Tragic Details About Brooke Shields

The following article includes mentions of alcoholism, abuse, sexual assault, mental health struggles, and suicide.

Brooke Shields has been famous for her entire life — literally, since she appeared in her first advertisement, for Ivory soap, at 11 months old — and has somehow managed to keep a good head on her shoulders. This is all the more impressive considering her primary guardian was a controlling stage mother with a severe struggle with alcoholism. From an extremely young age, Shields also had to deal with a near-constant focus on her looks and invasive media interviews that included questions that would never fly today. All of this — which is the subject of the 2023 documentary "Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields" — meant that Shields was forced to grow up far too early.

Shields' origins read much like a Nicholas Sparks novel. Her working-class mother got pregnant at age 30, and her 23-year-old father's wealthy parents offered her mom money in exchange for terminating the pregnancy. Shield's mother agreed but went back on her promise, and so the star's parents married five months before her 1965 birth. They divorced months later, which set the stage for Shields and her mother to develop a co-dependent relationship, where the personal and professional could not be separated.

This celeb has tackled many areas of show business throughout her career — modeling, commercials, film, TV, theater, books — and she has reinvented herself on numerous occasions. There is no denying she is an icon (her eyebrows alone are legendary!), but the road has clearly not always been easy. Here are some tragic details about Brooke Shields.

Brooke Shields' mother struggled with alcoholism

Though Brooke Shields remained close with her father after her parents divorced, it was her mother, Teri Shields, who called most of the shots. She was Brooke's primary caregiver, and she is the one who put her into the entertainment business when she was only a baby. Brooke has said that dad Frank Shields — who remarried and had more children — disliked her celebrity, but Teri was the catalyst for it. She operated as Brooke's manager and controlled every aspect of her early career, arguably making some truly questionable choices that Brooke had to defend (more on that later). Teri also kept her daughter on a tight leash, policing her behavior and micromanaging everything from thank-you notes to autograph signing. Teri's co-dependence was especially difficult for a young Brooke, because of Teri's alcoholism.

While Teri was hellbent on ensuring Brooke had perfect manners, she herself was apparently known for being unpredictable, angry, and harsh when drinking — even toward her daughter. Despite the alleged emotional abuse Teri inflicted upon her, including regular body shaming in private and in public, Brooke took on the role of caregiver very early. In addition to being the breadwinner, she took care of her mother when she drank and defended Teri's erratic behavior and embarrassing outbursts.  

"I did my first intervention when I was 13," Brooke told "Today" in April 2023. "... As a daughter, I was so busy trying to keep her alive and protect her against the world."

The Pretty Baby star was sexualized on screen at a very early age

The most startling part of "Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields" is the examination of Brooke Shields' early sexualization, both on screen and off. It was shocking to see all of the evidence presented using a modern-day lens, and even Brooke's own daughters could not understand the choices that were made or the way that people reacted to her as a child. The title of the documentary is referencing the 1978 film "Pretty Baby," in which an 11-year-old Brooke is shown fully nude. It created controversy at the time — and there are plenty of interviews where Brooke and her mother must defend her casting — but nothing like what would happen today. Brooke played a sex worker in the film, and she was also tasked with kissing actor Keith Carradine, then in his late-20s.

Though many take issue with the project, and though she's said she wouldn't let her own kids to do it, Brooke herself does not regret making "Pretty Baby." In 2018, she told Vanity Fair, "It was the best creative project I've ever been associated with, the best group of people I've ever been blessed enough to work with." Allowing Brooke to appear nude in the film is not the only questionable career choice Teri Shields made for her — she did a nude pictorial for a Playboy offshoot at 10, for example — but Brooke still feels defensive of her mother. 

After "Pretty Baby," Brooke was cast in other highly sexualized roles in films, such as "The Blue Lagoon" and "Endless Love."

Brooke Shields was shamed for her Calvin Klein campaign

Brooke Shields' early sexualization went beyond movie screens, and it's evident in just about every interview the young star did as a preteen and teen. The fawning over her looks by adults and the invasive questions about Shields' own sexuality only intensified after she starred in a now-infamous Calvin Klein campaign in 1980. There are plenty of examples of inappropriate interviews in the documentary "Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields," but one stands out above the rest for Shields. 

