Jill Messick was a veteran studio executive and producer who played instrumental roles in bringing major films to the screen. But in recent months, Messick also found herself immersed in the biggest Hollywood scandal in recent memory, that of disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein.
All the while, her family said, Messick silently battled her own longtime “nemesis” — depression. And on Wednesday, her fight came to a tragic end. Messick took her own life, at the age of 50, they said.
Messick served as actress Rose McGowan’s manager before taking a job at the Miramax film studio under Weinstein’s leadership. Caught in a bitter feud between McGowan and Weinstein, Messick kept a low profile in recent months. But following her death, her family released a searing statement condemning Weinstein, McGowan and the media for their portrayals of Messick, who “became collateral damage in an already horrific story.”
“Jill was victimized by our new culture of unlimited information sharing and a willingness to accept statement as fact,” the family said in a lengthy statement obtained by The Washington Post. “The speed of disseminating information has carried mistruths about Jill as a person, which she was unable and unwilling to challenge.”
The family accused McGowan of making “slanderous statements” against Messick, sullying her name and her reputation.
Messick was McGowan’s manager in January 1997 when, the actress alleges, she was raped by Weinstein. Messick later worked as a production executive at Miramax, then led by Weinstein. Miramax, founded in 1979 by Weinstein and his brother, Bob, has produced and distributed numerous successful movies. The Weinsteins sold the company in 1993.
Messick’s name became entrenched in the Weinstein scandal in late October. A New York Times story quoted McGowan as saying that Messick arranged the meeting with Weinstein at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival during which she was allegedly raped. McGowan told the Times that she confided in Messick, her manager, about what had happened in the hotel room that day. “She held me,” McGowan said. “She put her arms around me.”
But later, McGowan told the Times, she did not feel supported by her managers. McGowan reached a settlement for $100,000 with Weinstein. A few months later, McGowan was stunned to learn that Messick took a job as vice president for development at the Weinstein-led Miramax, according to the Times piece.
Messick’s name emerged in the news again recently as McGowan promoted her new memoir, “Brave,” which includes stories involving her. McGowan writes in her book that after the alleged rape, one of her first calls was to Messick.
Messick “counseled me to see it as something that would help my career in the long run,” McGowan writes. “I threw up. I felt like I was in a fun house and all the mirrors were reflecting my horrors. And my manager’s instinct was to squash everything, which just freaked me out more. How could she not have known? And if she did, how could the woman I trusted with my life set me up? I was terrified.”
In response to the media attention surrounding the book, Weinstein’s attorney, Ben Brafman, released a statement calling McGowan’s rape allegations “a bold lie.” In the statement, he attributed a quote to Messick as a witness corroborating his client’s position.
“When we met up the following day, she hesitantly told me of her own accord that during the meeting that night before she had gotten into a hot tub with Mr. Weinstein. She was very clear about the fact that getting into that hot tub was something that she did consensually and that in hindsight it was also something that she regretted having done,” Messick is quoted as saying.
According to Messick’s family, the quotes came from an email she sent to Weinstein months before the allegations came out against him. The legal team chose to release the email without Messick’s consent, her family said.
“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,” the family’s statement read. Messick, they said, “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.
“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,” the family stated.
The family’s statement shared Messick’s recollections of the day that McGowan confided in her about what happened with Weinstein:
“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 immediately address the situation. They told Jill that they would handle the situation. 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.”
The family added that Messick believed in the #MeToo movement and supported the women coming forward to expose “those who had committed previously unspeakable deeds.”
After the years of sexual abuse allegations against Weinstein became public, the flood gates opened. In recent months, dozens of powerful men across a multitude of industries have lost their jobs due to allegations of inappropriate behavior in the workplace. Police reports against Weinstein have been filed in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, New York and London.
But Messick’s death served as a powerful reminder of the third parties whose lives have also been rocked by these scandals. In their statement, Messick’s family pleaded to the media to remember: “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,” the family said.
Messick is survived by two children, Jackson and Ava; their father, Kevin Messick; her father, Michael; her brother, Jan; and her partner, Dan Schuck, according to an obituary provided by the family. Her grandfather was James H. Nicholson, a film producer and co-founder of American International Pictures.
Messick was born in Los Angeles and attended high school in Santa Barbara, where she was on the cheerleading squad and named a homecoming princess. She had a love for horses while growing up, and an “abiding interest” in animals her entire life, according to her obituary.
For more than a decade, Messick worked as a studio executive for Paramount and Miramax. She helped produce a number of comedies including Universal’s “Baby Mama,” Paramount’s “Hot Rod,” Miramax’s “She’s All That” and the 2002 Oscar-winning film “Frida.” Her most recent film project was the upcoming Warner Bros. production of “Minecraft.”
Tina Fey, who worked with Messick in adapting the book “Queen Bees & Wannabes” for the movie “Mean Girls,” mourned the executive’s loss in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter and Deadline.
“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.”
Below is the Messick family’s full statement:
‘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.
Someone’s life may depend on it.
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