The Untold Truth Of Shannen Doherty

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As a former child actress who successfully transitioned to adult roles, Shannen Doherty boasts a television career extending back to the early '80s. However, she catapulted to superstardom in the early '90s thanks to her iconic role as teenager Brenda Walsh on "Beverly Hills, 90210." Further success came with "Charmed," followed by roles in reality shows and not one but two different returns to the world that made her a household name.

Unfortunately, that same decade proved to be a fraught time for the actress, whose name became synonymous with bad behavior in tabloid story after tabloid story. But Doherty was eventually able to leave that all behind, growing in more ways than one to ultimately make peace with her rough reputation in her typical tongue-in-cheek way as those sensational reports all but evaporated.

Despite being a fixture on TV screens for decades, even Doherty's most devoted fans can still learn plenty about this talented actress. Read on to discover the untold truth of Shannen Doherty.

Shannen Doherty started acting professionally at age 10

If it seems as if Shannen Doherty has been a part of the television landscape forever, it's because she kind of has. Doherty has been acting professionally since age 10, landing her first role in "Father Murphy." That series was created by Michael Landon, the star and executive producer of one of the biggest hits of the late 1970s and early '80s, "Little House on the Prairie." Landon was impressed by the youngster's talent and hired her, at age 11, as a series regular for "Little House."

Doherty was cast as Jenny Wilder, the niece of Laura Ingalls Wilder's (Melissa Gilbert) husband Almanzo (Dean Butler), on the series. When Jenny's father dies, the couple adopts her as their own. As Doherty later revealed to Spin magazine in 1995, she was actually a fan of the show that changed her life forever, long before being cast in what would be its last season. "I used to watch Little House on the Prairie. And I wanted to work with Michael Landon really desperately," Doherty said. "And after that, acting just became this thing that I did."

How Shannen Doherty came to terms with her 'difficult' reputation

Shannen Doherty had been a working actress for nearly a decade when she was cast as Brenda Walsh in the teen drama, "Beverly Hills, 90210." The show proved to be an instant hit and a pop culture touchstone that skyrocketed its cast to instant fame. For Doherty, the media scrutiny that accompanied this newfound celebrity led to some unsavory stories — including allegedly writing bad checks, getting involved in nightclub brawls, and partaking in feuds with co-stars, to name a few — that quickly led her to be labeled as "difficult" in Tinseltown. She ultimately parted ways with the hit show in its fifth season amid rumors of friction with her castmates. "She thought it was time to go," producer Aaron Spelling revealed in Entertainment Weekly's oral history of the show. "And the cast did too."

Decades later, Doherty had come to terms with her "bad girl" reputation. "I have a rep. Did I earn it? Yeah, I did. But, after awhile you sort of try to shed that rep because you're kind of a different person," the actress told Parade in 2019. "You've evolved and all of the bad things you've done in your life have brought you to a much better place."

Shannen Doherty nearly turned down The CW's 90210 reboot

Despite her turbulent history with "Beverly Hills, 90210," Shannen Doherty returned to the franchise via The CW's 2008 reboot, "90210." Set in the original's fictional West Beverly Hills High School, "90210" featured a new cast of teenagers along with occasional guest-starring appearances from the original stars. The first two OG actors to sign on were Doherty and Jennie Garth, who reportedly feuded so hard back in the day that co-star Tori Spelling claimed in her memoir that the two once engaged in an on-set fistfight.

Thankfully, Doherty and Garth had buried the hatchet when they spoke with Entertainment Weekly about reprising their roles in the reboot. Doherty, however, admitted she was initially hesitant to step back into Brenda Walsh's shoes. "Early on, my publicist got a call asking her 'Would she do it?' I was kind of like, Why would I play Brenda Walsh again?" the actress said, recalling the "I Hate Brenda" newsletter, which was devoted to fans' animosity toward her character. "Why would I possibly get myself back into that?" Doherty added. "I think it was too scary for me. I didn't want to go back to people hating me."

Shannen Doherty wrote a book about how to be a 'badass'

Given her longstanding reputation for alleged bad behavior, Shannen Doherty decided to stop running from it and fully embrace it. This was clear when she wrote her 2010 book, "Badass: A Hard-Earned Guide to Living Life with Style and (the Right) Attitude." The memoir offers advice on how to handle an array of everyday situations in a "badass" manner, from maintaining self-confidence to offering killer excuses for trying to squirm out of traffic tickets.

