Chippendales Founder Steve Banerjee Died Hours Before His Murder Sentencing

The male strip club scion had already accepted a plea deal.

Originally Published: 
Kumail Nanjiani as Steve Banerjee in 'Welcome to Chippendales', via Hulu's press site
Erin Simkin/Hulu

Not long after Chippendales founder Somen “Steve” Banerjee debuted his Los Angeles nightclub’s first show featuring male strippers in 1979, women were lining up outside the door every night. Soon afterward, Banerjee’s novel idea led to him sitting atop one of the world’s largest male-stripping empires, and, as Hulu’s true-crime saga, Welcome to Chippendales, describes, he let nothing stand in the way of his success — even when it meant resorting to murder.

By the early 1980s, Banerjee, an immigrant from Bombay, India, decided to upgrade the performances and expand his business by enlisting the help of Emmy-winning television producer and choreographer Nick De Noia. The duo would eventually cut a deal — recorded on the back of a napkin — that would award De Noia half of the profits, as well as the rights, from a yet-to-be-launched touring version of the Chippendales show. When the brand began raking in millions in international tours and merchandise, Banerjee clashed with De Noia over the show’s creative direction, also accusing his business partner of not paying him his fair share of the profits. That’s when the FBI says Banerjee hired a man named Ray Colon to murder De Noia.

On April 7, 1987, Colon and an accomplice, Gilberto Rivera Lopez, traveled to De Noia’s Chippendales office in New York, where Rivera Lopez fatally shot the businessman. Banerjee bought back the touring rights from the De Noia family, and the cast remained unsolved for years. In the meantime, other similarly-themed male strip clubs started popping up, and, having presumably dodged a murder charge, an emboldened Banerjee started plotting another crime with Colon that would eventually lead to his undoing.

Banerjee allegedly ordered hits on employees of a Chippendales competitor, a London club called Adonis. In 1991, an informant known as “Strawberry” called a Las Vegas FBI agent to report that Colon had hired him to carry out the murders, but he’d gotten cold feet. Charging him with conspiracy and murder for hire, the FBI arrested Colon, who flipped on Banerjee. While wearing a wire during a meeting in a Zurich, Switzerland, hotel room, he got Banerjee to admit to his crimes.

A federal grand jury indicted Banerjee on seven counts, alleging murder, murder for hire, racketeering, and arson in October 1993. (The arson charges related to three attempts to burn down competing California businesses.) The following July, he pleaded guilty to racketeering and arranging De Noia's murder, striking up a plea bargain that carried a 26-year prison sentence. In the interim, he also transferred ownership of his company to his wife, Irene. On Oct. 24, 1994, just hours before the sentence was to be handed down, Banerjee died by suicide in his prison cell.

In a March 2022 interview with the New York Post, Banerjee’s 31-year-old son Christian revealed that he was working as a stripper and had created his own company called Strippendales. “Nobody was brave enough to send out male strippers. And nobody monetized it like my father did,” he said. “I’ve always had this connection with my dad, even though he wasn’t living, through Chippendales. I think he’d want to push me in this direction. He’d want to continue his legacy through his son.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, which provides free 24/7 support. You can also reach out to the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860, the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or to your local suicide crisis center.

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