Irene Banerjee: The Woman Behind the Chippendales Empire

Irene Banerjee was the wife of Somen “Steve” Banerjee, the founder of Chippendales, the first male-stripper dance troupe in the U.S. She played a crucial role in the success of the business, but also witnessed its downfall and tragedy. Here is her story.

Early Life and Career

Irene Banerjee was born on November 10, 1956, in Lackawanna, Erie County, New York. She was one of five children of Anna and Wolodymyr Tychowskyj, who worked as aluminum siding suppliers. Irene had a passion for accounting and finance, and she pursued her dreams of becoming a Hollywood bookkeeper. By the age of 22, she had left home and worked for Warner Bros and a landscaping company.

Meeting Steve Banerjee

Irene met Steve Banerjee in the late 1970s, when he was running a nightclub called Destiny II in Los Angeles. Steve was an Indian immigrant who had moved to the U.S. in 1968 with his family. He had worked as a gas station attendant, a janitor, and a motel manager before buying Destiny II in 1975.

Steve had a vision of creating a male-centered strip club that would cater to women. He hired Nick De Noia, an Emmy-winning director and choreographer, to produce and direct the shows. He also recruited Dorothy Stratten, a model and actress, to help him scout for talent. Together, they launched Chippendales in 1979, which became an instant hit and a cultural phenomenon.

Irene and Steve got married in the early 1980s and had two children. Irene was an accountant by trade and helped Steve with the financial aspects of the business. She also supported him in his legal battles with De Noia and other competitors who tried to copy or sabotage his concept.

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The Downfall of Chippendales

However, Steve’s success also brought him paranoia, jealousy, and greed. He became obsessed with protecting his brand and eliminating his rivals. He hired Ray Colon, a former Palm Springs police officer and lounge room entertainer, to murder De Noia in 1987. Colon, in turn, hired Gilberto Rivera Lopez to carry out the killing. De Noia was shot dead by a man posing as a messenger at his midtown Manhattan office on April 7, 1987.

Steve also plotted to kill Stratten, who had left him for director Peter Bogdanovich and was murdered by her estranged husband Paul Snider in 1980. He also planned to burn down rival clubs and hire hitmen to kill other choreographers and dancers.

In 1993, Steve was arrested on federal charges of attempted arson, racketeering, and murder-for-hire. He faced a possible sentence of 26 years in prison. Irene reportedly left him after his arrest, but still cared for him. She organized a group of character witnesses for him, hoping to reduce his sentence.

The Death of Irene Banerjee

Steve hanged himself in his jail cell on October 23, 1994, just one day before his sentencing. He left behind his wife and children, as well as his Chippendales empire and wealth. According to some sources he was worth around $4 or $5 million at the time of his death.

Irene inherited his fortune and his business interests. However, she did not get much time to enjoy her riches or her freedom. She died of breast cancer on February 8, 2001, at the age of 44. She left behind her children, who were still minors at the time.

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The Legacy of Irene Banerjee

Irene Banerjee was more than just the wife of Steve Banerjee. She was a smart and talented woman who helped him build his Chippendales brand from scratch. She was loyal and supportive of him until the end, even when he betrayed her trust and committed heinous crimes.

She was also a victim of his actions, as she had to endure the pain and humiliation of his arrest and suicide. She also had to face her own mortality at a young age, leaving behind her children without their parents.

Irene Banerjee’s life story is dramatized in the Hulu series Welcome to Chippendales, which premiered in November 2022. She is portrayed by Annaleigh Ashford, a Tony-winning actress who starred in Impeachment: American Crime Story.

The series is based on real-life events and people1, but some details about Irene’s character are imagined to add more depth to her story1. Ashford told Newsweek1 that she wanted to make sure she knew the time and the era well, and how women were treated in that moment in history.

Irene Banerjee’s story is one of triumph and tragedy, of love and loss, of fame and fortune. She was the woman behind the Chippendales empire, but she also had a life of her own. She deserves to be remembered and honored for her contributions and her courage.

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