John Turturro Reveals Heartbreaking Story of Grandmother’s Death from an Illegal Abortion

In an interview with Rolling Stone, the actor spoke candidly about the botched abortion that killed his grandmother in 1927.

John Turturro Reveals Heartbreaking Story of Grandmother’s Death from an Illegal Abortion
Photo:STRMX (AP)

Typically, when celebrities weigh in on things that don’t affect them quite the same way as they do the rest of us, like, say, politics and, most recently, the right to an abortion in America, I tend to tune right on out. However, when my Italian boyfriend one of the greatest thespians of our time, John Turturro, does it, I am very simply his student (seated front row with an apple on my desk) as he teaches a masterclass on how to be the world’s most likable Hollywood elite.

This week, the Severance star revealed to Rolling Stone that his grandmother, Rosa, died of an illegal botched abortion decades before the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

“I lost my grandmother because she died during an illegal botched abortion,” Turturro shared. “So that informs me on the whole history of abortion. And I was very interested in that [subject] because the death certificate says ‘manic depressive psychosis — contributory: exhaustion.’ It doesn’t say ‘botched abortion.’”

Turturro has been candid about abortion more than once in recent weeks. Hours after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, the actor theorized about his own intimate history with abortion during a conversation at the Nantucket Film Festival, where he was also honored and read from his latest screenplay, Howard Beach.

“We have all suffered from women not being in charge of their own bodies — the pregnant women, first and foremost, but also their extended families,” he said. “The right to choose affects us all. A woman must have the right to plan her life as she sees fit. Abortion is a terribly difficult decision for anyone, but it is a personal one and needs to be protected. I wonder what my mother’s life would have been like if abortion had been legal and her mother had the support of a group such as Planned Parenthood. What would have happened had Rosa lived?”

Howard Beach, co-written by Spike Lee, hinges on an interracial love story set in 1980’s New York. Turturro explained he’s always maintained a certain curiosity for storytelling that rests at the intersection of race, class and gender, often pulling threads from his own experience to weave into his work. It was while he was researching his ancestry that his mother told him of his grandmother’s death.

In 1927, when Rosa, an Italian immigrant, became pregnant with her seventh child, one that would’ve further cemented the family’s poverty status, her sister convinced her to try something to end the pregnancy. “She made her a special drink, a combination of certain powerful herbs that would ‘take care of it,’” Turturro described. “My grandmother went into septic shock that evening, on fire from the poison burning inside.”

Rosa’s death resulted in five of the children—including Turturro’s mother—becoming orphans, and the sixth to pass away at age 4. Howard Beach, he said, will reflect the precariousness of the poor and working class—particularly women’s experiences of survival within it.

“I’ve always been interested in how women have been oppressed and had to navigate such hazardous terrain in order to have a life of their own.”

While it hardly compares, if Turturro wants to talk hazardous terrain for women, I have a few thoughts on how difficult it is to maintain my public reputation for abhorring celebrities with far too much money while he continues to exist. And as if this man could be any more attractive to me (and a humble subsection of Twitter), he had the absolute gall to say this:

“I’m not an actor who goes and talks about all the political things because I feel like I’m just a regular citizen like everybody else. But I think you can do things in your work that maybe could represent your point of view in the discussion.”

No notes, Turturro. Not one.

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