Tragedy

Movie executive caught in middle of Rose McGowan and Harvey Weinstein legal battle takes her own life at age 50

Late film executive Jill Messick. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Jill Messick, a veteran movie executive who in 1997 was Rose McGowan’s manager and then later worked for Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax Films, died this week at the age of 50. In an open letter published by The Hollywood Reporter, Messick’s family said she committed suicide and that she had battled depression and bipolar disorder her entire life.

But there was far more than that weighing on Messick in recent months, her family said in a statement that criticized McGowan, Weinstein and the media at large for the fact that Messick’s name had repeatedly been surfacing in the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Prior to joining Miramax, Messick was Rose McGowan’s manager. She represented McGowan in 1997 and set up a meeting with Weinstein at a hotel, a meeting at which McGowan has since alleged she was raped by the movie mogul. However, Messick’s family said the late movie executive had disputed the version of events McGowan has been discussing in the press recently.

“Following the meeting, Rose told Jill what had happened — that she made the decision to remove her clothes and get in the hot tub with him — a mistake which Rose immediately regretted. Rose never once used the word rape in that conversation,” Messick’s family said. “Despite this, Jill recognized that Harvey had done something untoward to Rose, if not illegal. She immediately went to her bosses” and alerted them to the inappropriate behavior, which laid the groundwork for the settlement McGowan and Weinstein eventually reached. Messick was never a part of those negotiations, her family said. However, in some of her recent media appearances, McGowan has been bringing up Messick’s name, which prompted Weinstein to leak emails from Ben Affleck and Messick, without obtaining her consent, showing that she had emailed him with her memories of the 20-year-old incident, and still didn’t recall McGowan having accused him of rape at the time.

Another point the family made in the statement was that Messick had refrained from publicly speaking out to dispute McGowan’s claims so as to not discourage other women from coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. “‘The Movement’ just lost one of its own,” the statement declared, adding that Messick “supported every woman finally coming forward to share their dark truths and expose those who had committed previously unspeakable deeds. She was loyal. She was strong. Jill was many things, but she was not a liar.”

Messick’s family went on to criticize McGowan, Weinstein and the media for dragging her name into a “new culture of unlimited information sharing and a willingness to accept statement as fact” and the “devastating” toll it took on her.

On Twitter, the news prompted debate over who is responsible for the tragedy. Some said Weinstein, others pointed the finger at McGowan, while others said the media were to blame. Still others said all three share culpability for Messick’s tragic demise.

Meanwhile, Tina Fey, who worked closely with Messick on the 2004 film Mean Girls, chose to focus on remembering Messick’s legacy as a family woman and film producer. “This is very sad news and my heart goes out to her family,” Fey said. “Jill was instrumental in helping Mean Girls get to the screen. She was a fiercely dedicated producer and a kind person.”

Read the family’s complete statement below:

‘The Movement’ just lost one of its own.

Jill Messick was a mother of two children, a loving wife and partner, a dear friend to many and a smart entertainment executive. She was also a survivor, privately battling depression which had been her nemesis for years.

Today she did not survive. Jill took her own life.

Jill was victimized by our new culture of unlimited information sharing and a willingness to accept statement as fact. The speed of disseminating information has carried mistruths about Jill as a person, which she was unable and unwilling to challenge. She became collateral damage in an already horrific story.

Jill believed in the Movement. She supported every woman finally coming forward to share their dark truths and expose those who had committed previously unspeakable deeds. She was loyal. She was strong. Jill was many things, but she was not a liar.

Over the past few months, many women have come out with allegations against Harvey Weinstein, including Rose McGowan, who has repeatedly spoken with the press, striking out against not only her alleged attacker, but a great many others. One of them was Jill, who chose to remain silent in the face of Rose’s slanderous statements against her for fear of undermining the many individuals who came forward in truth. She opted not to add to the feeding frenzy, allowing her name and her reputation to be sullied despite having done nothing wrong. She never chose to be a public figure, that choice was taken away from her.