"I mean, Barbara Walters, on air, asked me to stand up to compare our figures because she asked me what my measurements were, as if I knew my waist in inches or centimeters, you know? I was 15," Shields said in an interview with NPR. Shields also referred to the interview — in which Walters asked probing questions about her intimate life and sexual history — as "practically criminal" on an episode of Dax Shepard's "Armchair Expert" podcast in 2021, adding, "It's not journalism."

The way that Shields was shamed for her role in the Calvin Klein commercial is indeed arguably appalling, but the jeans ad was incredibly successful because of the controversy — despite being banned in multiple countries and on several American networks. Her "Do you know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing" line is also iconic, even if Shields herself had no idea it would be a thing. "I was naive, I didn't think anything of it. I didn't think it had to do with underwear, I didn't think it was sexual in nature," Shields told People.

She lost a court battle to ban the publication of nude underage photos

As we previously noted, a 10-year-old Brooke Shields was instructed to pose for a nude pictorial that was shot for the Playboy Press publication "Sugar and Spice." The photographs, shot by photographer Garry Gross, featured Brooke fully nude in a bathtub, wearing heavy makeup and covered in body oil and not much else aside from jewelry. In 2009, a picture of one of the pictures — not even the original! — was pulled from a British art exhibition after authorities said it came into conflict with obscenity laws. And yet, that particular 1976 issue of "Sugar and Spice" is still accessible today for people who are willing to shell out big bucks. For instance, a used issue is listed on Amazon for $956, as of September 2023. Brooke was paid $450 for the shoot, which was consented to by her mother, Teri Shields.

The mother-daughter duo sued Gross in 1981 to stop the use of the photos, claiming they could damage her thriving career. While the photos were temporarily banned from use, the judge ultimately ruled in favor of Gross. Gross' team argued that Brooke profited off of a reputation "as a young vamp and a harlot, a seasoned sexual veteran, a provocative child-woman, an erotic and sensual sex symbol, the Lolita of her generation," and that the photos could therefore not hurt her image (via The Guardian). The ruling was overturned upon appeal, and then taken to the state's highest court, where Brooke was deemed unable to overrule the 1975 contract signed by her mother.

Brooke Shields testified after her anti-smoking ads were pulled from the air

Though Brooke Shields was a virgin at the time of her Calvin Klein commercial — a fact that was highly publicized a few years later after she noted it in her book "On Your Own" — the teen was slut-shamed by many people. Conflating her sexualized print and screen endeavors with her real-life personhood, she was also labeled a poor role model by some. This whole hypersexualized perception of Shields became an even bigger issue after she posed for anti-smoking advertisements in 1980. After the campaign was abruptly pulled out of rotation, a House subcommittee called a hearing and summoned Shields to testify in 1981 — drawing throngs of fans to the Capitol. Many suggested that the Reagan administration canceled the campaign because of pressure from the tobacco industry, but it was Shields' ability to be a role model that was largely debated.

Given that interviews from that time only highlight how poised and intelligent the youngster was, it is a shame that peoples' discomfort with her image stopped Shields from using her very impactful voice to send teens an important (albeit, superficial) message. Created by The Department of Health and Human Services, the print campaign was shot by a fashion photographer and featured a 15-year-old Shields posing with cigarettes coming out of her ears. She is fully clothed, and in text it says, "Smoking Spoils Your Looks." After the original campaign was pulled, Shields continued her anti-smoking work with the American Lung Association, filming multiple PSAs in 1981 with the tagline "Smokers are losers."

Paparazzi refused to let her live normally at Princeton

In the trailer for "Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields," Brooke Shields' first line is: "The entirety of my life, it was, 'She's a pretty face,' over and over and over and over and over again. And that always just seared me." Of course, this perception could not have been further from the truth, which Shields made abundantly clear when she enrolled at an Ivy League university after high school. Shields attended Princeton University from 1983 to 1987, graduating with a degree in romance languages (with honors). 

