As the FBI scrambled to come up with a motive in the days following Gianni Versace’s murder, a controversial theory emerged: Versace’s killer Andrew Cunanan was seeking revenge on the designer for infecting him with HIV.
When an autopsy of Cunanan later revealed that he didn’t, in fact, have HIV, that theory was put to rest—but whether or not Versace had the virus is still the subject of much speculation. FX’s new series The Assassination of Gianni Versace—and the nonfiction book Vulgar Favors, on which the show is based—makes its stance on Versace’s diagnosis loud and clear.
In the opening scene of the second episode, Gianni Versace, disguised in dark sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt, is at a hospital discussing treatment options with a medical team. “There are drugs. The therapies are complex, difficult. We have options,” explains his doctor.
Edgar Ramírez as Gianni Versace.
Later, we see him in bed, appearing sick and frail with Donatella by his side. “What is Versace without you? Who am I without you?” she asks, to which Versace replies, “You will find out.”
Though the word “HIV” is never specifically used, the implications of these scenes are obvious. The show’s creator Ryan Murphy has no regrets about including them in the storyline. “I think it’s moving and powerful, and I don’t think there should be any shame associated with HIV,” he said on Vanity Fair’s “Still Watching: Versace” podcast.
Ramírez as Versace.
Versace’s family, for its part, has always denied the designer had the virus. His sister Donatella confirmed that he was ill in the years leading up to his murder—but with cancer, not HIV. “He was sick with cancer in his ear before he was murdered… That’s why the will and everything
In Vulgar Favors, journalist Maureen Orth insists that Versace's actual diagnosis was HIV, citing Detective Paul Scrimshaw, the lead investigator in the case, as her source. Scrimshaw died in 2006, but he reportedly told Orth, “I was able to find out from autopsy results that he had tested positive for HIV.” Orth argues that Versace’s condition was kept a secret because the company was about to go public—and the image of an ailing designer at the helm would inevitably be bad for business.
Penelope Cruz as Donatella Versace.
Donatella has slammed the series' depiction of her brother, writing it off as a "work of fiction," and in a statement, called out Orth for inaccuracies in her reporting:
"Orth makes assertions about Gianni Versace’s medical condition based on a person who claims he reviewed a post-mortem test result, but she admits it would have been illegal for the person to have reviewed the report in the first place (if it existed at all)... Of all the possible portrayals of his life and legacy, it is sad and reprehensible that the producers have chosen to present the distorted and bogus version created by Maureen Orth."
Though the truth about Versace's condition will likely never be known, one thing is certain: Murphy's interpretation of the story is a hit. The series premiered to 5.5 million total viewers, making it one of cable's highest-rated debuts in years.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.