Jennette McCurdy’s memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died has one of the most shocking titles imaginable. Though Jennette seemed to be living every little girl’s dream as a Nickelodeon child star—behind the scenes, her life was a downright horror story.
From the very beginning, Jennette McCurdy was dealt a brutal hand. She grew up in a poor Mormon family with her parents, grandparents, and three siblings. However, it was the dysfunction that raged on behind closed doors that made her upbringing a nightmare—and her narcissistic mother Debra was at the root of it all.
When Jennette was two, her mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer—a sad ordeal that Debra later used to her advantage. After recovering, she unleashed her cancer story on her children every Sunday, making them watch home videos of her being sick. Debra relished in the attention—but her self-centered nature cast a shadow over the rest of Jennette’s childhood.
As a child, Jennette’s favorite place was the church—but it was for a chilling reason. She hated being at home. You see, her mother Debra had a hoarding problem and filled almost every inch of the house with ephemera and garbage. This meant that Jennette and her siblings couldn’t even use their beds, instead sleeping on mats in the living room.
On top of their house of horrors, the McCurdy family barely made rent every month—but that was all about to change.
Jennette’s mother harbored failed dreams of becoming an actress—and decided to live vicariously through her daughter, pushing Jennette into acting. But this decision would tear the girl’s life apart.
Even after one of her earliest auditions, Jennette already knew that she despised acting: “Mom wants this more than anything, not me”. But when it came to her mother’s selfishness, this was only the tip of the iceberg.
In her memoir, Jennette remembered the screaming matches and physical altercations between her parents. But there was an even more disturbing side to it all. Debra desperately wanted to keep Jennette from growing up—and went to extreme lengths.
Even at the age of eight, Jennette still had her mother helping her in the bathroom, wiping her behind, and showering her. In fact, to her horror, her mother insisted on shaving Jennette’s legs and washing her until around the age of 16. And that wasn’t all.
Debra went to extreme lengths in her mission to make Jennette a star. In order to get her represented by the best acting agent, she pushed Jennette into acting classes that she despised with every fiber of her being. Of course, Debra sideline coached the entire time. And when it came to preparing her daughter for any role, she had no qualms with working Jennette to the bone.
If Jennette had a comedy audition, her mother would ply her with Red Bulls so that she’d have “comedy energy”. When she failed to land a part in a Paula Abdul dance special, Debra signed her up for a whopping 14 dance classes a week. For every shortcoming Jennette had, her mother bounded forward with the perfect solution.
But this constant criticism began to bleed into every aspect of Jennette’s life—and it had awful consequences.
Debra had always been preoccupied with Jennette’s physical appearance, but the acting escapades took it to a whole new level. When an agency said that Jennette’s “homely” looks couldn’t get her an audition for Because of Winn-Dixie, Debra had an over-the-top reaction and broke down crying. According to Jennette, this was the first time that she wished she was prettier.
However, that wasn’t her only burning desire.
Jennette dreaded every aspect of her acting career and eventually decided to tell her mother the truth: She did not want to act. By this point, she’d already become known for crying on cue and stunning casting directors with her ability to act so incredibly sad.
But one day, on her way to an audition for Without a Trace, Jennette had a feeling that the tears simply would not come.
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Dreading her upcoming audition, Jennette confessed to her mother that she wanted to quit acting. Again, Debra completely lost it, sobbing, “You can’t quit! This was our chance!” Watching her hysterical mother slamming on the steering wheel like a petulant child, Jennette realized that there was only one thing she could do. She loudly rescinded her confession to appease her mother.
Shockingly, Debra’s habit of guilt-tripping Jennette went even further.
As her teen years approached, Jennette had a terrible fear of growing older. Her mother constantly reminded her that her childish looks ensured her more bookings. But that’s not the most twisted part.
In her memoir, Jennette wrote about how her mother inspired this fear in her: “She often weeps and holds me really tight and says she just wants me to stay small and young…I feel guilty with every inch I grow”.