"The ability to say I graduated with honors from this esteemed place, coming from the entertainment industry, it enabled me to have my own opinions," she once told Glamour. Halfway through her time at Princeton, Shields wrote a book that noted her virginity, altering her image entirely. At 22, she lost her virginity to her then-boyfriend, fellow Princeton student and actor Dean Cain.

Though she ultimately excelled, Shields at first considered dropping out due to the intense homesickness she felt. She has also said that she struggled to make friends, as people would leave her alone rather than approach. Of course, she was not entirely left alone, since the paparazzi were often on campus disguised as students. "One photographer hid in a vent to photograph me walk to a class; another attempted to bribe a Mathey College freshman to take a camera into the showers and snap me in the nude," she later wrote in her 2014 book, "There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me."

Brooke Shields was sexually assaulted by a Hollywood executive

When Brooke Shields left Princeton University, she struggled to find work after attempting a return to acting. She had to do advertisements in Japan and take on tiny parts just to get back into the industry. The slump lasted a while, through to the mid-1990s, until Shields landed a role in "Grease" on Broadway in 1994 (she played Rizzo). It was during this low point in her career that Shields was assaulted by a Hollywood executive, a fact she recounted publicly for the first time in the 2023 documentary about her life. The pair went to dinner to discuss a potential movie role — or so Shields thought — and so she felt comfortable accepting an offer to go back to the man's room to call a cab. It was there that she was sexually assaulted.

In an interview with NPR, Shields said she blocked out her assault without dealing with it until years later, keeping quiet largely due to fear for her career and because of the perpetrator's power in Hollywood. "You know, it would have seemed like some desperate attempt at attention and pity. And no one would have believed me. They just — no one was believing anybody at that time," she told NPR. "And then to be with — to have it be a powerful person was — I mean, the odds were going to be so against me. And, you know, nobody considers what it takes to go through a trial or the public scrutiny and then the victim shaming."

She immediately regretted marrying Andre Agassi

Brooke Shields starting dating tennis player Andre Agassi in 1993, around the time her career was just starting to bounce back. By the time they got married in 1997, she was starring on her own sitcom "Suddenly Susan." But while the sitcom lasted for four years, the marriage was done in half that time. Shields and Agassi divorced in 1999, but during their marriage, he heavily influenced the direction of her career. It was Agassi who encouraged Shields to follow her dreams of acting on the stage, for example. However, Agassi's allegedly controlling nature ultimately led to the downfall of the marriage, and the pair have not exactly spoken highly of that time period in the years since.

On multiple occasions, Shields has discussed how her memorable 1996 guest appearance on the show "Friends" led to a particularly violent episode, wherein Agassi admittedly smashed all of his trophies, including ones from Wimbledon and the US Open. The scene required Shields to lick co-star Matt LeBlanc's fingers, which set the tennis pro off. "Andre was in the audience supporting me, and he stormed out. He said, 'Everybody's making fun of me. You made a fool of me by that behavior.' I'm, like, 'It's comedy! What is the matter with you?'" Shields told The New Yorker. "I learned later that he was addicted to crystal meth at that point, so that irrational behavior I'm sure had something to do with that." 

In her 2014 book, Shields admitted that her feelings of regret over the marriage started the day after the wedding.

After cutting her mother off as her manager, their relationship soured

Though her mom, Teri Shields, was controlling and oftentimes difficult, Brooke Shields was also very close with her for many years. And since Teri ran Brooke's career, they were not only family but also colleagues. It was the two of them against the world, and unless Brooke was at her father's house, she was with Teri pretty much 24/7. Brooke began taking more agency in her career after graduating from Princeton University, but it was not until she started dating Andre Agassi that her mother's reign as her manager ended. "He was the one who said, 'You need to change it up — get an agent, maybe move to California, be serious,'" Brooke told Good Housekeeping. "And, 'You need to figure out how to separate from your mom.'"

