Miriam Rivera, the transgender reality star who achieved international fame in the mid 2000s, was found dead in Hermosillo, Mexico on February 5. She was 38.
She first made headlines in 2004 as the star of There’s Something About Miriam, a controversial dating show about a group of men trying to win the heart of the then-21-year-old Mexican model, only to discover in the last episode she was born a man.
Despite widespread criticism and ‘personal injury’ lawsuits filed by the disgruntled male contestants, the show was a ratings hit for Sky One in the UK and was later aired in Australia on Channel 10.
At the height of her popularity Down Under, she made a highly-publicised guest appearance on Big Brother Australia’s fourth season, which was watched by millions.
Tragedy: Miriam Rivera, the transgender star of There’s Something About Miriam, died aged 38 in Hermosillo, Mexico on February 5. Pictured in Sydney, Australia in an undated photo
Miriam’s cause of death remains shrouded in mystery, however her husband Daniel Cuervo, who is based in New York City, suspects foul play was involved.
Mr Cuervo told Daily Mail Australia via a Spanish translator that he believes his wife’s death may have been ‘passed off’ as a suicide after she refused to accept work as a prostitute.
He recalled of the day Miriam died: ‘On the morning of February 5, Miriam called me [in New York] from Mexico, telling me she was feeling sick and vomiting blood, so I told her to get to the hospital.
Flashback: Miriam is pictured in the diary room of the Big Brother Australia house on the Gold Coast on June 11, 2004
‘She called me again before leaving the hospital at 12pm and that was the last time we spoke.’
At 2pm, Miriam was found dead by hanging at her home in Hermosillo.
When Mr Cuervo learned of Miriam’s death, he enquired about the possibility of flying the body to New York.
He was informed the body had already been cremated, leaving no opportunity to perform an autopsy.
Miriam’s close friend Jeanett Ørtoft also echoed similar sentiments about the death being suspicious.
‘Some say she was killed for going against human trafficking, others say that she took her own life,’ she said.
The news of Miriam’s death shocked Ms Ørtoft, who said her friend was ‘looking forward’ to the future when they last spoke.
‘The last time I was on the phone with her, a few weeks before her death, she told me she was just about to finish a degree and was looking forward to that,’ Ms Ørtoft said. ‘She told me she wanted to write a book about her life.’
Duped: Miriam rose to fame in 2004 as the star of There’s Something About Miriam (title screen pictured), a controversial dating show about a group of men trying to win the heart of the then-21-year-old Mexican model, only to discover in the last episode she was born a man
Mystery: Miriam’s cause of death remains shrouded in mystery, however her husband Daniel Cuervo, who is based in New York City, suspects foul play was involved
Claims: Mr Cuervo (left, with Miriam) told Daily Mail Australia that he believes his wife’s death may have been ‘passed off’ as a suicide after she refused to accept work as a prostitute
Ms Ørtoft recalls an instant connection with Miriam when they first met in Copenhagen in 2011, before travelling around Madrid together.
The two women had planned to reunite in Hermosillo in July, but by that time Miriam had died.
In a Facebook post from February 25, Ms Ørtoft wrote: ‘RIP, dearest Miriam. Jan 1981 – Feb 2019. The news about you being taken away from this world far too early and in this way broke my heart and left me in shock and tears.
‘You made a huge difference for me and so many other people around this planet. Your life was too short, but you made it remarkable.
‘I feel deeply grateful that you let me into your heart, mind and life. Thanks for all the great memories. We had plans about creating more this year, and I can’t believe I will never see you again. At least not on this side.
‘You were the shiniest star on earth, now you’re the most shiny in heaven.’
‘Some say she was killed for going against human trafficking’: On Wednesday, Miriam’s close friend Jeanett Ørtoft (right, with Miriam in an undated photo) echoed similar sentiments about the death being suspicious
Tribute: In a Facebook post from February 25 (above), Ms Ørtoft wrote: ‘RIP, dearest Miriam. Jan 1981 – Feb 2019. The news about you being taken away from this world far too early and in this way broke my heart and left me in shock and tears’
Rest in peace: This photo, shared to Facebook by Ms Ørtoft, was taken at Miriam’s funeral
She accompanied the post with 47 photos of herself and Miriam, including holiday snaps of Miriam in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Ms Ørtoft also shared photos from Miriam’s funeral service.