Now that Jill can no longer speak for herself, it’s time to set the record straight.

In January 1997, Jill was an entry level manager at Addis Wechsler. One of her first clients was Rose McGowan, and one of Jill’s first duties was to set up a breakfast meeting with Harvey Weinstein during the Sundance Film Festival. Following the meeting, Rose told Jill what had happened — that she made the decision to remove her clothes and get in the hot tub with him — a mistake which Rose immediately regretted. Rose never once used the word rape in that conversation. Despite this, Jill recognized that Harvey had done something untoward to Rose, if not illegal. She immediately went to her bosses, the partners of Addis Wechsler, to recount Rose’s story and to insist that they address the situation. They told Jill that they would take care of it. The ensuing arrangements between Rose and Harvey were then negotiated, completely without Jill’s knowledge. At that time, all Jill knew was that the matter was settled and that Rose continued making films with the Weinsteins. She never knew any details until recently, when Rose elected to make them public.

Ten months later, in November of 1997, Jill received a call from the Miramax exec VP of production, recruiting her for a job as an executive at Miramax Films working in production in Los Angeles. Jill was hired based on merit and her excellent work of over two years as a young development executive working with Woods Entertainment, (before her time at Addis Wechsler).

Rose’s most recent round of press to promote her book have included new stories involving Jill. The constant press attention Rose has garnered in print and on National TV led to Harvey Weinstein releasing two documents. One of these was an email which Jill wrote to him months before the first NY Times piece coming out, and at his request. In this e-mail, Jill offered the truth based on what she remembers Rose telling her about the Sundance account. In the face of Rose’s continued and embellished accusations last week, Harvey took it upon himself to release the e-mail without her consent.

Five years ago, Jill suffered a manic episode. Anyone familiar with bipolar disorder knows that it is a cruel and vicious disease. With the help of doctors, her family and friends, Jill rebounded. Jill had fought to put her life back together. After a long job search, she was in negotiations to run the production division for a new entertainment company.

Seeing her name in headlines again and again, as part of one person’s attempt to gain more attention for her personal cause, along with Harvey’s desperate attempt to vindicate himself, was devastating for her. It broke Jill, who was just starting to get her life back on track.

What makes Rose’s inaccurate accusations and insinuations against Jill ironic was that she was the first person who stood up on Rose’s behalf, and alerted her bosses to the horrific experience which Rose suffered. Twenty years ago, as a very junior person in a management company hierarchy, Jill exhibited her integrity in doing the right thing — she raised the red flag with the heads of her firm. In the face of inappropriate behavior, Jill handled the situation appropriately.

Hers is one of the only stories that has stayed consistent over time as we watch other media reported tales morph to beget further attention.

While journalists serve an important role in exposing predatory behavior, we are seeing irresponsible choices and an addiction to sensationalism which leads to inconsistent storytelling. The media is a powerful tool not to be taken lightly. Most individuals would be horrified to have their name spotlighted in a major international news story — let alone their photograph. We cannot forget that the media is a fearsome tool which cannot be used indiscriminately or even inadvertently to create further victims. There is a responsibility when using a platform to accurately expose criminals, predators, mistruths and misdeeds while protecting the actual truth of third parties.

As we collectively seek to take action in an effort to right the wrongs so brazenly and inhumanely repeated for a generation, we must not forget one simple truth: words have power. While we illuminate the dark corners for hidden truths, we must remember that what we say, particularly in the media, can have just as much impact if not more than our actions. We must ask more of ourselves, and of each other. We must take a moment to consider the ramifications and consequences of what we say and what we do.

Words matter.

Someone’s life may depend on it.

Related

In new memoir, Rose McGowan recounts story of how Harvey Weinstein allegedly raped her

Harvey Weinstein’s ex-assistant who broke NDA speaks out again, discusses disgraced mogul’s lust for power

In wake of Weinstein scandal, Ben Affleck vows to address ‘my own behavior’

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is independent of and separate from any views of The New York Times.