ER actress Vanessa Marquez, who was shot dead in her South Pasadena apartment Thursday afternoon after allegedly pointing a BB gun at cops, endured a long and painful struggle with chronic illness, friends told The Daily Beast.
“She was imprisoned by her own illness,” Toni McGee said. “She mostly just liked to watch TV—and make [online] posts about what she was watching, or about famous people who had died. Death was at her door so often that she was always thinking about it.”
At about 1:48 p.m. Thursday, officers from the South Pasadena Police Department arrived at Marquez’s apartment complex on the 1100 block of Fremont Avenue, in South Pasadena, according to a press release from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office. They came under the auspices of a welfare check for a woman, later identified as 49-year-old Marquez, who had a medical condition.
When officers began to speak to Marquez, they “became aware that she was possibly suffering from mental-health issues,” police said. During their 90-minute conversation, Marquez was “uncooperative,” and appeared “unable to care for herself,” the police claim. At one point, Marquez grabbed a BB gun, which cops believed to be a handgun, and an officer shot her, according to the statement. She was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
In addition to the hit medical drama ER, Marquez made appearances in the feature film Stand and Deliver, as well as the TV shows Malcolm and Eddie, Melrose Place, and Seinfeld. Her last screen credit was in Fire & Ice, a TV-movie from 2001.
Marquez made headlines last year when she alleged in a tweet that George Clooney had played a role in blacklisting her from Hollywood after she spoke up about harassment on the set of ER, on which she played Nurse Wendy Goldman.
In a statement to Deadline, Clooney said he believed Marquez’s story, but that he had not been involved. “I had no idea Vanessa was blacklisted,” Clooney said. “I take her at her word. I was not a writer or a producer or a director on that show. I had nothing to do with casting. I was an actor and only an actor. If she was told I was involved in any decision about her career then she was lied to. The fact that I couldn’t affect her career is only surpassed by the fact that I wouldn’t.”
Friends of Marquez described her as “heartbroken” by her stalled career, and her suspicions of foul play.
McGee, who lives in Australia and struck up a friendship with Marquez online, said the actress struggled with many ailments. According to several sources and Marquez’s own Facebook posts, the actress suffered from celiac disease, fibromyalgia, and increasingly debilitating seizures.
When McGee and her husband visited Marquez in Los Angeles in 2015, they spent two and a half days together touring the city. It was a rare outing for the actress, whose physical condition made it hard to leave her house, McGee said.
“At one point, we took her back to our hotel, just to get her away from her house and she fell asleep in the chair beside our bed,” she told The Daily Beast. “She said it was the most fun she had in years—just to fall asleep in a chair beside our bed.”
Because Marquez could not often go out, she primarily interacted with the world through the internet and television, her friends said. Marquez loved Mad Men, and old, classic movies.
A few years back, Marquez joined an online group called TCM Party, which involves old-movie lovers live-tweeting classic films as they play on Turner Classic Movies. The party’s two founders, Paula Guthat and Joel Williams, would schedule sessions for the group to go online, and they would group their tweets with a hashtag: #TCMParty.
Marquez became a regular, and soon she and Guthat were talking about more than movies. They became friends on Facebook and then, in a real way, talking often on the phone.
“She was lovely, kind, sweet, encouraging,” Guthat told The Daily Beast. “She definitely had her health challenges which were very severe. But she had a really sweet, enthusiastic personality.”
Guthat never met Marquez in real life, but as they became friends, she heard more about the actress’ illnesses. “Recently she’d been having seizures and the seizures were getting worse. They were not stabilized. That was hard,” Guthat said. “I know she went through frustration and despair that she was not going to get better. She said it was terminal, but I believe if she had gotten the right care she would still be with us.”
The next TCM Party is supposed to be tonight. Members planned to watch Sudden Fear starring Joan Crawford.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Guthat said. “I think she would have wanted me to go on with it. She was a trooper.”