prior and whose story is also featured, discuss Schaeffer’s murder and how her life and death impacted their lives.
The two-hour “20/20” presentation of “Your Biggest Fan,” airs Friday, April 12 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.