Brooke fired her mother as her manager when she was 30, and it did not go down especially gently. Agassi — who apparently didn't get along with Teri — even had his team clear out Teri's office and ship the contents to his home in Las Vegas. After that, Teri would reportedly tell others that Brooke had "divorced" her (via The Sunday Times), and the two started drifting further apart. They even went through periods with no contact whatsoever, due in large part to Teri's alcoholism. "I'm not quite sure of her whereabouts. Nothing I have done in the past has worked, so it's just best for me to disengage and pray for her," Brooke said in a 2001 interview with the Los Angeles Times, a few years after the "divorce."

Brooke Shields lost her co-star (and best friend) David Strickland to suicide

"Suddenly Susan" ran for four seasons, from 1996 to 2000, producing 93 episodes total. As lead character Susan Keane, Brooke Shields was on the show for the entirety of its run (and was nominated for two Golden Globes for the role). Three other series regulars lasted all four seasons, and we imagine that David Strickland may have done the same had tragedy not struck. Strickland appeared on the first three seasons of the sitcom — which was set at a magazine — as music editor Todd Stities. In addition to being Shields' co-worker, the two were best friends, and his death was understandably extremely difficult for Shields. 

"Losing my best friend to suicide was just ... you just don't recover, really, from those things," she told "Today" in April 2023. In March 1999, Strickland took his own life after an apparent three-day bender in Las Vegas alongside actor Andy Dick. He was found dead in a dingy motel by a private investigator reportedly hired by Shields, after he failed to appear in court (he'd been arrested for cocaine possession months earlier). Insiders claimed to TV Guide (via E! News) that, the night prior, Strickland was seen "smoking crack, snorting cocaine and drinking large quantities of tequila and beer." Strickland had also allegedly stopped taking medication for his bipolar disorder and was reportedly upset about his reduced role in the film "Forces of Nature." 

The originally planned final three episodes of Season 3 of "Suddenly Susan" were canceled so the cast and crew could grieve.

She was stalked by a crazed fan for decades

It's unfortunately not uncommon for celebrities of all genders to have stalkers, but young female celebrities have historically been more at risk than any other demographic of stars. Though Brooke Shields' story is not as extreme as some others of that era — Jodie Foster's stalker tried to assassinate a president, and Rebecca Schaeffer's came to her house and murdered her, after all — it is nonetheless terrifying. 

Brooke's stalker, John Rinaldi, was not only an obsessive fan, but also an alleged friend of mom Teri Shields. Per the Daily Mail, the pair reportedly became pals after Rinaldi began writing fan letters to Brooke as a youth. However, Rinaldi would go on to pepper the star with unwanted and unwelcome contact for decades before she hit her breaking point. When Rinaldi was arrested for stalking and harassing Shields in 2015, court docs stated he'd been doing so for at least 12 years. Brooke had been cordial to the man despite his intrusions, including unwanted letters and social media messages, but decided to act after he spent days parked outside her home and brought her kids gifts. (And he appears to still have a Pinterest page devoted to her, as of this writing). 

Though Rinaldi was found guilty on both charges, he was sentenced to only 60 days in jail in 2016. Shields previously had another stalker who, in 2000, received no jail time after being found guilty — although that man, Mark Bailey, pled guilty and had to stay away from Shields for a decade, per his probation terms.

Brooke Shields had a devastating miscarriage

Two years after divorcing Andre Agassi, Brooke Shields married Chris Henchy, a producer and screenwriter who, amongst other things, co-founded "Funny or Die." The couple got married in April 2001, and then had another, larger wedding a month later. The two quickly started on trying for a family but were met with fertility issues that threw them for a loop. They eventually went on to have two daughters — Rowan was born in 2003, and her younger sister, Grier, came along three years later — but not before years of fertility treatments and a devastating miscarriage.

Shields' miscarriage happened in December 2001, and she wrote about it in detail in her book "Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression." She was at work when she learned that her pregnancy was no longer viable, preparing to go on stage at a fundraiser honoring Jim Henson and benefitting Save the Children. As she was waiting in the wings to make her mark at MuppetFest, where she was singing a duet with Kermit the Frog while dressed like Miss Piggy, Shields' doctor called with news about bloodwork done the previous day. 

