It's hard to believe, but Julia Roberts has been a fixture in Hollywood for three decades now. From her breakout performance in Pretty Woman to her Oscar-winning turn in Erin Brockovich, there’s no denying her talent, but "America's Sweetheart" has a dark side too. From her tumultuous personal life to her tragic family history, this is the true story of Julia Roberts.
Julia Roberts took her first breaths on October 28, 1967. Born in the city of Smyrna, Georgia, performing was always in her blood. Her father ran a local acting school, where he taught the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, as a thank you for instructing the girl, Mrs. King actually covered the hospital bill for little Julia's birth. It was an A-List start, but her childhood wouldn't be glamorous for long.
Despite her parents' shared love of the performing arts, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts divorced when Julia was just four years old. And from there, hoo boy, her childhood just got worse. Not even a year later, Roberts's mother Betty remarried with a man named Michael Motes—and he was bad news. According to Roberts's brother Eric, the siblings' new stepfather was "abusive".
Roberts has said that she hated her new stepdad. Luckily for her, he didn't stay in the picture for too long. Shortly after giving birth to a daughter, Julia's mother Betty Lou filed to divorce her second husband, citing cruelty as the reason for the split. All of this happened before Julia even graduated from high school. Yeesh.
On top of all this, when Julia was only ten years old, her biological father passed of throat cancer.
Thankfully, during her teenage years, the sailing got a little smoother for Julia. Showing her brainy side, she played the clarinet in the band and wanted to become a veterinarian. But all that got put on hold after she graduated from her small Georgia high school. In 1985, Roberts moved to New York City, signed with a modelling agency, and started taking acting classes.
As Roberts made her first steps to stardom, scandal was hot on her heels.
Roberts landed minor TV roles before starring in the movie Satisfaction with Irish heartthrob Liam Neeson. In one of Hollywood's best "wait, they dated?!" stories, Neeson and Roberts quickly struck up an intense romance. There was just one problem: Neeson was 35 and Roberts was just 19 years old. Despite the enormous age gap, the new couple moved in together at a breakneck speed—before fizzling out after a year.
Looking back, this was the first of Roberts's many, many dramatic relationships.
During her whirlwind romance with the dad from Taken, Julia Roberts also found time to star in her breakout role. In 1988, she struck gold with the hit coming-of-age film Mystic Pizza. Upon release, she became a star overnight. Really—Roberts claimed she knew the exact moment she became famous. And it's...a lot stranger than you'd think.
According to Roberts, she realized she was famous in a very classy place: a public bathroom. Roberts was in a stall when a girl asked if she’d been in Mystic Pizza. Confused, Roberts replied that she had, only for the girl to ask for her autograph and slide a napkin under the stall door. Roberts understandably asked her to wait until she was done in the restroom.
After breaking out in Mystic Pizza, Roberts nabbed another high-profile role in the classic sobfest Steel Magnolias. This movie is notoriously sad, but behind the scenes, production was just plain insane. According to Shirley MacLaine, the movie's director was horrible to everyone, but he "went after Julia with a vengeance" even though it was one of her first big movies.
What did Ross do that was so mean? Oh, get ready.
Ross criticized all his stars, even telling seasoned actresses that they couldn't perform. But everyone agreed that he was hardest on Roberts. He didn't just insult her acting—he went after her appearance too. Sally Field said that he hated Roberts's beauty marks and tell her to cut off her "warts" and "moles". Unsurprisingly, Roberts just cried after finishing a long day on set.
But Steel Magnolias wasn't all bad. While filming the movie, Roberts swapped Liam Neeson for a hot young actor named Dylan McDermott. He played her fiancé in the film, and clearly their chemistry moved off screen too. The couple were so in love that McDermott asked Roberts to marry him. She said yes—but their engagement wouldn't last long...
