She was called the “Lolita of the big screen” and was tabloid fodder for much of her life, but Brooke Shields somehow managed to come out the other side. From racy photos to public spats with other celebrities, and despite her stormy beginning as a controversial child model and actor, she grew up to use her fame and influence to help others.
1. Her Birth Was Soap-Opera Worthy
From the beginning, Brooke’s life was the stuff of tabloid magazines. Her parents were not married when they became pregnant, and were from very different worlds. Her mother, Teri, was from a working-class family in Newark, New Jersey, and her father, Frank, was the child of an Italian-American aristocrat. Before she was even born, she was in the middle of a scandal.
The rich Shields family tried to pay Teri not to have the baby. But they didn't know who they were messing with.
2. Her Mother Was A Force To Be Reckoned With
Terri took the Shields' money...but insisted on having the baby anyway. Frank, at least, appeared to be on her side: The pair got married and tried to make it work. But it didn’t. Not even a little bit. In fact, they split up when Brooke was only five months old. Brooke occasionally saw her father, but for the most part, it was the Teri and Brooke show. And what a show it turned out to be.
3. She Was A Model By Her First Birthday
When Brooke was only five days old, her mother declared the baby would be going into show business. Teri saw the potential in her beautiful daughter right away and quickly got Brooke out into the world. Before the first year of her life was over, Brooke appeared in an Ivory soap commercial and her long career as a model had begun.
Brooke Shields didn't have a choice in the life she was to live—and it wouldn't always be so glamorous.
4. She Was The Youngest Model Her Agent Ever Had
The Ivory soap gig was just the beginning. Due to her striking looks and her mother’s persistence, Brooke was soon represented by the Ford Modeling Agency. Not only was she the youngest model at the agency, but she was also the reason they started a children’s division in the first place. As you’ll see, this wouldn’t be the last time Brooke was the youngest ever to do something in her future career.
5. Adults Treated Her Like A Little Adult
As a child, Brooke always acted more mature than her age. This could have been because she started work so young, or because she was constantly surrounded by people much older than her, but there may have been a darker reason: Her mother’s lifelong struggle with addiction. In any case, according to Eileen Ford, the founder of the Ford Modeling Agency, since Brooke looked and acted like an adult, the adults around her treated her like one.
That should have been the first red flag. As mature as she may have seemed, Brooke was still just a kid.
6. Her Mom Had A Short Fuse
The nature of Brooke's relationship with her mother was unique, to say the least, and it often had them at each other's throats. During one tense exchange, Brooke called her mother “dumb” and Teri stormed away. Another time, when Teri lost her temper on a film set and let loose a stream of profanities, young Brooke snuck up behind her and put a piece of masking tape over her mouth.
As you can imagine, outbursts like that didn’t do Teri any favors.
7. Her Mom Had A Bad Reputation
Teri’s short temper was just one part of her reputation; she also tended to drink too much, even when she was minding Brooke on set. In fact, her temper and her drinking habits once led to her being briefly banned from where Brooke was working. Those who knew and loved her tried to defend her…but she was about to do something indefensible.
8. She Bared Everything In A Film At 12
When Brooke was 12 years old, her mother let her star in the R-rated film Pretty Baby, in which she played an underage girl exploited by men. Controversially, the preteen Shields appeared unclothed in several scenes. Obviously, the film caused an uproar upon release. The director, Louis Malle, had insisted that they hire an underage actor for the role, pretty much guaranteeing the shock value.
The media attacked him—but few realized the most exploitative person on set was Teri Shields.
9. The Public And Media Slammed Her Mom
Many questioned how Teri could allow her young daughter to star in a film with such themes. For her part, in an interview, Teri said she knew it would be tastefully done, and that “[a]nybody who calls it child pornography has not seen the...thing.” But in the next breath, she said, “I don’t mind Brooke being called a sex symbol. But nymphet and Lolita rub me the wrong way.” But how did all of this affect her daughter?
