Miriam Rivera, famed as the world’s first transgender reality TV star, has died at age 38, and her husband and others are calling the circumstances suspicious.
Rivera was found hanged in her home in Hermosillo, Mexico, February 5, but the news is only now being widely reported, even though her husband, Daniel Cuervo, had posted a tribute to her online in February, the Daily Mail Australia reports.
In the early 2000s, Rivera, a model and musician, starred in the dating show There’s Something About Miriam, in which several men vied for her love, and her transgender identity was revealed in the final episode. It was broadcast in the U.K. in 2004, and there were subsequent airings in Australia, Poland, Argentina, and the U.S. She later was a guest on Big Brother Australia.
Cuervo, who lives in New York City, said Rivera called him from Mexico the morning of February 5, saying she was feeling ill and vomiting blood. He encouraged her to go to a hospital, and he last spoke to her before she left the hospital at noon. She was discovered hanging in her home about 2 p.m.
Cuervo said he believes her death was made to look like a suicide, while he suspects she was murdered because she refused to do sex work. He attempted to have her body flown to New York but was told she had already been cremated. He told the Daily Mail Australia that a man called him and said, “Don’t come back to Mexico or we’ll kill you too.”
Jeanett Ørtoft, a friend of Rivera’s, also voiced suspicions. “Some say she was killed for going against human trafficking, others say that she took her own life,” she told the Mail. The latter seems unlikely, Ørtoft said, given that Rivera had many plans when they last spoke.
“The last time I was on the phone with her, a few weeks before her death, she told me she was just about to finish a degree and was looking forward to that,” Ørtoft said. “She told me she wanted to write a book about her life.”
Rivera reportedly enjoyed the fame that came with There’s Something About Miriam, even though the show “may seem exploitative by today’s standards,” the Mail notes. After filming concluded, the contestants, including winner Tom Rooke, sued the program’s producers, alleging “conspiracy to commit sexual assault, defamation, breach of contract, and personal injury in the form of psychological and emotional damage,” according to the paper. The suit was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount of money.
She told the Daily Mirror, a U.K. tabloid, in 2010 that she was working as an escort — paid for companionship and engaging in sex with her clients only if she wanted to — in order to pay off bills for medical treatment needed when she fell from her New York apartment’s window in 2007. She said she was escaping a burglar at the time, but Ørtoft said Rivera was thrown from the window in a murder attempt.
Rivera also received tributes from the New York ballroom scene’s House of Xtravaganza, where she was a member, along with TV producers and journalists.
“Yes, there was controversy around the show,” There’s Something About Miriam creator Remy Blumenfeld told the BBC. “What has continued to surprise me is the support that I’ve had from the trans community online and on social media, despite the fact that the mainstream press continue in their assertion that it was a step back for trans people. We were led in our editorial decisions by her and what she was comfortable with.”
Rob McKnight, editor of the TV Blackbox website, told the Mail the show was a “game changer.” Rivera, he added, “certainly had an impact on the world, and I hope she eventually found happiness.”