Mystic Pizza and Steel Magnolias were great roles—but the performance that really put Roberts on the map was Vivian in Pretty Woman. The movie came out in 1990 and immediately catapulted Roberts onto the A List. At just 22 years old, she was now a bonafide star and an Oscar nominee. But behind the scenes, things weren't so rosy.
Strap in, reader, because this is where we dive into the rollercoaster of Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland's relationship. While on the set of Roberts's next movie, the supernatural thriller Flatliners, Roberts performed another romantic swap. She returned her engagement ring to Dylan McDermott and promptly began dating her co-star, Kiefer Sutherland. But Sutherland came with, shall we say, baggage. A lot of it.
Kiefer Sutherland, ahem, wasn't exactly available when he got together with Roberts. In fact, he was already married to another woman—and not only that, he had a young child too. Even so, young love barrels ahead. Roberts separated from his wife and began seeing his new girlfriend. Roberts was thrilled with her new boyfriend. Well, for the time being.
Sutherland and Roberts's lovey dovey phase didn't last long. Sutherland, who'd struggled with drinking issues in the past, started hitting the bottle hard and soon decided to match his surroundings to his boozy habit. He moved out of Roberts's glam mansion and into a grimy hotel. Sutherland claimed that he did all this to prepare for a role—but that wasn't the whole story.
Apparently, Sutherland's "role" didn't just involve a dicey hotel and booze. It also required him to spend a lot of time with an "enormously buxom" dancer named Raven. Yeah, this was not a good look for a man with a girlfriend. Even so, Sutherland and Roberts patched things up and moved back in together. However, Raven wasn't out of the picture just yet.
Raven pulled a classic Hollywood mistress move: she sold her story to the press. In a spicy interview, she claimed that Sutherland used to complain about Roberts and specifically, about her cold and condescending personality. After the tabloid hit the news stands, Sutherland's people immediately denied that he'd been more than friends with Raven. Meanwhile, Roberts did something much more chilling.
As a sign of how much Sutherland's betrayal may have hurt her, Roberts has never addressed this time in her life. However, we do know this: shortly after the tabloid came out, Roberts claimed to have caught the flu. She checked herself into a local hospital and rested for five long days. Was she physically sick, or just emotionally drained? Either way, no one saw her next move coming.
As Roberts left the hospital, she waved to the crowd of photographers that had assembled outside the doors. Immediately they spotted it: A gigantic sparkler on her ring finger. Soon, Roberts gleefully confirmed that she and Sutherland had (evidently) patched things up—so much so that the rollercoaster couple was now engaged.
Once they were back on, Sutherland and Roberts moved fast. They set their wedding date for just four short weeks after Sutherland popped the question—and they did not do anything by halves. The extravaganza wedding involved 150 guests, an $8,000 custom made gown for Roberts, and, as the big day approached, a truly insane amount of drama.
Just three days before the wedding, Roberts called the entire ceremony off.
Roberts didn't just run away from her problems. She flew from them. After telling Sutherland she couldn't go through with the ceremony, she boarded a plane to Ireland—and she wasn't alone. Roberts escaped from LA with her new beau: the young actor Jason Patric who was also, in a very awkward twist, Sutherland's good friend. You just can't make this stuff up.
Roberts wasn't just making headlines for her tumultuous love life. She was also hard at work on her acting career. Around this time, she filmed the movie Sleeping With The Enemy in South Carolina. After production wrapped for the day, Roberts and a Black friend went to grab dinner at a restaurant—only for the staff to turn away her friend due to his race. Roberts gave an emotional interview where she called out the town's discriminatory behavior—but her words backfired.
Instead of siding with Roberts, the public demanded that she apologize to the restaurant. And her next movie-making experience was even more dramatic.
Steven Spielberg's 1991 movie Hook transported children to a magical fantasy world. Unfortunately, actually making the movie seemed to transport the cast and crew into a nightmare—and according to multiple reports, one person was to blame: Julia Roberts. Veering from sadness to hyperactivity, Roberts was the main terror.
