A longtime artist, Stamos grew up painting and drawing, but never pursued his hidden talents professionally -- until now, thanks to friend Jamie Lee Curtis, who told him, “If not now, when?” Enlisted by the artist Brian Bowen Smith, the actor will make his professional debut with two never-before-seen pieces of art at the Malibu Lumber Yard Gallery on June 25, when the exhibit opens to the public.
While sitting down with Entertainment Tonight’s Nancy O’Dell, Stamos explains how the teen idol craze of the early 1980s and an unexpected connection to the 1985 notorious serial killer Richard Ramirez -- known as the “Night Stalker” in the press -- influenced his work.
After his mother, Loretta, died in 2014, the actor was going through all her stuff when he came upon a collection of “every single letter, picture, magazine cover,” he says. “I have hundreds of teen magazine covers that I’m on. And spending time with all of that for the last four or five years, I was like, ‘What’s the angle?’ And then it sort of hit me.”
The angle, he reveals, is Doreen Lioy, an editor of Tiger Beat magazine at the time who later developed a romance with Ramirez. First introduced to her by a friend, Michael Damian, when he was around 16 or 17 years old, Lioy saw something in Stamos and helped make him a star. “She groomed me,” he says before landing his breakout role in 1982 as Blackie Parrish on General Hospital, for which he was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. Lioy was the first to feature him in the magazine, first in the editor’s section in a photo alongside her before he eventually became a staple on the cover. “She was sort of like a sister and became best friends with my mother -- she was a very lonely woman -- [and] spent all the holidays with us.”
While Stamos’ acting career quickly took off, landing back-to-back starring roles on sitcoms, You Again? and Full House, Lioy became romantically linked to Ramirez, who killed 13 people in and around Los Angeles, California, between 1984 and 1985. (A 14th victim -- his first -- killed in San Francisco was later linked to Ramirez through DNA testing.)
After spending the summer of 1985 terrorizing the area -- most of his victims were killed between May and August -- Ramirez was eventually arrested on Aug. 30. Soon after he was incarcerated, Lioy started writing him letters. According to CNN, “she began visiting him in prison, sat through his trial” before eventually marrying him in 1996 at the San Quentin State Prison, where he was on death row. The relationship caused a rift in her family, who disowned her. The two remained married until his death in 2013, at 53 years old.
Ramirez’s story helped inspire today’s true-crime craze. Ryan Murphy included a version of him in American Horror Story: Hotel, while Lifetime produced the 2016 TV film, The Night Stalker, starring Lou Diamond Phillips as the serial killer and Kimberly Jürgen as Lioy.
Years later, Stamos found an article that his mother kept about the serial killer that mentioned Lioy. “Here she’s talking about Richard Ramirez,” he says, freaked out that she’s saying the same things about Ramirez that she once said about Stamos. “What did she see in me that she saw in him?”
In a 1997 interview with CNN, Lioy described Ramirez as “kind,” “funny” and “charming.” She said at the time, “I think he’s really a great person. He’s my best friend; he’s my buddy.”
“First of all, to be that lonely that this is the only man on the planet that she can find, I just thought, ‘How horrible.’ This man is the personification of evil -- just a monster. And here is someone that was part of my family, sort of,” Stamos continues. At the time Lioy was courting Ramirez, she was still writing Stamos’ mother letters. “I think I blocked it out of my mind. When I was going through all of these pictures and these things and these letters, it brought all that up. I remember my dad shutting [my mom’s friendship with Lioy] down fast.” Don’t answer the phone; don’t write her back, he recalls his father, William, telling her.
The final artwork that Stamos put together for the gallery features a rendered Tiger Beat cover with images and headlines about Ramirez alongside images and headlines about Stamos that originally appeared on past covers of the magazine. Two idols of the ‘80s, albeit for very different circumstances, connected by the same person: Doreen Lioy, who also appears in the painting.
The two pieces on display at the Malibu Lumber Yard Gallery are part of a larger collection about idolatry and the teen idol world. “This kind of thing doesn’t exist anymore," Stamos says.