Michael Urie Pays Tribute to Late “Ugly Betty” Creator Silvio Horta

Silvio Horta, the creator of the hit ABC series Ugly Betty was found dead in a Miami motel room on January 7. Here, Michael Urie, who played the show’s gay fashion assistant Marc St. James, remembers his former mentor, whom he considers a hero to the LGBTQ community.

I first met Silvio Horta at my audition for Ugly Betty. I couldn’t believe the gorgeous young guy behind the table was the creator of an ABC TV pilot. He couldn’t be much older than me. In the audition scene, Marc St. James (the role I’d eventually get and play for four seasons) is administering Botox into the forehead of Wilhelmina Slater (eventually played by Vanessa Williams). I thought it was vital to the audition that I perform the act while speaking the dialogue, so I mimed holding a syringe and leaned towards the camera as if Wilhelmina was reclining below me. As soon as I leaned forward with mimed syringe in hand, I heard the signature giggle that would come to be very familiar. Silvio was already laughing. I felt like I could fly.

As I remember, Silvio was always laughing. He was sweet and silly and shy. He made his writing staff feel brilliant, his cast feel invincible.

Did he have demons? Well, I guess he must have. Maybe it didn’t occur to me that someone responsible for creating so much joy, for bringing so much pride and inspiration to millions, would be unhappy. But we can never really know what’s behind a smile. Even one as bright and beautiful as Silvio’s.

18th Annual GLAAD Media Awards - Los Angeles - Show

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Michael Urie (left) and Silvio Horta accepting Ugly Betty’s award for Outstanding Comedy Series at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2007.

In the nearly 10 years since Ugly Betty went off the air, I’ve been frequently approached by people of all creeds—but mostly LGBTQIA and Latinx—telling me, often with tears in their eyes, how much the show meant to them. How Marc, or Betty, or Justin, or Hilda, or Amanda were their TV friends growing up. How these TV characters were the only people they knew whom they could relate to. How the show gave them an escape, a purpose, hope, someone to emulate.

I spent four years with Silvio making hilarious and heartfelt television. We didn’t see each other regularly after, but we would light up and hug each other whenever we had the chance to say hello. I’m sure the Betty years were different for him, full of stress and relentless. For me, the experience was a four-year party. I met some of my best friends and mentors.

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The Ugly Betty reunion after-party in 2016.

Thanks to Silvio, I’ve had that one-of-a-kind, perfect show-business experience that many actors will never get. Thanks to Silvio, in my 20s I had a perfect thing. It has made me appreciate every gig since.

Thanks to Silvio, I worked alongside Hollywood veterans like Vanessa Williams, Tony Plana, and Judith Light, who taught me about television, red carpets, and fame. My peers—America Ferrera, Ana Ortiz, Eric Mabius, and my bestie for life Becki Newton—and I soared together to awards shows and premieres. We watched dear Marc Indelicato (who played Betty’s brother, Justin) grow up and become a man, a hero. Plus the crews, the creatives, the incredible writers, the directors—collaborators I delight in seeing on other jobs where we can remember and recount the Betty days. Silvio gave us a family—one that’s still strong.

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Judith Light and Silvio Horta in 2016.

Silvio was only six years older than I am. I couldn’t balance my checkbook back when we were working together (remember checkbooks?), while he was running a hit network TV show. When he accepted the Golden Globe Award for Best Comedy Series, he was 32. He was a hero to the LGBTQIA and Latinx community, and always will be.

I’m so sad we don’t have Silvio anymore. I’m heartbroken we will never know why the joy and laughter and pride he felt—which saved so many strangers’ lives—couldn’t save him. But I’m so grateful he was here. He changed my life.

Michael Urie played Marc St. James on “Ugly Betty” and currently stars in Broadway’s “Grand Horizons.” He and his “Ugly Betty” co-star Becki Newton are working on a new sitcom project, “Fun.”


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