In an interview about making Hook, the director Steven Spielberg threw some subtle shade at his leading lady. He revealed that she would refuse to come out of her trailer for hours and even implied that he wouldn't work with her again. The tea-spilling interview was already going to make news—but when Roberts publicly struck back at Spielberg, the scandal reached a whole 'nother level.
After Roberts saw Spielberg dissing her on TV, she spoke her mind to a high-profile magazine. She insisted that Spielberg was lying through his teeth and claimed that his remarks made her eyes "pop out of [her] head". According to Roberts, she wasn't the problem; he was. In her words, Spielberg was a "turncoat". Evidently, these two never patched things up. After Hook, they never worked together again.
By 1992, Roberts was becoming known as a bit of a maneater. To uphold her new reputation, she ended her relationship with Jason Patric and did a complete 180. Instead of dating another Hollywood star, she fell for the pompadoured country singer, Lyle Lovett, and took "whirlwind romance" to the next level. They only dated for three weeks before getting married.
Shocker: These two wouldn't last long.
According to Lovett, he and Roberts hadn't spent a straight week together before they got hitched. Even faster, after getting engaged, they waited just three days to exchange rings! It was definitely a whirlwind romance—and it fizzled out just as quickly as it ignited. Before their marriage turned two years old, Lovett and Roberts announced that they were divorcing. They insisted it was amicable, but the tabloids suggested otherwise...
In the weeks leading up to Lovett and Roberts's divorce, paparazzi snapped pictures of Roberts dancing with her usual type of guy: the up and coming Hollywood heartthrob, Ethan Hawke. After the pictures came out and a Rolling Stone reporter asked her about the photographs, Roberts snapped, basically saying, "I danced, so what?" The reporter wisely changed the subject after that.
In 1993, Roberts switched things up. Before, she'd mostly made headlines for her movies and her relationships. Now, she added messed up family dynamics to the list. Roberts's brother Eric had recently split up with his wife Kelly Cunningham, leading the exes to battle for custody of their infant daughter. You'd think that Roberts would side with her big bro—but you'd be wrong. She actually paid for his ex's lawyers, making her low opinion of her brother crystal clear.
Everyone's gotta have a Hollywood feud. Roberts' is with Nick Nolte. The two starred together in the 1994 film I Love Trouble and seemed determined to live up to the title of their movie. The actors clashed on set, with Nolte saying Roberts was "not a nice person" and Roberts once calling Nolte "completely disgusting" in an interview. From there, it just got worse.
According to rumors, Roberts exhibited some youthful diva behavior on set, but Nolte did nothing to help matters. He would irritate her as much as possible, derailing the production even further. As a sign of how much they hated each other, the actors insisted on performing alongside stand-ins, instead of having to look at each other. Yiiikes.
Justice for Julia—amid all her feuds and break-ups, she also used her fame and fortune to give back. For years, Roberts has donated her time and resources to UNICEF, even traveling to Port-au-Prince with the organization in 1995. She also narrated a documentary about Rett syndrome to raise awareness about the neuro-developmental disorder.
Did you know that Julia Roberts had a relationship with Friends star Matthew Perry? Me neither. She started dating Chandler Bing after guest-starring on the show, only for the romance to end a year later. By now, you've probably noticed that Roberts has a thing for her co-stars, but on her next project, nothing could be further from the truth. Sparks flew—but in all the wrong ways.
While working on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde remake, Mary Reilly, Roberts was...not the easiest person to accommodate. The movie filmed in London and instead of enjoying Old Blighty, Roberts demanded that she have a jet plane available at all times, just in case she decided to visit her home in L.A. The cost of this perk? Over $120,000.
Oh, and she allegedly feuded with her co-star John Malkovich, and the movie was a flop. Bet the studio regretted spending all that money on that jet...