According to her now-defunct website, MiriamOfficial.com, Miriam was born in Hermosillo, a city located centrally in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora.
She was approached to star in There’s Something About Miriam when she was just 21, and while the show may seem exploitative by today’s standards, she enjoyed her notoriety.
Claim to fame: Miriam was approached to star in There’s Something About Miriam when she was just 21, and while the show may seem exploitative by today’s standards, she enjoyed her notoriety. Pictured hugging the show’s winner Tom Rooke
Notorious: During her heyday, Miriam was a regular fixture in the British tabloid press
World famous: As Miriam’s notoriety extended to Australia, she was invited to appear on Channel 10 talk show Rove Live and various radio programs – but is best remembered for being an intruder on Big Brother Australia. Pictured in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Her website was filled with press clippings, showing her on the front pages of British tabloids like The Sun, The News of the World and the Daily Star.
As Miriam’s notoriety extended to Australia, she was invited to appear on Channel 10 talk show Rove Live and various radio programs – but is best remembered for being an intruder on Big Brother Australia.
Before entering the Big Brother house, she spoke with host Gretel Killeen about the dangerous reality of growing up as a transgender woman in Mexico.
‘You have to be really strong, I went through a lot. You have no idea what I went through, it’s not even funny,’ she said. ‘But I’m a strong woman!’
Remember this? Miriam is pictured greeting housemates on Big Brother Australia in 2004
Revealed: The story behind There’s Something About Miriam
There’s Something About Miriam was a British reality TV show created by Remy Blumenfeld and Gavin Hay and produced by Brighter Pictures, a subsidiary of Endemol.
The program was filmed in 2003, and aired on Sky One in the UK and Channel 10 in Australia the following year amid great controversy.
It also aired in Poland and Argentina in 2005, before being broadcast in the United States in October 2007.
Pictured: Miriam Rivera in the finale of There’s Something About Miriam, which first aired on Britain’s Sky One channel in 2004
The dating show followed six single young men trying to win the heart of Miriam, a Mexican model.
The participants were not told that Miriam was biologically male (i.e. a pre-op transgender woman) until the finale, when she picked a winner.
According to producers, some of the men had suspected that Miriam was not biologically female during filming.
The show’s winner, Tom Rooke, accepted the £10,000 prize money and a holiday with Miriam, but was still visibly shocked by the revelation.
But Rooke later rejected the prize prior to the show airing and joined the other contestants in a lawsuit.
Shock twist: The contestants on There’s Something About Miriam were not told that Miriam was biologically male (i.e. a pre-op transgender woman) until the finale, when she picked a winner. Pictured on Queensland’s Gold Coast on June 3, 2004
The men alleged conspiracy to commit sexual assault, defamation, breach of contract, and personal injury in the form of psychological and emotional damage.
They eventually settled for an undisclosed amount.
There’s Something About Miriam has been widely described as ‘cruel’ and ‘exploitative’, and a similar format is yet to be reproduced anywhere in the world.
Prostitution: In 2010, Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper reported that Miriam was working as a ‘£300-an-hour escort’ in Knightsbridge, West London. Pictured in Poland in 2005
In 2010, Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper reported that Miriam was working as a ‘£300-an-hour escort’ in Knightsbridge, West London.
She told the publication: ‘I do absolutely everything – I do a full service [full sex]. Once you have paid for me, you can do whatever you want.
‘The men I meet are hot. Some of them I’m even surprised at because they’re well-known, rich, eligible men. Big boys, you know – businessmen, singers, actors.
Debts: Miriam claimed that she had turned to prostitution to pay off hospital bills racked up after an accident in 2007, which saw her fall out of the fourth-storey window of her New York apartment while trying to escape from a burglar. Pictured in London in February 2004
‘They take me to the best restaurants and fly me abroad. They pay for my companionship and we only have sex if I want to. It’s voluntary.
