Vesace story: An epic tragedy reaches TV

To me -- and to many people -- "Versace" was just a name on upscale fashions. Now we'll know much more; a beautifully crafted mini-series starts Jan. 17 and continues for eight Wednesdays; here's the story I sent to papers: 

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. -- When “The People
vs. O.J. Simpson” arrived, it caused a stir.

Here was a
confluence of quality – 22 Emmy nominations, with nine wins – and
a familiar subject.

Two years later,
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace” has the same producers,
network (FX) and umbrella title (“American Crime Story”). The
quality is there; the familiarity is not.

Versace? Many people
know he was a prominent designer whose brand persists, 20 years after
he was killed in Miami Beach. There is much more, people say, in his:

-- Work. “He
combined sexiness and glamour and opulence, like no one has ever done
before,” said Edgar Ramirez, who portrays him. “He could see the
sexiness of the '70s and then all the opulence of the '80s and ... in
the '90s he combined it and everybody went crazy.”

-- Social views.
This was the first major designer to acknowledge he was gay, said
producer Ryan Murphy said. That was when his company “was about to
go public, and he was terrified of anything coming out negative about
his personal life .... It was a huge thing to announce that he was

-- Relationships.
This was a family guy, Murphy said. “His relationship with (his
sister) Donatella is particularly moving. And I think his
relationship with Antonio was very moving.”

Antonio D'Amico was
Versace's lover for 15 years. “Gianni was surrounded by 'yes'
people,” said Ricky Martin, who portrays him. But “Antonio would
say, 'I'm sorry, but you're wrong.' (He) would push him to live to
the fullest.”

Yes, that's the
Ricky Martin who's a music superstar. Another singer – Darren
Criss, who co-starred in Murphy's “Glee” -- plays Andrew Cunanan,
who shot Versace.

“Andrew was so
many different personalities to so many different people,” Criss
said. “We see him at his best, we see him at his worst. We see him
at his most charming; see see him at his most hurt. ”

Cunanan had grown up
near San Diego, with a genius-plus IQ and a reputation for lies.

“A lot of people
close to him absolutely knew he was lying, that he was an inveterate
liar,” said Maureen Orth, a reporter whose book (“Vulgar Favors”)
was the basis for the mini-series. “But they didn't care, because
he was very witty about it; he was able to charm people.”

Orth was writing
about him in Vanity Fair, before he shot Versace. He was already
accused of killing four people, starting with friends and lovers.

For a potential
high-achiever, life had gone wrong. When Cunanan was 19, his dad was
accused of embezzling and fled. Later, his mom fought with him after
learning he was gay.

Cunanan was also
making no impact on the world, something he wasn't used to. “In his
high school yearbook, he was named 'most likely to be remembered,'”
Orth said.

Now the killings
began and he was on the FBI's 10-most-wanted list. Still, Cunanan
“was able to make his way across he country and pick off these
victims – many of who were gay – because of the homophobia of the
time .... Police organizations refused in Miami to put up 'wanted'
posters, even though they knew (Cunanan) was probably headed that

Miami Beach was
Versace's new world. He had grown up in Southern Italy and didn't
move to the Milan fashion center until he was 26. He was 45 when he
moved to Miami, turning the Amsterdam Palace apartment house into his
spectacular estate. He “lived outrageously and daringly” in his
leisure time, Murphy said, but not in his work.

“He was rather a
quiet person (who was) extroverted but shy at the same time,”
Ramirez said. “He would got to bed rather early and had more the ..
life of a craftsman.” It was a busy life, which was ended suddenly
when he was 50.

-- “The
Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – The Man Who
Would Be Vogue”

-- 10 p.m.
Wednesdays, FX; the Jan. 17 debut reruns at 11:14 p.m. and 12:26 and
1:39 a.m.