Brooke Shields: From Teen Idol To Hollywood Star

Brooke Shields is one of Hollywood's most revered and enduring stars. With a career spanning five decades, the statuesque beauty stirred up a firestorm of controversy with her first film, starring as a teenage sex worker in 1978's "Pretty Baby" when she was just 12 years old. She did it again with another provocative role in 1980's "The Blue Lagoon," getting naked with Christopher Atkinson on a tropical island, per The Guardian. At 15, Shields cemented her teen idol status, appearing in a now infamous, sexually suggestive ad for Calvin Klein jeans.

In 1996, Shields began starring in her own sitcom, "Suddenly Susan," which ran for four seasons on NBC, earning her two Golden Globe nominations. The winner of five People's Choice Awards also created a series of memorable roles in films and TV, including stints on "Nip Tuck," "The Middle," "Law & Order: SVU," and "Jane the Virgin." But for the Princeton University grad, nothing came easy. Her sophomore series, "Lipstick Jungle," was yanked by NBC after just one season.

Shields had a difficult relationship with her "momager" Teri, a few short-lived showbiz romances, and a rocky marriage to professional tennis player Andre Agassi. These days, the Broadway veteran and podcast host is opening up about playing grandmother roles, looking and feeling sexy after 50, and how she continues to stay relevant. The founder of her own lifestyle brand, "Beginning is Now," is just getting started on her next chapter. We have all the details about her remarkable life and storied career.

Brooke Shields played sexualized roles before she reached puberty

Brooke Shields has been in the spotlight her entire life, shooting her first commercial for Ivory Soap before she celebrated her first birthday. At age 12, she played a sex worker in Louis Malle's film "Pretty Baby." Shields' mom Teri was slammed by the media for the sexualization of her daughter in the film and in 1980's "The Blue Lagoon," which features Shields and Christopher Atkins as two teens exploring sex on a tropical island, per The Guardian.

Speaking to The Times in 2021, Shields defended her early career choices, which included another sensual role in the 1981 film "Endless Love." "Maybe the movies I did wouldn't be made now because of such censorship, and that's a tremendous loss," she said. "'Pretty Baby' is one of the most beautiful movies I've ever been in, and I will defend it forever." Meanwhile, Shields was also setting the modeling world on fire. At 14, she became the youngest person ever to grace the cover of Vogue.

The model made waves again the following year with her infamous TV spot for Calvin Klein jeans, which included the tagline, "You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing." The ad was considered risqué at the time, and two TV networks banned it. In a 2021 interview with Vogue, Shields insisted she never grasped the double entendre. "I think the assumption is that I was much more savvy than I ever really was," she said.

The actor had a complicated relationship with her mother

Brooke Shields was raised and managed by her mother, Teri, a former hairstylist and makeup artist from Newark, New Jersey. Brooke's father, Frances Shields, divorced Teri just months after she was born, per The Hollywood Reporter. While managing her daughter's career, Teri also set Brooke up with one Hollywood heartthrob after another, all the while partying with her at New York's famed Studio 54. "I was her greatest creation," Brooke told People in 2014. "It was us against the world."

Teri was protective, but she was also controlling. When Shields was writing her memoir, "There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me," her mother pressured Brooke to go public about losing her virginity to then Princeton classmate and future "Superman" star Dean Cain at age 22, effectively painting herself as "the most celebrated virgin of our time." In her book, via People, Shields wrote that Cain "was incredibly and painfully patient with me regarding sex. I made him wait and wait and my mom kept track."

In 1995, Shields cut professional ties with her mother. "I had to leave her because of her addiction," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "It was long overdue. I needed to grab the reins and make my own mistakes." Following Teri's death in 2012, Shields placed her ashes in a beautiful urn above her living room bar. By doing that, Shields wrote, "She could remain forever close to the two most important things in her life: me and booze."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Why the celebrity chose the Ivy League

Brooke Shields graduated cum laude from Princeton University, earning a bachelor's degree in French literature, per ABC News. She chose the prestigious Ivy League institution as a way to change the way the world looked at her. "The ability to say I graduated with honors from this esteemed place, coming from the entertainment industry, enabled me to have my own opinions," Shields told Glamour in 2022. "And I don't think I had them before."

