The tragic real-life story of Rose McGowan

Since making her screen debut in the early 1990s, actress Rose McGowan has racked up an impressive roster of credits. As her IMDb page demonstrates, McGowan has appeared in movies like the first Scream flick (in which her character was memorably murdered while stuck in a doggy door) and Planet Terror, starring as a zombie-fighting heroine with a machine gun for a prosthetic leg. For fans of Charmed, however, McGowan will always be remembered for her role as Paige Matthews, joining the supernatural series in its fourth season to fill the vacant space left when Shannen Doherty departed from the show. 

As one of the first voices to speak out about her alleged sexual assault by one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, the latter part of the 2010s found McGowan embracing a new role as activist. Becoming a dynamic voice for the #MeToo movement, McGowan has continued to make headlines for the provocative pronouncements she regularly shares with her nearly one million followers on Twitter.

But while McGowan starred in Charmed, her life off screen has unfortunately been anything but. Read on to discover the tragic, real-life story of Rose McGowan.

Rose McGowan's childhood in a polygamous 'sex cult'

Rose McGowan grew up in Italy, under some far-from normal circumstances. As she revealed to People in a 2011 interview, her parents were members of Children of God, a polygamous religious cult that gained popularity amidst the hippie ethos of the late 1960s. "You were cut off from your [outside] family," McGowan explained. "There were no newspapers, no television. You were kept in the dark so you would obey." Recalling that she never really fit in as a child, she admitted, "I was definitely a thorn in their side," and revealed how she once rebelled by lighting a bookshelf full of Bibles on fire.

The patriarchal cult was rife with misogyny and has since, per BBC News, become infamous for allegations of child sexual abuse. Thankfully, McGowan and her parents were able to eventually flee the cult when she was nine, after her father — who drew illustrations for its comic book-like "tracts" — found out the group's founder, David Berg, had begun advocating the idea of adults having sexual relationships with children. "That was too far for my father," McGowan explained in a 2019 episode of The Irish Times' podcast, Back to Yours, noting that he'd feared for her safety. "So we escaped."

Rose McGowan was homeless at 15

After bouncing back and forth from her then-divorced parents' homes, Rose McGowan was just 15 years old when she legally emancipated herself. As she later told The Guardian, "[I] had about 25 cents to my name, so I represented myself in court. I needed to have control of my own life." However, the actress recalled how gaining that control came with a high price in a letter written to her younger self for The Big Issue: "I was homeless, I was on my own, and I was very lonely. I was entirely focused on just surviving." 

Having grown up in a polygamous cult (her mother was not her father's only wife at the time), in which women were subservient to men, had left McGowan with no role models for what a "normal" romantic relationship was supposed to look like. As a result, she was admittedly woefully unprepared when she began dating. "When I started having relationships with men I wasn't set up to understand that kind of world," the actress wrote in The Big Issue. Revealing that she attracted the attention of men who were older than her, she added, "At the time I thought was cool but now I think it's creepy."

Rose McGowan tragically lost her first love

In Rose McGowan's 2018 memoir Brave, she writes of being 19 years old in an abusive relationship with a man 20 years her senior, whom she left after meeting music executive Brett Cantor. According to an excerpt published in Cosmopolitan, Cantor proved to be her savior, finding McGowan a place to stay so she could escape that relationship. However, as their own romance blossomed, tragedy struck. 

McGowan was on her way back to Los Angeles following a road trip to Seattle, and, at one point, called Cantor's number and found herself speaking with someone from the LAPD, who delivered terrible news: Cantor had been murdered. Per Variety, the 25-year-old was found dead of multiple stab wounds inside his home. Writing that Cantor would "always have a piece of [her] heart," McGowan noted in her memoir, "The case is still unsolved, but I have been trying for years to remedy that."

In The Big Issue, McGowan recalled falling into a "deep depression" afterward and fearing the prospect of becoming homeless again. "I was standing on a street corner crying and a woman came up to me and asked me if I wanted to be an actress," McGowan wrote. Crunching the numbers, she figured accepting the role would mean she'd have enough money to get her own apartment: "So I took my first acting job."

Rose McGowan's allegations against Harvey Weinstein

In October 2016, Rose McGowan took to Twitter with a shocking allegation: she had been raped by an unnamed "studio head" whose predatory behavior was "an open secret in Hollywood/Media," and revealed that she didn't pursue legal action when a lawyer told her she'd never prevail in court because she'd "done a sex scene in a film." 

A year later, McGowan confirmed that said studio head was Harvey Weinstein, becoming one of the first actresses to come forward to accuse the disgraced movie mogul of sexual misconduct in Ronan Farrow's shocking report in The New Yorker. Since then, over 80 women have shared their own Weinstein allegations, with the lengthy list including the likes of Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Referring to Weinstein simply as "Monster" in her Brave memoir, McGowan opened up about the incident, which allegedly took place after Weinstein asked her up to his hotel room during the 1997 Sundance Film Festival to ostensibly have a meeting about her career (via The New York Times).

