As fans are still reeling after saying goodbye to Pauley Perrette’s beloved NCIS character Abby Sciuto, we’re taking a look back at the actress’ ups and downs — including the real-life events that sound like they could be straight out of the procedural drama.
The actress was born in New Orleans in 1969 and raised throughout the South. In an interview with PEOPLE earlier in May, Perrette, 49, said she was “completely obsessed” with crime stories as a kid.
“I lived in Georgia at the time of the Atlanta child murders, and I was around the same age of those kids, and I lived right off the Chattahoochee River,” she said of the series of murders that were committed in the city from 1979-81. “I was very young then, but I was obsessed with that case. Then I got really obsessed with Jonestown. I was way too young to be obsessed with these things, but I would cut out every article — I really don’t like bad guys.”
Perrette went on to study criminal science, sociology and psychology at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia. From there, Perrette moved to New York City, where she planned on finishing her master’s degree at the John Jay School of Criminal Science until she “accidentally” became an actor.
While doing odd jobs in New York, Perrette overheard a girl saying that she had made $3,000 shooting a commercial.
“I was thinking, ‘Who has $3,000?’ Like, that’s insane,” Perrette said in an interview with CBS News. “So then Walter from coat check, the actor, had come up to me and said, ‘I know this director who’d love you.’ So I found the guy’s name, walked into his office, and I went, ‘Hey. Walter from coat check said you’d love me.’ “
Before long, Perrette was booking commercials and moved to Los Angeles. In 2000, she appeared as a DJ opposite the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous.
Perrette’s initial appearances as Abby happened on two episodes of the CBS legal drama, JAG. In 2003, Perrette took her place in the NCIS lab and remained on the show for 15 seasons.
While Perrette found massive success during her early days of NCIS, she was simultaneously dealing with major issues in her personal life. After marrying actor and musician Francis “Coyote” Shivers in 2000, their relationship came to a dramatic end in 2004. Perrette was granted a permanent restraining order against Shivers following their split as the court found his actions “frightening” towards her and called it “stalking,” according to the restraining order. When Shivers violated the restraining order twice, he ended up being arrested and booked in 2012. Shivers was convicted and sentenced to 90 days in prison.
Perrette, who said she has been stalked for the last 14 years and opened up about it during a 48 Hours exposé in 2017 (though she would not name the stalker in question), has fought for a long time to change stalking laws.
“I have a permanent restraining order, but those can only do so much,” she said. “The biggest problem we have right now is that the stalking laws have not been updated since the Internet. That is just ridiculous because a lot of stalkers use the Internet, that’s their main tool. There’s a lot we have to get changed but especially Internet stalking laws.”
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Years after her split from Shivers, Perrette dated and became engaged to cameraman Michael Bosman around 2008, however the two never got married. In 2011, Perrette announced her engagement to former British Royal Marine Thomas Arklie, but the pair said they would not get married until California’s Proposition 8, which eliminated the right of same sex couples to marry, ended. It is unclear when the pair split.
In November 2015, a homeless man was charged with attacking Perrette outside of her Hollywood Hills home. David Merck allegedly grabbed Perrette, punched her repeatedly and threatened to kill her before he ran off. He was charged with one felony count each of making a criminal threat and false imprisonment by violence, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Merck pleaded not guilty, but was deemed incompetent to stand trial. A judge ruled in October 2016 that Merck serve time at a jail-based competency treatment program in San Bernardino County. According to Fox 11 Los Angeles, Merck was released in February 2018.
Perrette has long been a fan favorite of NCIS and in 2017, she was named one of the highest-paid actresses on TV by Forbes. The outlet reported that she made $8.5 million that year. According to TV Guide, Perrette made an estimated $175,000 per episode on the show.
But in October 2017, Perrette announced that she would be leaving NCIS following its 15th season; her final episode aired May 8.
“It is true that I am leaving NCIS after this season,” she wrote in a statement posted to Twitter, which also promised the “network and show are not mad at me.”
“It was a decision made last year,” she explained. “I hope everyone will love and enjoy EVERYTHING ABBY not only for the rest of this season, but for everything she has given all of us for 16 years. All the love, all the laughter, all the inspiration.”
Days after her emotional final episode, Perrette spoke out about her NCIS departure on Twitter, claiming that it was due to “multiple physical assaults.”
On May 15, CBS Television Studios confirmed to PEOPLE in a statement that the actress came forward with a “workplace concern” over a year ago and that it “took the matter seriously.”
Now, Perrette is continuing to make sure that Abby’s impact will live on for years to come: She has created a scholarship fund for women hoping to follow in Abby’s fictional footsteps and pursue a real-life career in math and science at her alma mater, Valdosta State, and John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
She said she also spends much of her free time at home with her pets — and is looking forward to some time out of the spotlight.
“It’s just very dehumanizing,” she told CBS News. “I hope I’m not wrong, but I think that I have earned a little bit of time to myself. Just stay home. Go to church.” (Perrette is a regular at Hollywood United Methodist.)
The actress also revealed that she’s uninterested in pursuing a love life — “Tried it. Not for me. Not at all,” she said — and is “delighted” at her decision.
“Probably the best decision I ever made in my life was the time that it took me to go like, ‘Wait a minute. This is silly. I don’t have to have a boyfriend, or a husband, or a girlfriend, or anything, you know?’ ” she said. “I don’t need any of that. Like, I do whatever I want. I do whatever I want. And I think that is rad!”