Jennette wanted to stay a child forever—and with the help of Debra, she discovered a demented way to achieve this.
When Jennette hit puberty at 11 years old, her growing parts horrified her, so she asked her mother how she could stop her breasts from getting any bigger. Debra had an unforgivable response. She told Jennette about a special “secret thing” she could do to stay small: calorie restriction. Little did she know, her mother’s advice would destroy her life.
Jennette and Debra worked on calorie restricting together, adhering to a strict 1,000-calorie diet. Every night, they tallied up their calories and planned their meals for the following day. As the weeks passed, Jennette rejoiced in her progress. Every Sunday, Debra would whip out a measuring tape and measure her thighs and then have her step on a scale.
The numbers didn’t lie. Jennette was shrinking.
Thanks to her mother, Jennette gobbled up diet books in the place of actual food, learning which foods to consume in order to stay skinny. As her dieting intensified, she began weighing herself as many as five times a day. Soon, her favorite foods became whatever added the least amount of weight to her body: sugar-free Popsicles, unsweetened iced tea, and applesauce.
However, when Jennette visited her doctor, her weight was so low—it raised all the red flags.
By the time she saw her doctor, Jennette weighed only 61 pounds. Her doctor feared that anorexia might be the cause and broached the sensitive subject with Debra, who feigned innocence and promised to keep an eye on Jennette’s eating habits. Perhaps even more heartbreaking? Jennette was so young, she had no clue what “anorexia” even was…or that the eating disorder came at such a high cost.
In 2007, 15-year-old Jennette finally got her big break when she booked her first series, iCarly. She was on the verge of becoming a young woman, and yet, behind the scenes she was still riding in a booster seat, getting breast exams from her mother, and showering with her brother.
However, on the set of iCarly, there was an actress who was about to open Jennette’s eyes in a startling way.
When Miranda Cosgrove waltzed into Jennette McCurdy’s life, she was like a breath of fresh air. To Jennette, she was unbelievably cool. Miranda, who played the lead character Carly, was very independent and allowed to run errands on her own—something Jennette couldn’t even begin to fathom. She also listened to music that Debra would never approve of, like Gwen Stefani or Avril Lavigne.
Jennette was fascinated by her new co-star, but Debra was not impressed.
Jennette’s mother advised her to distance herself from Miranda, who had a penchant for swearing and using the Lord’s name in vain. Even worse? Miranda didn’t believe in God. Clearly, she was an awful influence in Debra’s eyes, but Jennette really wanted to be her friend. As the days passed, she began to lose hope that any camaraderie would blossom between them…and then Miranda asked her a simple, yet fateful, question.
On the final day of filming the iCarly pilot, Miranda asked Jennette if she had AIM—an instant messaging program. That night, Jennette signed up for an account, and from that moment onward, her friendship with Miranda began to flourish. They talked for hours every day, and it was easy for Jennette to hide their conversations from her mother.
Of course, working at Nickelodeon, Debra wasn’t the only distressing authority figure in her life.
In her memoir, Jennette dove into her working relationship with a man she only referred to as “The Creator”. However, many assume that this character was the creator of iCarly, Dan Schneider. Jennette’s memories of The Creator paint a pretty disturbing picture. To begin with, she describes him as having two very different sides.
The Creator played a big part in Jennette’s life once she joined the iCarly cast. She described him as being “generous and over-the-top complimentary” but also “mean-spirited, controlling, and terrifying”. This was the kind of man that could make grown adults cry with his vicious insults. In fact, he reminded Jennette of her mother—for a heart-wrenching reason.
Whether she was around Debra or The Creator, Jennette always felt like she had to keep them happy and play by their rules. So, during a lunch meeting with them, Jennette buried her true feelings in the face of a shocking announcement. The Creator surprised her with a new opportunity: He planned to give her her own show. Debra was ecstatic—but Jennette felt a wave of panic wash over her.
