Theresa Saldana, who played Joe Pesci’s wife in the Martin Scorsese film “Raging Bull” and, in a 1984 television movie, relived a near-fatal knife attack she experienced at the hands of a stalker, died on Monday in Los Angeles. She was 61.
Her death was reported by The Associated Press, which did not state a cause.
Ms. Saldana began attracting notice in “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” a 1978 film about Beatlemania in which she played a star-struck and determined New Jersey teenager, and as a nice girl in a tough neighborhood in the 1980 revenge thriller “Defiance.” Her career took a giant step forward when she was cast in “Raging Bull” as Lenore LaMotta, the sister-in-law of the boxer Jake LaMotta, played by Robert De Niro.
On March 15, 1982, leaving her apartment building in West Hollywood to go to a music class, she was approached by a man who asked if she was Theresa Saldana. When she said yes, he launched a frenzied attack, stabbing her 10 times in the chest, arms and legs with a hunting knife.
She survived only because a passing deliveryman stopped his truck, fought off the assailant and held him until the police arrived. Ms. Saldana spent the next three and a half months in a hospital.
“I will never forget the searing, ghastly pain, the grotesque and devastating experience of this person nearly butchering me to death, or the bone-chilling sight of my own blood splattered everywhere,” Ms. Saldana told a judge in 1984.
Ms. Saldana’s attacker, Arthur Jackson, was a Scottish drifter who had become obsessed with her after seeing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Defiance.” He entered the United States illegally and tracked her down with the help of a private detective.
In his diary he wrote that he was on a “divine mission” and intended to win Ms. Saldana by “sending her into eternity.” After the attack, he wrote a letter to Ms. Saldana saying that he regretted using a knife on her because “a gun would have given me a better chance of reunion with you in heaven.”
After her recovery, Ms. Saldana formed Victims for Victims, an organization devoted to helping others who had suffered violent attacks, and to campaigning for anti-stalker laws.
Mr. Jackson, after serving 15 years in prison, was extradited to Britain for trial in connection with a 1966 robbery and homicide. He was sent to a psychiatric hospital, where he died in 2004.
Ms. Saldana quickly resumed her acting career. After the TV movie “Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story,” she appeared in the 1984 Charles Bronson film “The Evil That Men Do” and in guest roles on several television series.
In the early 1990s, she had a starring role in the television series “The Commish” as Rachel Skali, the wife of the police commissioner Tony Scali, played by Michael Chiklis.
Theresa Saldana was born on Aug. 20, 1954, in Brooklyn. She took dance lessons as a child and, after suffering a serious shoulder injury while part of a tumbling team, enrolled in acting classes at 12.
After being spotted in the Off Broadway musical “The New York City Street Show” in 1977 she was cast in the 1978 film “Nunzio,” an Italian-American family melodrama.
“Victims for Victims” was her most visible role, and her most unusual. She played herself, and a doctor and paramedic from the 1982 attack played themselves as well in the emergency-room scenes.
Dr. Eugene Keller, who had treated Ms. Saldana at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, told The New York Times in 1984 that the filming was disorienting. “Theresa began to moan, and I asked her, ‘Are you O.K.? Are we hurting you?’ And she said, ‘No, I’m fine. I’m acting.’”
Ms. Saldana said: “Working on the film released a lot of tension for me. As we shot, I felt elated and creative. I felt that I was capable of anything. How many people are offered the opportunity to go back in time and relive a traumatic experience, but without any of the physical or emotional pain that they felt the first time?”
She later wrote a memoir about her attack, “Beyond Survival” (1987).
In the 1980s she appeared in small roles on “Cagney & Lacey,” “Falcon Crest,” “MacGyver” and other series.
Ms. Saldana’s first marriage ended in divorce. Her survivors include her husband, the actor Phil Peters, and a daughter, Tianna Saldana Peters.