In early 2020, Weinstein was found guilty of rape and sexual assault and sentenced to 23 years in prison. Following the verdict, McGowan spoke with The Guardian, saying, "I felt like I had about 500,000 [pounds] lifted off my shoulders ... to have that burden lifted, it felt like my cells were dissolving."

Rose McGowan's claims of being blacklisted from Hollywood

The years that followed her alleged assault by Harvey Weinstein saw Rose McGowan's Hollywood fame fade as a big-screen career that had been on the rise began fizzling out. The actress-turned-"Silenve Breaker" later claimed this was due to Weinstein badmouthing her throughout the industry, advising directors and studios not to work with her.

"It seemed like every creep in Hollywood knew about my most vulnerable and violated moment," McGowan wrote in her Brave memoir (via The New York Times). "And I was the one who was punished for it." McGowan later learned that her experience was not unique, with fellow actresses Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra, and Mira Sorvino all making similar allegations of being blacklisted after refusing Weinstein's sexual advances. Meanwhile, Weinstein denied ever having non-consensual sex with McGowan or any of his other accusers, with his lawyer previously issuing a statement to The New York Times insisting that "there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances."

However, as McGowan told The Guardian in 2019, "I miss performing. But my career was stolen. We all got stolen. And we were all very good at our jobs. That's the other crime in all this."

Rose McGowan felt disrespected on Charmed

With her film career stalled due to Harvey Weinstein's alleged blacklisting, Rose McGowan accepted an offer to join the cast of Charmed, a supernatural series about a trio of spell-casting sisters, which had just parted ways with OG star Shannen Doherty. 

"It felt nice to be wanted after so much rejection and knowing I was blacklisted by my omnipresent Monster," McGowan wrote in an excerpt from her memoir, Brave, obtained by Stuff. However, she went on to describe the irony of allegedly encountering relentless sexism on the set of a show that was being made for and targeted toward a female audience. Among the examples she cited? Once reportedly being reprimanded for dying her hair red between seasons without receiving the studio's permission, and being screamed at by an unnamed male director, who allegedly called her an "idiot" and "b**ch" for accidentally exiting a scene in the wrong direction. And when a crew member she'd become friendly with was fired for smoking marijuana on the set, McGowan jokingly asked if she'd be fired for doing the same thing. According to the actress, she was supposedly told, "We will garnish your wages for all time, no matter where you go. We will take your money, and we will ruin you and you will never work again." Geez.

According to the The Washington Post, McGowan ultimately described her Charmed experience as "soul-crushing." 

The sad reason Rose McGowan lied about her plastic surgery

At some point in the 2000s, fans noticed that Rose McGowan looked, well, different. After much speculation, she eventually admitted to undergoing plastic surgery, but claimed at the time that it was reconstructive surgery to repair the damage inflicted to her face from a 2007 car accident. "My [sunglasses]," she told the New York Daily News two years later, "had sliced me under my eye." It needed a surgical fix.

That tale, the actress later admitted in her 2018 memoir, Brave, was a lie. As she wrote in an excerpt appearing in Entertainment Weekly, the truth was that her appearance was altered during a botched surgery to fix a sinus issue, when the surgeon pierced the skin below one of her eyes by mistake, requiring reconstructive surgery to repair. The result, McGowan wrote, made one of her eyes looking "slightly pinched," leading her to have additional surgery on the other eye so they would match. 

McGowan admitted, "I told my publicists what happened and they said to say it was a car accident. Looking back, I don't know why it mattered but I took that advice. And so when I was asked by the press, that became the party line."

Marilyn Manson's lifestyle 'exhausted' Rose McGowan

In 2001, Rose McGowan and Marilyn Manson revealed they were breaking off their two-year engagement. At the time, the couple had been together for nearly three years, and McGowan released in a statement (via ABC News), "There is great love, but our lifestyle difference is, unfortunately, even greater."

During an appearance on Watch What Happens Live years later, host Andy Cohen asked the actress what that "lifestyle difference" may have been. McGowan seemingly implied that Manson's admitted drug use was to blame for the split. "Scarface," she simply responded, referring to Al Pacino's cocaine-fueled 1983 crime drama. "Think about it Andy ... what was Scarface about?" Cohen replied, "Coke. He did too much blow and you were not down for it." McGowan didn't confirm Cohen's assumption, going on to quickly say, "It was me ... Actually, I don't know. I plead the [Fifth] ... I'm honest, always, I can't help it." Hm.

However, she shed more light on the split in Brave. While she called it a "pretty legendary relationship" (via Us Weekly), McGowan wrote that she simply "grew exhausted" of Manson's rock-star antics. According to People, she went on to admit, "I was really in love with Manson. I just couldn't do the lifestyle anymore. I was too tired."

She regrets criticizing Natalie Portman's alleged 'fake support' of women

While attending the 2020 Academy Awards, Natalie Portman made headlines with a fashion-statement gown that called attention to all the female directors who had been snubbed that year. However, amid much praise in the press came a disparaging comment from one Rose McGowan. In a lengthy Facebook post, she called Portman out as a "fraud," before blasting her supposed "fake support of other women" and deriding her as "an actress acting the part of someone who cares."