As Doherty told Parade, "[The book] is a little tongue in cheek. But, at the same time, it's very poignant because it's sort of telling the things that I went through and the mistakes that I made when I was in my 20s." By that point in her life, Doherty had gained some personal and professional self-awareness: "I had this amazing career in front of me and because of some things I did, my career really suffered." 

Perhaps in reference to the person people thought Doherty was and the person she would eventually become, the multi-talent also described the difference between being a "bad girl" and being a "badass," saying, "It means owning who you are and being compassionate and knowing when you've made a mistake and not repeating it."

She starred in a reality show with a pretty bonkers premise

In 2006, Shannen Doherty entered the world of reality television with "Breaking Up with Shannen Doherty." The series' premise traded on her reputation at the time: Doherty met with women on the verge of splitting up with their significant others and then did the actual breaking up for them so the women could avoid a confrontation with their soon-to-be exes.

"Everybody thinks that I'm this really strong woman who would have absolutely no problem breaking up with somebody. But I had a really had a hard time breaking up with a boyfriend," Doherty told the New York Post at the time, revealing that she ultimately got her father to do the dirty work for her. "He went and got my stuff out of the house and said, 'That's enough.'"

Unfortunately, The New York Times' TV critic, Susan Stewart, was not impressed by the show, writing: "While Ms. Doherty sometimes manages to help repair a relationship, the goal of Breaking Up is usually a negative: the offloading of a human being. Lacking redeeming social value and cheesy without the grace of campiness, it makes you yearn for the glory days of 'The Dating Game.'" Reviews like this may be why Doherty's first foray into reality TV lasted just one season.

The touching reason she competed on Dancing with the Stars

Shannen Doherty was announced as one of the competitors in the 10th season of "Dancing with the Stars," tripping the light fantastic alongside such fellow celebs as Kate Gosselin, Pamela Anderson, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Viewers of the show didn't have much of a chance to cheer Doherty on, however, as she had the dubious distinction of being the first star to be eliminated.

Doherty revealed the sweet reason she decided to compete on the show on "Good Morning America(via ABC News) "My father, on Christmas, had a massive stroke," she explained. "He's had eight heart attacks, quintuple bypass heart surgeries and dialysis. [He's in] really bad health. He got really excited about 'Dancing with the Stars' and wanted me to do it." She went on to admit, "I can't ever say no to my dad."

After her elimination, she opened up about her dad's reaction to her being on the show, saying: "My dad doesn't have his speech 100 percent back yet, but the first words he learned were 'I love you.' He was crying, and he said, 'I love you and I'm proud of you.'" Aww!

Shannen Doherty planned her wedding on a reality show

By 2011, Shannen Doherty was a reality TV veteran, so it made sense that she'd eventually put her own real life on display with "Shannen Says." Airing in the following year, the series showcased her relationship with her husband-to-be, photographer Kurt Iswarienko, in the days leading up to their wedding in October 2011.

While promoting the show at the Television Critics Association press tour in January 2012, Doherty assured reporters that the marriage — her third — wouldn't be a repeat of the short-lived union of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries. Even those who aren't reality TV fanatics will most likely know that their marriage was televised on "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," but infamously ended in divorce just 72 days later. "If you watch you're going to see that it's an incredibly different relationship. [Ours] wasn't a quickie marriage," Doherty said of her own marriage (via The Hollywood Reporter), before addressing her earlier walks down the aisle: "I can't judge what happened in other people's marriages, because my other two weren't so great ... and they were quickies."

The reason Shannen Doherty decided to go back to college

2011 was a hallmark year for Shannen Doherty: she got hitched, turned 40, and decided to go back to school and earn a college degree. According to National Ledger, the actress-turned-student became a spokesperson for Education Connection, a company that helps aspiring students find the right online college. As part of her role, Doherty took online courses toward earning a liberal arts degree. 

"Like everybody, I have my regrets. One of mine was not getting my college degree. But it is never too late," Doherty said in a commercial for Education Connection. In a different commercial, she explained, "I've played the girl-next-door and the girl-not-so-next-door. I've produced, I've directed, but now I'm doing something I've always wanted to do for me — I'm on my way to getting my college degree." 

What Doherty enjoyed most about her online education was the flexibility it offered her, allowing the opportunity to integrate her studies with her acting career: "I can study on the set, while traveling — anywhere, anytime." 

