One of a family of ten children raised by his widowed mother in the slums of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Silva (born November 29, 1967) was 11 when director Hector Babenco selected him from more than 1,300 boys to play the title role in Pixote in a 1980 a film about Brazilian street children. The motion picture was an international critical success and focused much needed attention on the plight of that country's downtrodden, and largely forgotten urban youth. Overnight, Silva (who was paid less than $1,000 for the role) was made into an international star while in his home country he became the poster child for a class of disenfranchised slum children more likely to die at the hands of police than live to become adults. The youngster appeared on Brazilian television promoting Christmas cards for the United Nations Children's Fund. TV Globo, Brazil's major television network, gave Silva a one year contract to appear as a juvenile delinquent on a soap opera, but unable to read his lines, he quit showing up for work and was fired after six months. Similarly, the mayor of Duque de Caxias, an impoverished suburb of Sao Paulo, awarded the young star a scholarship to acting school, but Silva quit after two days preferring instead to hang out at neighborhood theatres to watch Pixote. After appearing briefly in the role of an errand boy in Gabriela, Cravo e Canela, a 1983 film by Bruno Barreto, Silva returned to the slums of Sao Paulo and logged a series of arrests for theft.
In May 1984, Silva, 16, was arrested for the fifth time since Pixote for what police inspector Joao Paulo de Quieroz called, "doing in real life what he was portrayed as doing in the film." Arrested in Sao Paulo where he lived with his mother and nine brothers and sisters, the former child star admitted stealing a television set, stereo equipment, and clothes from the home of a luncheonette owner. Silva escaped from jail three months later. It all ended on August 25, 1987, in Diadema, an industrial suburb of Sao Paulo. Silva, 19, and two others were shot to death while fleeing a botched robbery attempt. Police maintained the one-time actor was armed with a .32-caliber Smith & Wesson and was gunned down resisting arrest. Silva's family disputed the official version of his death maintaining he was murdered by a police force well-known throughout the world for its roaming death squads who kept peace by eliminating suspected petty criminals. According to family reports, Silva had become more settled after the birth of his daughter two years earlier. He even returned to acting having recently returned home from northeastern Brazil where he appeared as a hired assassin in a play called Atalipa My Love. Silva, who felt trapped by his association with Pixote, was targeted and harassed by police who thought he was the role that he had played. The family's contention was bolstered one day after the shooting when an unidentified woman appeared on TV Globo and gave a radically different account of Silva's last moments than the official police version. She was in her home when Silva rushed in and tried to hide under a bed. When confronted by police, Silva shouted, "Don't kill me, I have a family!" "Pixote" was shot eight times even though the woman insisted he was unarmed. A forensic report confirmed the man was prone on the floor and shot from above when he died. In September 1987, three state troopers were arrested and dismissed from the force after they allegedly attempted to falsify reports and tamper with evidence in the case.