In 1998, Julia Roberts met Benjamin Bratt and fell head over heels for the handsome actor (you probably know him as the hot FBI agent in Miss Congeniality). As Roberts herself cooed in a 2000 interview, Bratt "is all a girl could ever ask for". Um, considering what happened next, I'd say Roberts spoke a little too soon.
If you ever want some Hollywood gossip, just watch a clip of Hugh Grant on a chat show. This man kisses and tells like no one else—and he didn't mince his words when it came to his Notting Hill co-star, Julia Roberts. Critics said the pair didn't have chemistry and it seems like Grant agreed. When asked about kissing Roberts, he looked uncomfortable and joked about her notoriously large mouth, quipping "I was aware of a faint echo as I was kissing her".
In 1999, Julia Roberts caused yet another of her signature scandals. Did she run off with a new man? Testify against a family member? No. This time it was far worse. She wore a spaghetti strap dress to the premiere of Notting Hill and, gasp, didn't shave her armpits! Roberts's unshaven underarms caused an absolute uproar in the press, handily overshadowing every other aspect of the glitzy premiere. Sigh.
But hey—it wasn't all bad for Roberts. In 2000, she received rave reviews for her performance as the whistleblower Erin Brockovich, eventually winning the Best Actress Oscar. However, there was an embarrassing twist to the night. The press noticed that in her acceptance speech, Roberts forgot to mention one very important person: the real-life Erin Brockovich. Awkward.
Remember how Roberts gushed about her then-boyfriend Benjamin Bratt? Yeah, this is the part where that ends. In 2001, her sweet nothings turned into public accusations. As Roberts's relationship with Bratt imploded, the exes each accused the other of cheating and not being ready to settle down. Who was telling the truth? Well, let's explore what Roberts got up to around this time.
While Roberts filmed The Mexican in 2001, she was still dating Benjamin Bratt. According to rumors, that started to change when she met the movie's cinematographer, Danny Moder. Moder and Roberts had a lot in common: they were both tall and attractive, oh and seriously involved with other people. Roberts had a boyfriend but Moder raised the stakes—he had a wife.
At the time, Moder was already married to a makeup artist named Vera Steimberg, and Roberts wanted her out of the picture, stat. She reportedly offered Steimberg $10,000 if she'd agree to a quickie divorce from Moder. Whether Steimberg took the money or not, Roberts got her wish: Moder filed for divorce in 2001. But that didn't mean this meet-ugly was done just yet.
In a move so petty that it's almost impressive, Roberts was seen wearing a handmade shirt that said "A Low Vera". People quickly wondered if it was a dig at her man's ex-wife, Vera Steimberg. When Oprah asked Roberts about the headline-inducing T-shirt, Roberts just said, "It was private" before adding, "I stand by my T-shirt".
During this scandal, Moder's ex-wife didn't pull punches. She gave an infamous interview where she called Roberts "a husband stealer". Her words, however, didn't change anything. Roberts and Moder continued their romance. Like all couples in the early 2000s, they got tattoos of each other's initials. By 2002, they were husband and wife.
Did you know that America's Sweetheart has a tramp stamp? Not only does Roberts have ink of Danny Moder's initials on her lower back, she's added to the tattoo over the years. It's now surrounded by the names of her three children. So wholesome, yet...the placement...
When notorious prankster George Clooney heard Roberts had joined the cast of Ocean's Eleven, he sent her an envelope with a note and a 20 dollar bill. The note read, “I hear you’re making 20 a picture now,” jokingly referencing Roberts's record-breaking $20 million paycheck for Erin Brockovich. It’s rumored that she's earned at least $20 million for each role ever since.
In 2004, Roberts added a new role to her extensive résumé: she became a mother to not just one baby but two. She and Moder had twins named Phinnaeus and Hazel. With their birth, Roberts's family grew in more ways than one. Having children made her realize that she wanted to reconcile with her estranged brother Eric. This was a wholesome time for Roberts and unfortunately, it wouldn't last long.