She reunited with a Charmed co-star for a road trip reality show

Following her exit from "Beverly Hills, 90210," Shannen Doherty found further success in another show produced by Aaron Spelling: "Charmed." The hit series saw her star alongside Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano as a trio of sibling witches destined to become the most powerful sorceresses in history. While Doherty's experience with the show mirrored that of "90210" (she left in the third season amid another cloud of controversy), she later reunited on the small screen with Combs for a road trip reality show.

Airing in 2015, "Off the Map with Shannen & Holly" chronicled the adventures of "the former Charmed co-stars and real-life friends on a girls' road trip through the southeastern U.S., with stops in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida," according to Deadline. For Doherty, who had remained good friends with Combs, hitting the road together for a travel-themed reality show "was the easiest, fastest way to go off on an adventure," she told Fox News. "It was my idea originally. I want to do something fun and I want to do it with Holly."

Why she refused to be the villain in the BH90210 reboot

After reprising the role of "Beverly Hills, 90210" character Brenda Walsh in The CW's reboot "90210," Shannen Doherty joined the rest of the original cast for 2019's short-lived "BH90210," a mockumentary-style meta revival in which the actors all play skewed versions of themselves as they try to pitch networks on a reboot of the beloved teen drama. 

Given Doherty's controversial exit from the original, she had some conditions in place before she would agree to participate in "BH90210." The biggest of these, she explained while promoting the show at the Television Critics Association press tour, was namely: "I'm not the villain." As she explained (via USA Today), "I'm the antithesis of that ... I definitely am not interested in being a part of that kind of show." 

Doherty was insistent that the way she was depicted in the show mirrored her own personal evolution, rather than belabor a redundant image mired in the past. The revival, she noted, "Is really focused on our [friendships] ... I just want to keep spreading good positive energy into the world as in real life, as does my character."

Shannen Doherty's public battle with breast cancer

A lawsuit with an ex-business manager over lapsed health insurance revealed Shannen Doherty's cancer struggle in 2015. "Yes, I have breast cancer, and I am currently undergoing treatment," she confirmed to People in a statement at the time. "I am continuing to eat right, exercise and stay very positive about my life. I am thankful to my family, friends and doctors for their support and, of course, my fans who have stood by me."

The following year, the actress told Entertainment Tonight that the cancer had spread, noting that in addition to chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she'd also undergone a mastectomy. "The unknown is always the scariest part," Doherty admitted. "Is the chemo going to work? Is the radiation going to work? You know, am I going to have to go through this again, or am I going to get secondary cancer? Everything else is manageable. Pain is manageable, you know, living without a breast is manageable, it's the worry of your future and how your future is going to affect the people that you love."

After announcing that she was in remission in 2017, Doherty confessed to Health that her longtime battle with cancer had "changed [her] as a human being forever."

She reprised her Heathers role in a controversial reboot

Before being cast in "Beverly Hills, 90210," Shannen Doherty was part of another high-profile Hollywood project, the 1988 feature "Heathers." In the dark comedy, she plays one of a trio of mean high school girls, all named Heather, who become the targets of a homicidal teenager played by Christian Slater. When a new TV series based on the movie was announced in 2016, rumors swirled that Doherty would appear as a guest star, reprising her role from the original. She confirmed the reports in an Instagram post, sharing a photo from the set of herself in character. 

After being delayed and undergoing edits amid ongoing controversy over its violent scenes and subject matter, the series finally aired in 2018. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Doherty explained that she was initially reluctant to participate in the reboot during her cancer battle. "I had been going through chemo and had no hair when my [team] told me, 'They're remaking Heathers and they wanna know if you'd be interested,”' she recalled. "I said, 'No. I don't know how you could ever, ever remake it.'" But when she read the script, she admitted, "I was blown away by how good it was ... I had to do it."

How she paid tribute to Luke Perry on Riverdale

Shannen Doherty and the rest of the "Beverly Hills, 90210" cast were shocked by the sudden death of their former co-star and friend, Luke Perry, who died from a stroke in March 2019. He was 52. Perry had been starring on The CW's "Riverdale," but since the show's third season was nearing the end of production at the time of his passing, plans were made to pay tribute in the subsequent season premiere.

Producers enlisted Doherty to appear on the show. While her role was kept under wraps, when the episode finally aired, viewers saw her portray a woman who had been with Perry's character, Fred Andrews, when he died. "It was extremely hard in the sense of the emotions, but I feel really proud and honored and extremely humbled that they asked me and I got to be a part of it," Doherty said of the experience at the Television Critics Association press tour (via USA Today). "That cast loves him ... [My role] was cathartic in a lot of ways. Very, very hard and emotional."

