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‘American Crime Story’ Fact Check: Did Gianni Versace Have AIDS?

This question is one of the reasons why the Versace family hates the book that ”The Assassination of Gianni Versace“ is based on

(Some spoilers ahead for the second episode of “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.”)

The second episode of “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” goes ahead and delves into the single biggest point of contention between the Versace family and the book “Vulgar Favors” by Maureen Orth: the contention that Gianni Versace contracted HIV and was suffering from AIDS before he was murdered by Andrew Cunanan.

“Vulgar Favors” is the source material for the show, and so this particular detail was bound to come up sooner or later. And come up it does.

While none of the characters in this episode ever explicitly say that Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez) had AIDS when he visits a hospital at the beginning of the episode (in a scene set in 1994) for some kind of treatment for something that Versace clearly thinks he won’t recover from, the tell comes a bit later. There’s a scene that takes place later that day in which his sister Donatello (Penelope Cruz) is berating Gianni’s partner Antonio D’Amico (Ricky Martin) for encouraging Gianni to have sex with other men — implying that their trysts were responsible for Gianni’s illness.

There is no debate, to be clear, about whether Versace was suffering from a major illness in the mid ’90s — it’s the “what” that’s at issue here. The Versace family has long maintained that he had cancer in his ear for a couple years, and that after treatment Versace was declared cancer-free six months before his death. Orth, on the other hand, says a Miami detective told her that the medical examiner who did Versace’s postmortem blood work that Versace had AIDS.

She also has sources who had visited the mansion prior to his murder who said he had dozens of bottles of pills on a table, and that for long stretches of time he was too weak to get around without help. That’s not exactly firm evidence on its own, of course — the only hard source for her info is the detective. And Orth herself notes that the detective shouldn’t have had access to the results of his blood test.

It’s an issue that has never been settled officially, because no autopsy was performed before Versace’s body was cremated. Not that it actually matters, because whether or not he had AIDS is irrelevant to the facts of the murder.

In “Vulgar Favors,” Orth mentions that Miami PD detective Paul Scrimshaw, the same detective who told Orth that Versace was HIV positive, speculated initially that one possible motivation for Versace’s murder was that Versace had given it to Cunanan (that’s in chapter 38). However, Cunanan’s autopsy showed that he was free of the virus, officially ending that line of speculation.

The question of whether Gianni Versace had AIDS is almost certainly one that will never be answered, short of the family releasing his medical records to the public. Given that it’s been two decades since the murder and that hasn’t happened yet, it probably isn’t going to. For more on this discussion from the cast and crew of “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” check out this excellent feature about the matter over at THR.