"My doctor delicately explains that it is 'nature's way' of saying the baby isn't strong enough to survive, and it's better to have it happen sooner rather than later," Shields explained in the book (via Today). "There is a pause, and then she carefully adds that I am going to have to wait for my body to naturally expel the pregnancy or reabsorb it."

She suffered from a particularly bad case of postpartum depression

Brooke Shields has written a handful of books, but our favorite is the previously mentioned gut-wrenching "Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression." The 2005 memoir is a harrowing account of Shields' struggles after the birth of her first daughter, Rowan, and it's written with incredible unflinching honesty — at a time when people were not openly talking about postpartum depression. 

Amongst other things, Shields' New York Times bestseller discussed how she at first lacked the desire to bond with her baby, heard voices in her head, and began to have suicidal thoughts due to her depression. "This gripped my heart to such an extent that I didn't even have the desire to try to overcome it. I mean, I was flattened by it. I was devastated by it. And it wasn't the 'baby blues,'" she said on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

In the book and in interviews, Shields detailed how she was able to work through her postpartum depression, which included going on antidepressants. For some reason, Tom Cruise decided he should speak up about the topic despite him not being a medical expert, not having suffered from the illness himself, and not being involved with Shields. In a "Today" interview with Matt Lauer, the actor critiqued the use of medication and the field of psychiatry as a whole. "She doesn't understand the history of psychiatry," he claimed, falsely dubbing the field a "pseudoscience." The distasteful interview — for which Cruise later personally apologized — prompted Shields to write an op-ed in The New York Times.

The star's troubled but beloved mother died in 2012

We have already established the complex nature of Brooke Shields' relationship with her mother, Teri Shields, both when she was a child and as an adult. Though they were not always in contact, Brooke was very present toward the end of Teri's life, when her dementia worsened to the point that it required someone to care for her. 

"Brooke came in and out of her life, their closeness a given, neither one ever turning her back, for good, on the other," read Teri's obituary in The New York Times Magazine. "When Teri's drinking blurred into dementia in her later years, her daughter cared for her with the same devotion she showed as a child." In the piece, Brooke is quoted as saying, "Everything in me that is creative and driven and avaricious and loves to laugh — that all came from her. She did the best she could."

Teri died in 2012 at age 79, and months later, Brooke purchased a beach home that she decorated with her mother's belongings. She immediately disliked it, sold it all to an antiques dealer, and finally freed herself from her mother's shackles. But that's not to say that she didn't mourn her mother, who she so clearly loved and (as she's said many times over the years) respected. "You don't ever recover from losing a parent. ... You learn to put it in a different place in your heart," Shields admitted at the Variety Studio at 2023 Sundance. "I also said goodbye to her every time she drank. She wasn't present."

Brooke Shields feared she'd never walk again after an exercising accident

In January 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brooke Shields had a devastating accident that left her unsure she would ever walk again. She was at the gym when she fell off a balance board, propelling her up in the air and breaking her femur upon landing. "It felt like it was all in slow motion. And then I just started screaming," Shields told People. "Sounds came out that I've never heard before." EMTs quickly came to take her to the hospital, and though she could feel her toes, she feared something irreparable had happened. What followed was more than a year filled with harrowing procedures, unexpected complications, and daily physical therapy.

Shields underwent multiple surgeries, with the first one being to insert two metal rods into her body. Her second surgery was unplanned and occurred because part of her femur popped out following the first surgery, which meant five more rods and a metal plate (so, basically, Shields is going to set off every metal detector from now until eternity). The resilient actor had to go in for a third surgery after being sent home, as she developed a terrible staph infection at the site of her IV. 

"The bone is all healed and everything is sort of where it should be, and I don't walk with a limp anymore," Shields told People in an April 2022 update. "But my strength is really compromised." She's given no updates since, but we are hopeful the star's recovery has progressed even further.

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