Shannen Doherty revealed her cancer has returned

In February 2020, Shannen Doherty made a sad announcement: three years after going into remission, her cancer had returned. It was a secret she'd kept to herself for a year.

"I'm stage four," Doherty said in an emotional interview with "Good Morning America" "I don't think I've processed it. It's a bitter pill to swallow in a lot of ways." Doherty added, "I definitely have days where I say why me. And then I go, well, why not me? Who else? Who else besides me deserves this? None of us do. But I would say that my first reaction is always concern about how — how am I going to tell my mom, my husband."

One reason why she didn't reveal her terminal cancer diagnosis earlier, she explained, was to show that "people with stage four can work too." Doherty added, "Like, you know, our life doesn't end the minute we get that diagnosis. We still have some living to do." While she admitted she was "unprepared" to share the news with the public at the time, she felt the need to get the news out on her own terms before it leaked through her ongoing lawsuit with State Farm, saying, "I'd rather people hear it from me ... I want to control the narrative." 

She won millions in her lawsuit against an insurance company

When the Woolsey wildfires swept through Malibu in 2018, Shannen Doherty's home was among the many to be damaged by fire. After filing a claim with her insurance provider, State Farm, Doherty felt she hadn't been properly reimbursed for the full extent of the damage and sued. In fact, when Doherty revealed her cancer had returned during an interview with "Good Morning America," she did so because it would soon become public knowledge, as it was referenced in court documents from the trial. In its defense, the insurer accused Doherty of using her cancer as a ploy to gain sympathy from the jury.

In 2021, a verdict was reached, with the jury finding in Doherty's favor by awarding her $6,346,000 in damages. That included $3 million awarded for her emotional distress, another $1 million for her legal fees, and $460,000 to cover her living expenses. "This should send a message to institutions that they should not forget they are dealing with human beings," Doherty's lawyer, Devin McRae, told People in a statement.

A month later, State Farm filed a motion requesting a new trial, insisting that $3 million for emotional distress was excessive. "She had no psychological counseling as a result. She needed no professional mental health services. That simply is not worth $3 million," the insurer's filing claimed, reported Insurance Business. A judge agreed with State Farm and ordered a new trial.

She felt her health struggles made her a better actor

Having gone public with her cancer diagnosis, Shannen Doherty made a 2021 appearance on "The Kelly Clarkson Show." According to Doherty, that diagnosis was not going to define the rest of her life. "People with stage four get written off immediately," she said. "They get written off by insurance companies, they get written off by doctors, they get written off by your boss — and in truth, I think when you have something like this happen to you, you're probably an even harder worker than you ever were. And for me, as an actor, I now have such a wealth of emotions to dig in and tap into for my acting."

Doherty contended that the dramatic journey she was on, and the vast extent of emotional terrain she had covered, had taken her to real-life places that most people had never been, and had deepened her acting skills. "So I think I'm a better actor than I ever was, and by myself working, yes, it's helping me for sure," she said. 

However, she highlighted the irony that the diagnosis that led her to become a better actor was also responsible for her difficulty finding acting jobs — something she was hoping to change. "But it's also sort of putting out there, hey, don't write us off," she said. "We're still vibrant, we're still out there and we want to be a part of the workforce."

She reunited with her 90210 and Charmed co-stars for nostalgic panels at 90s Con

In 2023, Shannen Doherty had the opportunity to look back to her past while participating in two key appearances at fan conventions. In March, she appeared at 90s Con in Hartford, Connecticut, where she was part of a "Charmed" panel reuniting her with co-stars Rose McGowan, Holly Marie Combs, Brian Krause, Dorian Gregory, and Drew Fuller. "Prue was a very, very, very strong woman," she said of her character on the show, as reported by People. "I was a really strong woman. I played her as that. And I think that did have a definitive impression upon a lot of younger women who were watching the show."

The following September, she appeared on another panel, this one reuniting the original cast of "Beverly Hills, 90210," at the 90s Con in Tampa, Florida. That panel proved to be emotional when Doherty received a standing ovation from the audience, causing her eyes to well up with tears. "Thank you so much," Doherty said, according to People. "You guys know how much I love crying constantly. And I do, it seems. So, thank you."

During the panel, Doherty candidly addressed her ongoing battle with cancer, and she didn't sugarcoat what she'd been going through. "I have a fight for my life, that I deal with every day," she declared. "I think I am really great."