10. She Was Still Naive
Luckily, it seems Brooke made it out of Pretty Baby unscathed. She wore a body stocking for her explicit scenes, and the crew evidently managed to keep her isolated from the film's darker themes. In fact, she remained quite naive. For example, in one interview, when asked what she thought “good in bed” meant, she said, “When I’m sick and I stay home from school propped up with lots of pillows watching TV and my mom brings me soup—that’s good in bed." But Brooke Shields couldn't remain innocent forever.
11. She Couldn’t Understand The Paparazzi
The same year, Brooke had her first experience with the paparazzi, when she attended an event at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. She said when she saw all the cameras she froze “like a statue.” This type of attention was new to her and she could not believe that so many people wanted to take her picture. Little did she know, this was just the beginning.
12. She Staged An Intervention at 13
Soon after this crazy year, Shields staged an intervention for her mom to beg her to stop drinking. At only 13, Brooke felt she had to act drastically to “keep my mom alive.” Later, she would divulge that Teri had been taking her to bars since she was a baby, and that she often came home from school to find her mother completely loaded.
Sadly, no matter how much she wanted to, Shields couldn't stop her mother's road to rock bottom.
13. She Unwittingly Appeared in Suggestive Ads
Just a couple of years later, Brooke starred in an ad campaign for Calvin Klein jeans in which she said, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” Once again, it seems she was oblivious to the adult nature of her work. She was not aware that anything racy was going on until the public reaction by those pointing out the ads were suggestive and offensive.
“If they had intended on the double entendre, they didn’t explain it to me,” Shields later claimed.
14. She Resents Barbara Walters
At the time of each of these controversies, Brooke disliked the public’s negative treatment of her and her mother. Despite everything, she still deeply loved her mother. But that wasn't her only beef with the media. Recently, she called an interview with Barbara Walters that occurred when she was 15 “practically criminal.” In it, Walters asked her what her “measurements” were (referring to chest/waist/hip measurements) and then asked her to stand and show off her shape and height. Not exactly appropriate behavior.
15. She Was The Youngest Model To Have a Vogue Cover
The attention brought by the unpleasant controversies nevertheless kept Shields in the headlines through much of her teenage years. The same year as the Calvin Klein campaign, she appeared on the cover of Vogue. At the time, she was the youngest model to have done so. The same year, but in a completely different type of media, she was also the youngest guest star to appear on The Muppet Show.
The “little adult” was still appearing in places where only adults had been before (though some were more fitting than others).
16. She Had No Control Of Her Underage Photos
Shields had to deal with serious legal issues later in her teen years when she went to court over the rights to some photographs of her. They were of her without clothes and taken–with Teri’s permission, of course–when she was only 10 years old. She wanted to own the rights to their use, so she took Gary Gross, the photographer who had taken them, and Playboy Press, who had bought them, to court.
Unfortunately, due to a legal technicality, Brooke was unable to get the rights to the pics. These same pictures would come back and haunt her many years later.
17. She Almost Left Showbiz To Work With Animals
It’s no wonder that after a childhood like this, the teenage Brooke seriously considered leaving showbiz entirely to work with animals. She had always loved them, and years before had become friends with animal advocate Joan Embery (they met on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson). While mulling, she worked an internship at the San Diego Zoo. As we know, in the end, she ultimately decided to stick with acting.
18. She Had Many Famous Relationships
On top of all the scandals, Brooke Shields' personal life kept her name in the news due to a series of famous relationships. Some of them were platonic friendships sensationalized for headlines. Others were genuine romances. The list is quite the who's-who of 90s male leads. Over her teenage and young adult years, these included Scott Baio, John Travolta, George Michael, and John F. Kennedy Jr.
Brooke Shields wasn't a girl any longer—but her problems only started building.
19. She Was Life-Long Friends With Michael Jackson
Another of Brooke’s very public friendships was with Michael Jackson. They met at the Academy Awards when Brooke, then 13, introduced herself and asked him if he was going to the after-party. There, an intense friendship began. It was to last through their lives, even though as they got older they had little time to see each other.
20. She And Michael Jackson Had A Blast Together
People called them an odd couple, but the two showbiz kids understood each other perfectly and would regularly attend events as a couple. In one story, they went to Elizabeth Taylor's wedding together. The pair decided to sneak a peek at Taylor's wedding dress, but they got more than they bargained for: They found the bride-to-be herself, fast asleep, with guests in the house.
