The Founder Of Chippendales Ordered Nick De Noia’s Murder

Steve Banerjee pleaded guilty to hiring a hitman to murder the choreographer.

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Murray Bartlett plays Nick De Nova in 'Welcome to Chippendales' via Hulu's press site
Erin Simkin/Hulu

As Chippendales started to become a full-blown male-stripping empire in the early 1980s, founder Somen “Steve” Banerjee quickly sought a way to upgrade the performances and expand his business. Enter Emmy-winning television producer and choreographer Nick De Noia, who would help bring the Los Angeles-originated Chippendales show to New York City, launching the brand into a global phenomenon. As revisited in Hulu’s true-crime dramatization, Welcome to Chippendales, Banerjee grew frustrated with De Noia’s success and ultimately arranged to have him murdered.

Prior to transforming the Chippendales show into a Las Vegas-style spectacle, De Noia, who was briefly married to actor and CoverGirl spokesperson Jennifer O’Neill, earned two Emmys for Unicorn Tales, a series of children’s musical short films that aired in 1977 and 1978. He and Banerjee would eventually cut a deal, which they recorded on the back of a napkin, granting him the rights and half of the profits for an international Chippendales touring show.

The production was a runaway hit, but De Noia and Banerjee often clashed over the show’s creative direction. Once the international tours and merchandise began raking in millions of dollars, the Chippendales founder reportedly grew jealous of De Noia’s success and accused him of not paying him his share of the profits. Unwilling to let anyone stand in the way of increasing his wealth, Banerjee hired a man named Ray Colon to murder his business partner.

New York Daily News Archive/New York Daily News/Getty Images

Colon recruited an accomplice, Gilberto Rivera Lopez, who traveled with him to New York City to carry out the hit. On April 7, 1987, Rivera Lopez fatally shot De Noia in the face. Following his partner’s death, Banerjee purchased back his touring rights from the De Noia family. For years, police had no leads in the murder, but when Banerjee enlisted Colon’s help again and ordered the murders of several former associates who defected to a similar London club called Adonis, everything started to unravel.

In 1991, an informant known as “Strawberry” called a Las Vegas FBI agent to report that Colon had hired him to carry out the Adonis murders, but he’d gotten cold feet. Charging him with conspiracy and murder for hire, the FBI arrested Colon, and after several months in prison, he flipped on Banerjee, implicating him in De Noia’s murder. While wearing a wire during a meeting in a Zurich, Switzerland, hotel room, he would eventually get Banerjee to admit to his crimes, leading to the businessman’s arrest in September 1993.

The following July, Banerjee pleaded guilty to orchestrating the murder-for-hire plot against De Noia, among other charges. He agreed to a plea deal that carried a 26-year prison sentence. However, on Oct. 24, 1994, the Chippendales founder died by suicide in his prison cell. Rivera Lopez, for his part, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison following his second-degree murder conviction, and Colon only served two and a half years of his 15-year sentence for conspiracy and murder for hire because of his cooperation with the FBI.

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