As a Princeton graduate, Shields joined a select list of Hollywood A-list Ivy Leaguers, including Laura Linney, who went to Brown, Yale alum Angela Bassett, and Natalie Portman, who attended Harvard. "I knew I needed to develop intellectually so I wouldn't become a victim to the pitfalls of the industry," Shields added about the school she planned to attend as long as she can remember. It "definitely changed the entire trajectory of the way I looked at my life and the way I was received in my life."

When celebrities attend high-profile campuses, paparazzi usually find them, or they make their best efforts. "The paparazzi tried to sneak onto campus, dressed like what they thought college students looked like, and follow me around," Shields wrote in her biography. One photographer attempted to bribe a student to snap a pic of her in the shower. "They would have been in for a surprise if they tried, because I had taken to showering in a one-piece bathing suit!" she wrote.  

Brooke Shields had several other celebrity romances

Brooke Shields has been linked to a number of famous men. According to "There Was a Little Girl," via People, she dated John F. Kennedy Jr. while she checked out Brown University. The "Pretty Baby" star was also infatuated with Liam Neeson. "I was so impressed with going out with a real movie star," she wrote. The relationship got hot and heavy pretty quickly. After just a few months, the "Taken" star popped the question without a ring. Then, he never called back.

In the '80s, Shields had a crush on "I Want Your Sex" singer George Michael, who came out as gay in 1998, and apparently wanted something Shields couldn't offer. "It was definitely one-sided," she wrote. Shields had a special relationship with Michael Jackson, who met the actor when she was 13, and the King of Pop was 20. "We felt really safe. Together, we felt impervious to the craziness that swirled around us. We joked about how silly people were and watched movies and ate candy," she wrote, per People.

"Of course, we loved each other, but nothing happened romantically," Shields noted. "He was like this kid who would ask you [about dating and romance]. Nobody was telling him and nurturing this stuff and I think he was terrified." At Jackson's 2009 memorial service, Shields spoke about their cherished bond many dismissed as "an odd couple" or "an unlikely pair." "It was the most natural and easiest of friendships," she said, per MTV News.

Her marriage to tennis star Andre Agassi was turbulent

Brooke Shields and Andre Agassi met in 1993, and the two childhood phenoms had a few things in common. They both grew up in the spotlight with parents who managed their careers and their lives. The tennis pro swept Shields off her feet, sending her long, impassioned faxes while she was filming "Running Wild" in South Africa. "The whole relationship with him was so necessary. He gave me my first taste of freedom from my mom. He swept me away," she wrote in "There Was a Little Girl," via Tennis Magazine.

They walked down the aisle in 1997, but her fairytale romance with the eight-time Grand Slam champ didn't have a happy ending. Agassi flew off the handle after watching Shields' "finger-licking good" performance on an episode of "Friends." "He said I made him look like a fool by licking Joey's fingers and he got in his car and drove all the way to Vegas. Once there, he smashed all of his tennis trophies, destroying them in a rage," Shields wrote.

On another occasion, an ordinary phone call turned into a shocking revelation from Agassi. "He explained to me that for the first whole part of our relationship, he had been addicted to crystal meth," she wrote. The "Endless Love" star wanted to try to work things out in couples counseling, but Agassi wouldn't even give it a shot, and they divorced in 1999. In spite of all they went through, Shields added, "He is a really good human being."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

The actor landed her dream role on TV

After her breakout guest-starring turn as Erika, a crazed soap fan on "Friends," Brooke Shields landed her own sitcom called "Suddenly Susan”, which premiered in 1996 and ran for four seasons. In the series, which also stars Judd Nelson and Kathy Griffin, Shields plays a San Francisco magazine editor adjusting to life as a single woman. "It was because of my Friends episode that NBC wanted to do a show with me as the lead," Shields told PureWow in 2021.