‘But most of the time they are so hot I end up being the one begging them. I have no regrets – I’m having fun. I started doing this for the money and when everything is sorted I will stop.’
Miriam claimed that she had turned to prostitution to pay off hospital bills racked up after an accident in 2007, which saw her fall out of the fourth-storey window of her New York apartment while trying to escape from a burglar.
Ms Ørtoft disputes media reports about the circumstances of that 2007 accident, however.
‘Some masked men threw [Miriam] out from the fifth floor [of her New York apartment] and she broke almost every bone in her body,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I didn’t know her at the time, but I can only imagine that it has a big impact on your trust in people when you’ve been a victim of attempted murder.’
Remy Blumenfeld, the British television producer who created There’s Something About Miriam told Daily Mail Australia this week he was ‘very saddened to learn of Miriam’s death at such a young age.’
‘She was a warm, loving and generous human being, with huge courage and personal grace,’ he said.
‘As a teenager in rural Mexico she found the strength and self belief to challenge the pervasive prejudices and agreements about gender, growing up without seeing any trans people on TV.
‘She was committed to becoming a trailblazer. First as a talented singer and subsequently as a TV star, Miriam went on to become one of the world’s first visible trans stars.
‘She was forced to confront prejudice throughout her life but in recent years she took great pleasure in the popularity of shows such as Transparent and POSE which prominently feature trans characters.’
Miriam on Big Brother Australia
Miriam is better known in Australia for appearing on the local version of Big Brother than she is for There’s Something About Miriam.
She entered the house, located within the Dreamworld amusement park on Queensland’s Gold Coast, late in the game as an ‘intruder’.
Host Gretel Killeen introduced her as ‘the famous, the infamous, the beautiful Mexican model with that little extra something!’
Remember this? Miriam (centre) is pictured with Big Brother contestants, including Bree Amer, Ryan ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald and Merlin Luck, on June 11, 2004
The contestants were not told beforehand about Miriam’s arrival, or her true gender, and she entered the house using the alias ‘Maria’.
On her first day, she taught the Big Brother stars, including Ryan ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald and Bree Amer, how to salsa dance as part of a challenge.
On day two, she was introduced to an Australian delicacy: Vegemite on toast.
After much speculation, she was eventually confronted about her gender in the house, and revealed: ‘I wasn’t born as a woman. I was born as a man.’
Coming clean: On her second day in the house, the Big Brother contestants began speculating about Miriam’s gender. She eventually told them: ‘I wasn’t born as a woman. I was born as a man’
Former TV producer Rob McKnight told Daily Mail Australia that Miriam ‘certainly had an impact on the world’ during her brief time in the spotlight.
‘There’s Something About Miriam aired here on Channel 10 and I remember it well,’ said McKnight, who is the editor of respected industry website TV Blackbox.
‘While it wasn’t a ratings success in Australia it certainly created headlines with its unexpected twist. It was daring, confronting and changed the rules of reality television. No longer could participants looking for their 15 minutes of fame be guaranteed of a safe run, they now knew that by going on these shows anything could happen.
‘Of course there was always the ethical question on whether it was fair to those taking part, but it certainly made for compelling television.
‘There’s Something About Miriam was the kind of show that will forever be known as a game changer. Even if you never watched it you have most probably heard about it. The show was so big at the time Ricky Gervais was even talking about it on his XFM radio show.
‘Just like Big Brother, this show had a twist so shocking people wanted to see how it played out.
‘The success and notoriety of the show led to Miriam being asked to appear on the local series of Big Brother here in Australia. She certainly had an impact on the world and I hope she eventually found happiness.’
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Channel 10, the network that aired Miriam’s season of Big Brother Australia, for comment.
Gone too soon: Remy Blumenfeld, the British TV producer who created There’s Something About Miriam told Daily Mail Australia that he was ‘very saddened to learn of Miriam’s death’