As you can imagine, they slunk out as quietly as they could. You do NOT want to wake a sleeping Elizabeth Taylor.
21. Michael Jackson Called Her “One Of The Loves Of My Life”
Michael was already a big fan of Brooke’s when they met. In fact, he had pictures of her all over his room. He later said that the night they met, he was “up all night, singing, spinning around my room.” Both of them often used the word “love” when talking about each other. That love never waned, even when life took them in very different directions.
22. George Michael Broke Her Heart
Another of Shields' famous buds was Wham! singer George Michael, who later came out as gay. At the time, Brooke thought he was a “real gentleman” and enjoyed a few dates with him before he broke it off, saying he needed to concentrate on his career. The devastated Brooke took weeks to recover. Such is the intensity of young love. She didn't realize she'd dodged a bullet—but there were plenty of nightmare relationships ahead of her.
23. She Lost Her Virginity to Superman
Brooke’s most serious young relationship occurred in college when she met Dean Cain. Because, if you’re going to get serious with anyone, it it might as well be Superman. They dated for two years and were apparently “crazy about each other.” In fact, Brooke later revealed that it was with Dean that she lost her virginity. But, Brooke was not in a healthy place and the closer the couple got, the harder it became.
24. Sleeping With Someone Freaked Her Out
In Shields' memoir There Was a Little Girl, she wrote that she was so overwhelmed when she slept with Cain for the first time that she got jumped out of bed and ran away “like I had just stolen someone's wallet.” Cain followed after and tried to help, but Brooke just didn’t know how to make their relationship work. After years of introspection, she realized what terrified her so much:
She wrote, “I didn't know where I began and where my mother ended and that meant I didn't know how to fit Dean in.”
25. Liam Neeson Ghosted Her
It would be several years of dating and maturing before Brooke was able to find a healthy stable relationship. First, after college, she began seeing Liam Neeson, who was 13 years older than her and already the star of several big films. They became serious very quickly. In fact, Liam asked Brooke to marry him after only three months. But this only led to heartache.
Brooke took Neeson's proposal seriously—but her “fiance” didn’t. Neeson suddenly stopped returning her calls shortly after.
26. She Said “No Way” To Taking Him Back
Suddenly resurfacing, Neeson asked her to take him back after that, but she turned him down. This was no doubt for the best. Just a few weeks later Neeson began work on a new play, and there he met his future wife Natasha Richardson. It would be a couple more years before Shields would find another man she wanted to marry.
27. She Had A Long Stormy Relationship With Tennis Star Andre Agassi
The person that Brooke decided to marry was bad boy tennis star Andre Agassi. They met at a tennis match, but had to wait a while for their first date, as both were traveling a lot at the time. While biding their time, they got to know each other through long letters sent by fax. Kids these days! They found they had experienced similar lives, having both become famous very young and having to deal with controlling parents.
Shields believed she had finally found the one—she had no clue what she was in for.
28. He Helped Her Break Free
It was all about to turn ugly, but for a while, the relationship with Agassi was exactly what Shields needed. She says that he helped her begin to distance herself from her mother and gave her her “first taste of freedom.” As she learned independence, Agassi helped her with day-to-day things like dealing with pests in the house. But soon it was obvious it was an "out of the frying pan into the fire" situation.
Just like her mother, Agassi soon revealed himself to be controlling and possessive.
29. Her Appearance On Friends Got Her A Sitcom
Brooke Shields’ career took a pivotal turn when she appeared on an episode of Friends. She hadn’t yet had much opportunity to show off her comedy skills, but in this episode, she played a fan obsessed with Joey Tribbiani’s soap opera character. She believed they were passionately in love and wouldn’t listen to reason.
Her hilarious performance led directly to her own sitcom, Suddenly Susan. But not everyone approved of her performance.