"Had it not been for that crazy part, I don't think anybody necessarily would've known that was what I love to do more than anything," she added. Gary Dontzig, who was an executive producer on "Suddenly Susan," confirmed Shields' account, telling The New York Times at the time, ”Most of us out here watched that episode of 'Friends,' and there was Brooke Shields doing this way out there, kind of courageous stuff."

In 2009, Shields starred in another series for NBC, joining "Grey's Anatomy" star Kim Raver and "Beverly Hills 90210" alum Lindsay Price on "Lipstick Jungle." The show centers on the lives of three of New York's most powerful women. In an interview with MovieWeb, Shields said, "I think these women are showing us — the women of Lipstick are saying to us that it's okay to be successful and it's also okay to be happy with your success even though it might not be easy." The series, on the other hand, was a major flop. NBC pulled the plug after only one season.

She struggled with postpartum depression

Brooke Shields married TV writer and producer Chris Henchy in 2001, and they share two daughters, per Today. When they decided to start a family, the couple had a difficult time conceiving. Shields had a miscarriage, then she went through several rounds of IVF before welcoming daughter Rowan in 2003. "I finally had a healthy beautiful baby girl and I couldn't look at her," said Shields in 2009, as she received an award at New York's Hope for Depression Research Foundation, per People.

"I couldn't hold her and I couldn't sing to her and I couldn't smile at her ... All I wanted to do was disappear and die," she added. Shields, who revealed she once contemplated driving her car into a brick wall, sought treatment and discovered she had a chemical imbalance. "I learned I wasn't doing anything wrong to feel that way. That it was actually out of my control." At a 2018 fundraiser for The Foundation of Hope in Raleigh, North Carolina, Shields spoke about being diagnosed with postpartum depression.

"I couldn't believe that I had been so devastated by it, and I was made to feel horrible about being weak," she said, per WRAL. Stressing that speaking out is not a sign of weakness, Shields pointed to the stigma surrounding mental health issues as a roadblock for many people. "I was forced to suffer silently, which is what a majority of people do," she said. "That's where the real human tragedy comes from."

The former teen idol took on a grandma role

Brooke Shields has played a lot of guest-starring roles over the course of her career. Her steamy stint as Dr. Faith Wolper, Christian's therapist on Season 4 of FX's "Nip Tuck" certainly gained attention. "You are back to work and you are back with a bang," Access Hollywood's Billy Bush said to Shields, who had recently welcomed her second daughter, Grier. "You really picked quite a role to return to." The actor also played Miley's mom on "Hannah Montana" and Colonel Kat Young on the seventh season of Lifetime's "Army Wives."

In 2017, "Law & Order: SVU" star and executive producer Mariska Hargitay chose Shields for a recurring role on the long-running series. "I've never played a grandmother before, and I have to say, I practically punched Mariska [Hargitay] in the face when she said, 'Oh, and by the way, you're playing a grandmother,'" Shields told The Hollywood Reporter with a chuckle. "I was like, 'Oh, that's great. That's how you lure me in? You actresses are all alike!'"

On the show, Shields plays the biological grandmother of Benson's adopted son Noah, who finds herself pitted against the police captain, fighting for custody of the boy. "You always have to have the kid in mind first and so these two women are forced to kind of let go of their ego, let go of their past and come together in a very modern, unique relationship," the "All Underdogs Go To Heaven" actor said.

Brooke Shields didn't look glamorous on The Middle

In 2009, Brooke Shields started a recurring role on ABC's "The Middle," playing Rita Glossner, Frankie Heck's nightmare of a neighbor. Shields told A.V. Club she had some input into the look of her tattooed, mullet-wearing character. "Many times I'll get hired and then people sort of get scared and don't want me to look bad or possibly be unappealing. So it was nice that they were very willing to have me both look bad and be unappealing!" she said. Notably, this wasn't the only age-appropriate and less-than-flattering role Shields took on around this time.

In 2013, the actress starred alongside Wanda Sykes and Virginia Madsen in "The Hot Flashes," a female-centric comedy about a group of middle-aged hoopsters. In an interview with Broadway World, Shields said all the ladies had to learn how to play basketball for the film, and it wasn't just for laughs. Unfortunately, critics weren't exactly rolling on the floor. While The New York Post rated the cast "better than ever; in the cases of Brooke Shields and Daryl Hannah, remarkably better," The New York Times called the movie a flat-out "mess."