She divorced her husband in the midst of her cancer battle

In April 2023, Shannen Doherty filed to divorce husband Kurt Iswarienko, putting an end to their marriage after more than a decade. The circumstances behind the split weren't initially revealed, although questions were raised in a statement that Doherty's rep, Leslie Sloane, gave to People. "Divorce is the last thing Shannen wanted," Sloane said. "Unfortunately, she felt she was left with no other option." According to Sloane, the couple separated in January.

Shortly before news of her divorce filing became public, Doherty posted a cryptic comment on Instagram that could certainly be interpreted as a diss toward her estranged husband. "The only people who deserve to be in your life are the ones who treat you with love, kindness and total respect," she wrote. While the situation was certainly not a pleasant one, Doherty maintained her sense of humor about it. During her appearance at 90s Con in September, reported Us Weekly, she made an off-the-cuff remark joking about her uncoupling. "My other profession is getting engaged, married and divorced," she quipped, "and I'm doing that very well."

In her "Let's Be Clear" podcast (as reported by "Entertainment Tonight"), Doherty spilled all the tea. "My husband had been carrying on an affair for two years," she said, telling ET that being able to share her truth in her podcast had helped her tremendously. "It's like the best form of therapy you can have," she said.

She had a tumor removed from her head

In June 2023, Shannen Doherty shared video on Instagram documenting some deeply personal moments that took place during the beginning of the year. That video was taken in January, shortly before she was about to undergo surgery. "January 16, 2023. Surgery. I had a tumor in my head they wanted to remove and also biopsy. I am clearly trying to be brave but I am petrified," she wrote in the caption. "The fear was overwhelming to me." She continued to write about the fear she was experiencing. "Scared of all possible bad outcomes, worried about leaving my mom and how that would impact her. Worried that I would come out of surgery not me anymore," she continued. "This is what cancer can look like."

In an interview with People, Doherty opened up about the surgery to remove "Bob," the nickname she'd jokingly given the tumor. "It was definitely one of the scariest things I've ever been through in my entire life," she confessed.

She was taking heavy doses of steroids to reduce swelling in her brain but explained a side effect was the loss of motor skills in her hands — to the point that a glass she was holding slipped through her fingers and smashed to the floor. However, she saw that as simply one more obstacle to be overcome. "But it takes perseverance, a lot of dedication and faith to get through certain things," she said. "I'm not a quitter."

She revealed her cancer had spread to her bones

Shannen Doherty had some grim news to relay in late November 2023. As she shared in an interview with People, her cancer has spread to her bones. Despite that sad setback, Doherty continued to express optimism for her future. "I don't want to die," she said. "I'm not done with living. I'm not done with loving. I'm not done with creating. I'm not done with hopefully changing things for the better. I'm just not — I'm not done."

Doherty credited cancer with providing her with an outlook on life that she hadn't previously been able to embrace. "I know it sounds cheesy and crazy, but you're just more aware of everything, and you feel so blessed," she said, explaining why people diagnosed with cancer shouldn't automatically be put out to pasture when they still have the ability to contribute. "We're the people who want to work the most," she said, "because we're just so grateful for every second, every hour, every day we get to be here."

In fact, Doherty was adamant that the final chapters of her book had yet to be written. "My greatest memory is yet to come," she said.

Shannen Doherty still hopes for a family

Discovering your spouse's infidelity in the midst of fighting stage four cancer, and then divorcing that spouse, would certainly be enough to level anyone. Yet Shannen Doherty, after everything she's been through, continues to remain hopeful about her future, regardless of how much time she may have left. 

That extends to the possibility that she'll eventually find love again after her devastating split from husband Kurt Iswarienko. "I don't think I'm going to be single forever," she told People in late 2023. "I have to love myself and reckon with the past, really, before I can move forward, and now I'm pretty sure I'll meet somebody — hopefully soon." Even though matrimony hasn't exactly been her forte — having been married and divorced three times — Doherty admitted she is still determined to get it right. "Listen, Elizabeth Taylor still has me beat as far as husbands and divorces, so I'm good," she joked of Taylor's seven divorces. "I'm not there yet, so there's no reason to be negative about it. S*** happens."

She also hasn't ruled out perhaps becoming a mother at some point, although the logistics of how or when that could happen remained to be delineated. "I would love nothing more than to be a mom," she said. "I always wanted it, and I think if I did it with my best friend or a partner, then I don't know ... any amount of time [with a parent] is better than nothing."