In response, Portman simply release a statement to CNN:  "I agree with Ms. McGowan that it is inaccurate to call me 'brave' for wearing a garment with women's names on it. Brave is a term I more strongly associate with actions like those of the women who have been testifying against Harvey Weinstein the last few weeks, under incredible pressure."

At this, McGowan seemingly had second thoughts about her initial social media rant, when she took to Twitter to issue a post captured by The Guardian (which she subsequently deleted). Without mentioning Portman by name, McGowan had written, "My critique should've been about Hollywood's ongoing culture of silence. I realize that by critiquing someone personally, I lost sight of the bigger picture. All voices, however spoken, are valid."

Rose McGowan's complicated feud with Asia Argento

As the popularization of the #MeToo movement was underway in the mainstream in late 2017, Rose McGowan found an ally in actress and director Asia Argento, who alleged that she too had been sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. However, the actresses' friendship soured the following year, when former child actor Jimmy Bennett came forward with allegations against Argento, claiming that she had sexually assaulted him in May 2013, when he was just 17. 

The New York Times reported that Argento had paid him a $380,000 settlement in exchange for his silence. Meanwhile, Argento denied the claims, per The Guardian, insisting her then-partner, Anthony Bourdain, had urged her to pay Bennett to ease his "severe economic problems" and avoid negative publicity. As the story unfolded, McGowan took to Twitter. "I got to know Asia Argento ten months ago," she wrote, having bonded with her over the "shared pain" of their experiences with Weinstein. However, after Bennett's claims went public, McGowan wrote, "My heart is broken."

The two continued to trade barbs, with Argento threatening to sue McGowan for libel over an August 2018 statement. McGowan eventually apologized on Twitter, admitting that she'd misinterpreted some texts that led her to believe Argento and Bennett had been intimate when he was 12, and writing, "I now appreciate that it was not as I thought it was previously."  

Rose McGowan claimed her controversial #MeToo comments were misunderstood

Rose McGowan found herself facing a wave of social media backlash over an interview she did with Britain's The Times to mark the one-year anniversary of the Tarana Burke's #MeToo movement going mainstream in Hollywood. 

In the original story — which the outlet later amended — McGowan was quoted as describing the movement as "all bulls**t." After the story was published, McGowan fired back with a scathing tweet, insisting she was misquoted and her words taken out of context: "I never said #MeToo is a lie. Ever. I was talking about Hollywood and Time's Up, not #MeToo."

The Times subsequently updated the piece, emphasizing that McGowan was indeed criticizing "Hollywood's approach to #MeToo" — not the actual movement itself. However, McGowan had more to say on the matter and narrowed in on the Time's Up initiative, further clarifying her words in a pair of videos she posted on Twitter, as well as another tweet containing the actual interview transcript to demonstrate how her words had been twisted. "The question was, 'And you don't get invited to all the lunches?'" McGowan wrote, before including the answer that had been excerpted: "No, and I don't want to go, because it's all bulls**t. It's a lie. It's a Band-Aid lie to make them feel better."

She received backlash after apologizing to Iran for U.S. airstrike

Rose McGowan is clearly no stranger to sharing her views via social media, but that hasn't always gone well. Case in point: in a since-deleted tweet she issued in January 2020, the actress criticized the controversial U.S. military airstrike that took out Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. "Dear #Iran, The USA has disrespected your country, your flag, your people. 52% of us humbly apologize," she wrote (via Newsweek). "We want peace with your nation. We are being held hostage by a terrorist regime. We do not know how to escape. Please do not kill us."

However, as Newsweek reported, the message was met with backlash from Twitter users who blasted McGowan as "a treasonous psycho," "a disgrace to this country," and "un-American." Some responded with the hashtag #MoveToIran. McGowan addressed the controversy in an interview with the Associated Press. "I don't support Iran over America. I want America to be better," she explained, insisting her tweet may have been "a little strange or unusual," but was not meant to seem unpatriotic.  

Rose McGowan's shocking allegations about Bill Maher

In May 2020, Rose McGowan shared a vintage recollection from her appearance on Bill Maher's long-defunct talk show, Politically Incorrect, from back in the 1990s — and it was not a pleasant one. 

"@BillMaher Here's a memory I'd like to share with you," McGowan wrote on Twitter. "I bet you don't remember, but I sure do. I was so excited to be on your show & get to flex my mind instead of my face. Here's what happened. All I can say, Bill, you got the face you deserved." Attached was a statement, in which she claimed that when the show was returning from a commercial break, "[Maher] leaned over to me [and] whispered in my ear, 'my parents didn't give me a good face, but they did give me a huge c**k.'" Adding that she could feel the comedian's "hot breath on [her] ear," McGowan continued that an image of Maher's "hideous face" and genitalia "flashed in [her] mind," writing that "both turned my stomach."

People's request for comment from Maher's rep went unanswered, while a rep for HBO — which airs Maher's talk show, Real Time — told the Washington Examiner that the network "declined to comment."