On "Jane the Virgin," Shields played an actress and supermodel named River Fields. Sound familiar? The character is a wink to the actor's name and her signature full eyebrows. "They originally wanted me to play my name, and I said, 'It's so much better if you just, instead of Brooke, you do something like River or, you know, Stream,'" Shields told the Austin-American Statesman in 2019.

The former model had a serious accident

Brooke Shields has always worked hard to stay in shape. But in 2021, she had to work extra hard to recover from a horrible workout-related injury. While exercising on the balance beam at her gym, Shields broke her femur, which required several surgeries and having metal rods inserted in her leg. After the incident, the "Nip Tuck" alum told People about the harrowing ordeal, explaining that she fell off the board, then went airbound, eventually crash-landing on her thigh.

"It felt like it was all in slow motion. And then I just started screaming," she said. "Sounds came out that I've never heard before. The pain was so excruciating." Shields later developed a serious staph infection and landed back in the hospital for emergency surgery. While she shared much of her at-home recovery on social media, she admitted sometimes losing hope. "For the first time in my entire life, I thought, 'I can't power through this,'" she said. "I can't even stand on my leg or go up a step. I need to relearn how to even walk." 

In a 2021 interview with Deborah Roberts for "Good Morning America," Shields said she's hopeful there will be an upside to what she has been through. "If I can turn it into anything positive, or I can teach my girls, yeah, stuff is going to happen in your life, and how you respond is going to define you, and adversity will reveal you."

Brooke Shields found a new 'Beginning'

In 2021, Brooke Shields founded her own lifestyle brand, an online platform focused on the overall wellness of women over 40, who like her, are often overlooked. "I'm still in a career, I'm still working, I'm here and I was shocked by how unrepresented I was," Shields told Gayle King for Oprah Daily. "You're either [in your] 20s and sexy and fabulous or you're in Depends and you've got dentures."

In an interview with The New York Post, the former model and entrepreneur explained that Beginning is Now takes a different approach to well-being than other celebrity-backed brands like Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP or Cindy Crawford's Urban Remedy. "This isn't just yoga mats and vitamins and a mantra. It's not just about diet and exercise, or fitting into some size clothing," she said. "It's about overall health, finding things that make you happy."

The following year, the best-selling author took to the airwaves, launching her own podcast, "Now What? With Brooke Shields." According to Apple Podcasts, it's getting rave reviews. The weekly show features conversations with celebrity guests, experts, and fellow authors about things that "knocked them off their feet and what they did to get back up." Appearing on "Good Morning America," Shields said, (4:10) "We all have 'now what?' moments that just throw us for a loop. I'm so interested in how people go through those journeys."

Brooke Shields is comfortable in her own skin

While most of us hunkered down at home during the pandemic, Brooke Shields traveled to Scotland to shoot "A Castle for Christmas," a Netflix romantic comedy that premiered in 2021. "If I could, I would be doing rom-coms and sitcoms 24/7," said Shields, who stars opposite "The Princess Bride" actor Cary Elwes, to The Washington Post. "To me, that is my happy place." The "Jane the Virgin" alum also noted that a woman over the age of 50 playing the romantic lead is rare.

"Why is menopause just associated with being crusty and old and dried up?" she asked. "I am better now than I was ever before. I'm more focused and more confident. I feel sexier." In a 2019 interview on Build Series, Shields explained that despite being a teenage supermodel, she was very self-conscious about her body growing up. Mostly, it was because she wasn't skinny like the models who worked the runways.

"So I sort of grew up with this belief that I didn't look good, I didn't have a good body, so focus on the face," she said. "There was a whole piece of me and my life that I just put blinders on." These days, she has a much better attitude about what she sees in the mirror. "Now I'm actually celebrating it more because I look at this body that I've lived in for a long time and appreciate it because it served me," the "Holiday Harmony" actor added.