30. Her Appearance On Friends Made Andre Insanely Jealous
Agassi was less than thrilled by Shields' character’s behavior on the show. He was on set, and what he saw upset him so much that he stormed out. Brooke followed and he went off on her for making him “look like a fool.” Then he went home and in a rage smashed all of his tennis trophies, including from Wimbledon and the US Open. In a (perhaps undeserved) act of kindness, Brooke slowly had them all replaced, which took her three years.
31. She Starred In A Show About Independence
In a life-meets-art moment, Brooke landed a role as the lead in a show about a woman needing to look after herself for the first time. Fittingly, this came just as she was taking steps to distance herself from her mother and take charge of her future. Her work on Suddenly Susan went on to win her a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Female and two Golden Globe nominations.
Now she had some trophies to sit next to Agassi's!
32. She Married Him Anyway
Progress isn’t always linear. Despite that ugly scene after the Friends episode, Shields and Agassi married. If you’re thinking that was a bad idea, just wait. Media coverage of the evening event in Monterey, California mentioned her wedding dress with a five-foot train, a string ensemble, and a performance by the San Francisco Boys Choir. Also present were four helicopters of paparazzi overhead. Quite a spectacle—but it was nothing compared to what came after.
33. They Both Immediately Regretted It
Years later, they each wrote in their memoirs that the wedding had been a mistake. Andre wrote he had “a thought no man should have on his wedding day: I wish I were leaving.” Brooke said the next day she felt awful: “I did not want to be married…I wanted to be a bride but I shouldn't have been married yet.”
Due to their hectic schedule, though, they didn’t have much time together over the next while and divorced less than two years later. But first, more disturbing revelations would come to light.
34. Andre Dropped Some Bombshells
One day, Agassi revealed to Shields that for much of their relationship, he had been using illicit substances. Hurt and confused, Shields couldn’t understand why he would hide this from her, when she had shown unconditional acceptance of his other secrets—such as that he was bald and always wore a hairpiece. Another big moment came later, when they were divorcing, when he told her, “Be happy that we don’t have children or I would not have made this easy for you.” What a keeper.
35. Her Dog Fetched Her The Love Of Her Life
Luckily, her dog picked soon picked out a new man for Shields. In a meeting that would have made a great TV episode, Brooke’s bulldog, Darla, wandered off the set of Suddenly Susan, and a writer named Chris Henchy brought her back. He made an instant impression on Brooke, and after working together on a couple of projects, and giving Brooke time to recover from her divorce, they began to date.
Would Shields finally find the happiness she was looking for?
36. She Fooled Everyone With A Fake Wedding
Shields and Henchy eventually wed, but we're not exactly sure when. It might have been one of two events: The first was on a beach on Catalina Island in April 2001. But, some suspect their real wedding actually happened in May in Palm Beach. All agree, though, that the sneakiness successfully threw off the paparazzi—not to mention the stalker that had been haunting Brooke for years.
37. She Took On Broadway With Another First
Having found success in modeling, film, and TV acting, Shields decided to take on Broadway. Eventually, she became the first performer to have starred in three of Broadway's most iconic shows: Chicago, Cabaret, and Grease. After all that, there was still one role Brooke wanted to master: mother.
38. She Had To Fight For Her Family
Shields and Henchy soon learned that due to a previous surgery, Shields was unable to get pregnant. But they weren't about to give up on their dreams. They ended up pursuing in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments. The whole ordeal was upsetting for the couple, but eventually, their luck turned, and Shields gave birth to a baby girl.
Three years later, they received a stunning surprise: Brooke was pregnant again, having conceived naturally. After her second daughter was born, the family felt complete.
39. She Is A Mental Health Advocate
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. After Shields gave birth to her first long-desired child, she began to experience severe post-partum depression. She decided to try anti-depressants and slowly started to recover. She wrote her memoir Down Came the Rain, to share her story, and try to increase awareness of the condition—but it wasn't easy.
40. She Talked About Her Depression Treatment
Shields' memoir helped a lot of women feel less alone in their experiences. Unfortunately, revealing her anti-depressant use wasn’t welcomed by all. The stigma surrounding depression and post-partum depression was even worse than it is now. At least one high-profile person had a truly terrible reaction.