Two years after giving birth, Roberts stepped out of her comfort zone and starred in her first Broadway play, Three Days of Rain. However, this...did not go well. Roberts received terrible reviews, and the star-studded show, which also featured Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper, only lasted for 70 performances. One reviewer said Roberts "wanders around the stage...as if she's looking for the Prozac".
After her less-than-inspiring time on stage, Roberts retreated from public life. She had another son, Henry, and took two years off. She only returned to the screen in 2009 for the romantic-comedy/caper Duplicity. While discussing her break, Roberts said, “I don't have the bug to work. I have the bug to make good movies, and those don't come along very often".
Unfortunately, while critics liked Duplicity, audiences weren't so convinced. Despite Roberts's track record with blockbusters, the movie only made a modest profit.
Evidently, over a decade after working with Nick Nolte on I Love Trouble, Roberts still hadn't forgiven or forgotten. In 2009, she did an impression of a bratty actor throwing a tantrum on a talk show. After virtually everyone pointed out that Roberts sounded a lot like Nolte, she confirmed that he was her target all along.
During press for her 2010 hit movie Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts made a surprising revelation. It turned out that she practiced Hinduism. She initially felt drawn to the religion after seeing a photo of a guru. Then, while filming Eat Pray Love in India, a Swami even gave Roberts's three children the names of Hindu gods. However, the film wasn't without controversy.
Despite Eat Pray Love's positive message, the movie's afterparty was anything but. Reports circulated about Roberts's frosty behavior, where the actress allegedly refused to spend more than five minutes in the part of the event with non-famous people. One person even claimed that they overheard her referring to the crowd as "tacky". Yeesh.
Eat Pray Love was a hit for Roberts, but unfortunately, she hasn't replicated that kind of success. Movies like Larry Crowne, Mirror Mirror, Secret in Their Eyes, Money Monster, and more have all failed to make a mark. Even Roberts's other ventures, like her work as a brand ambassador have had trouble. In 2011, one of her ads for L'Oréal was so airbrushed that England banned it.
Through all her ups and downs, one thing has remained constant for Roberts: her incredible beauty. Roberts has had the honor of being named People’s Most Beautiful Woman a record-breaking five times.
In 2011, family drama reared its ugly head. Roberts's half-sister Nancy had recently become engaged and invited Julia to be one of her bridesmaids. Roberts, however, hated her soon-to-be brother-in-law and didn't want any part in the ceremony. It was already a dramatic time for the family—only for things to take a sudden, tragic turn.
Before Roberts's half-sister could walk down the aisle, Nancy's demons caught up to her. In 2014, she drowned in her bath tub after falling victim to her addictions. Nancy's fiancé claims that in her final note, she called out Roberts, writing "My so-called siblings get nothing except the memory that they are the ones that drove me into the deepest depression I’ve been in".
And then, just one year after Nancy's demise, more tragedy followed. While Roberts filmed Secret in Their Eyes, her mother Betty Lou passed. While Roberts doesn't often discuss her family life, she has spoken about her mother, saying that Betty taught her how to raise her own children. In a recent Instagram post, Roberts wrote that she misses her mother every day.
Despite Hugh Grant's less-than-enthusiastic ideas about Roberts's mouth, Roberts has her trademark teeth insured for a cool $30 million.
As of 2020, rumors are swirling over a potential Steel Magnolias remake. And, according to some sites, one particular reunion has already begun. Roberts might be back in touch with her old co-star and fiancé Dylan McDermott. Roberts's husband is, understandably, not pleased with this development. Again, though, these are all just rumors.
Remember how Julia Roberts pretty much left Kiefer Sutherland at the altar? Well, in a surprising twist, Sutherland doesn't actually have hard feelings about the incident. When asked about it, Sutherland said that he didn't hold a grudge. In his words, Roberts "was smart to get out while she did. I commend Julia for seeing how young and silly we were, even at the last minute, even as painful and as difficult as it was. Thank God she saw it".
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