41. Tom Cruise Publicly Condemned Her
Tom Cruise, who was by then well-known as a follower of Scientology, publicly criticized Shields for using anti-depressants and for encouraging others to consider it as well. Scientology has always had a very negative take on psychiatry, and Cruise even went so far as to say "I think psychiatry should be outlawed." Never one to back down, Shields was quick to respond.
42. She Didn’t Let Tom Cruise Have The Last Word
Angered that Cruise's words would just make things more difficult for many women, Shields clapped back, saying that the movie star should “stick to saving the world from aliens,” and that it should be up to women to decide what treatment options to pursue. It took a while, but eventually, it seems that Tom came to see the negative effects of his words.
43. She Forgave And Forgot
Finally, in 2006, Cruise apologized to Shields in person for his public attacks. Shields immediately accepted the apology. As a show of friendship, Cruise invited Shields and her husband to his upcoming wedding to Katie Holmes. The resolution of that feud must have been a relief, but other parts of Brooke’s life were still tough.
44. She Was A Devoted Daughter To The End
By the time Shields had a family of her own, her relationship with her mother had changed dramatically. Shields had already replaced Teri with a new manager and finally taken control of her own finances. She wanted to create a healthier relationship between the two of them. Just as that seemed to be happening, though, Teri started to show devastating signs.
45. She Took On The National Enquirer
Around the time of their reconciliation, Teri began to display symptoms of dementia. Eventually, Shields had to move her mother into a nursing home so she would receive the care she needed. But this was not to bring her much peace of mind. One day, Shields received a call from the authorities, telling her that someone had taken Teri out of the home without her knowledge. That was bad enough—but the whole truth was even worse.
46. She Had To Go Public With Her Mom’s Dementia
Shields found out that two reporters from the National Enquirer had checked her mother out of the home. She was livid at these reporters for taking advantage of her mother’s condition. Sure that they were looking for scandalous information about her or her mother’s health, Shields and her lawyer decided to release a statement of their own—but she wasn't happy about it.
She had not been ready to disclose her mother’s dementia and greatly resented the situation.
47. She Made The National Enquirer Pay
In the hubbub that followed, the National Enquirer defended itself by saying its reporter had known Teri for many years and had simply wanted to take her out for lunch. They added they had gotten the ok from the home. In the end, they agreed that they would not publish the story the reporter in question had been working on, would make a public apology, and make a donation to help dementia research.
48. Those Scandalous Photos Reappeared
Inevitably, one of the explicit, underage photos that Shields had been unable to control as a teen suddenly reappeared in her life. This time, the image appeared in the work of Richard Prince and was featured in a show called Pop Life: Art in a Material World at the Tate Modern in London, England. Once again, Shields was part of a scandal she had no role in causing.
49. She Was Again The Subject Of Debate
Just as it had when she was a teen, the picture triggered an uproar, with some calling it pornographic and others defending it as art and social commentary. A group in the UK filed a complaint that called the piece a “magnet” for creeps. This complaint and media attention prompted a visit to the gallery from the local authorities.
50. They Removed Her Photo
In the end, local officers with specialized training recommended the gallery remove the photo from public view, as it may break obscenity laws, or cause offense to visitors. The gallery agreed, but that decision just added more fuel to the fiery debate taking place—and guaranteed more of a headache for Shields.
51. She Still Won’t Let Anyone Badmouth Her Mom
When Teri Shields passed in 2012, the obituary in the New York Times pulled no punches, detailing her struggles with alcohol, her controlling behavior, and lambasting her for the underage photos and the film Pretty Baby. This was the catalyst for Shields' memoir There Was A Little Girl, where she shed light on the darker aspects of her childhood.
Shields wanted people to see her mother as a whole person, the good and the bad. It was also her chance to share her thoughts on the controversial parts of her life.
52. She Still Starts Tough Conversations
Like she did with depression and body image, Shields still tries to turn her personal challenges into chances to connect with others. When she severely broke her leg, she posted on Instagram that she wanted to be open about the recovery process. She feels that openness will help encourage others experiencing their own struggles. We have to help each other out, she says: “There's no other way to get through life, period.”