At the prospect of one day having her own show, Jennette felt very worried: “…even though a part of me appreciates The Creator, a part of me is scared of him, and the idea that I’ll have to do everything he wants is intimidating to me”. Assuming that The Creator is indeed Dan Schneider, Jennette had every right to fear him, especially considering his treatment of her down the road.
To her dismay, Jennette’s role as Sam Puckett in iCarly made her unbelievably famous. After three years of filming the show, she couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized by her fans. But that’s not the only change she despised. Puberty transformed Jennette’s body whether she wanted it to or not—and when she got her first period, she was horrified.
Jennette felt like her first period was a wake-up call. Though her teacher congratulated her on becoming a woman, she felt completely ashamed of it: “How did I let this happen? How did I become a woman? I don’t know the answer, but I know the solution…[I] need to get back to anorexia. I need to be a kid again”.
Unfortunately, there was another surprise in store for her—and yet again, she couldn’t do anything to stop it.
During the 2007 writers’ strike, Jennette’s show went on hiatus. But this didn’t mean she got to have a much-needed break. Oh no, this was the perfect opportunity for Jennette to start her music career. Soon, she was acting, singing, and prepping for her very first tour. But shockingly, her mother would not be accompanying her.
You see, Debra and Jennette shared an email account—and that’s how she saw an outgoing message she wasn’t supposed to see. Its contents confirmed Jennette’s worst possible fear: Her mother’s cancer had returned. And though she insisted on quitting the tour to be present during this trying time, Debra was not having it. After all, she wanted Jennette to be a country music star.
Jennette’s Generation Love Tour had her emotions all over the place. Playing in malls and performing on radio shows certainly wasn’t her cup of tea, but the experience itself was new and exciting. Because Debra wasn’t there, breathing down her neck, Jennette felt free for the very first time—and it caused her to do something her mother would never approve of.
Without her mother monitoring her diet, Jennette began eating everything in sight. She hadn’t felt full in so long, and consuming foods like burgers and fries became an act of rebellion. However, binge eating also came with a generous dollop of guilt, because she understood just how disappointed her mother would be. As the number on the scale began climbing, so did Jennette’s sense of impending doom. She couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her mother again.
When Jennette reunited with her mother after her tour, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Debra looked terribly unwell: gaunt, bony, and hairless. But what Jennette truly dreaded was what Debra would say about her weight gain…and she didn’t have to wait long. Debra immediately commented on Jennette’s “chunky” physique and said, “We’ve gotta get you on a diet. This is getting out of hand”.
And just like that, Jennette stepped back into the shadow of her mother’s control.
By the time Jennette decided to get her own apartment, her mother had begun to use a wheelchair. It was a clear indicator that Debra was never going to recover. But despite her sadness over her mother’s condition, Jennette’s excitement was undeniable. She couldn’t wait to finally have her own space. But like everything else in her life, Debra was about to shatter her daughter’s dreams once again.
On the day Jennette moved into her new apartment, her mother asked to sleep over because she didn’t have chemotherapy the next day. Jennette couldn’t say no, but she also knew that saying yes was a huge mistake: “This is not Mom spending the night. This is Mom spending every night for the foreseeable future. This is Mom moving in”.
This arrangement, however, began to pose a serious problem for Jennette.
In her memoir, Jennette detailed her relationship with a co-worker she called “Joe,” who is most likely Paul Glaser—a man she started dating around the time her mother’s cancer returned. But here’s the thing. The very first time Joe began flirting with Jennette, he still had a girlfriend—and that’s not all. He was also in his thirties, while she was just 18.
For Jennette, this burgeoning romance felt exhilarating, but she also had to keep it a secret.
In order to visit Joe without alerting her mother, Jennette lied. She sneakily told her mother she had sleepover plans with Miranda Cosgrove, while in reality, she had every intention of staying the night with Joe. Debra, however, was suspicious—so suspicious that she even whipped the TV remote at Jennette’s head and screamed, “I’m gonna figure out what you’re up to, you LIAR!”
Jennette managed to keep her mother in the dark for a full year—but when the truth finally came out, it was a horror show. While on vacation with Joe, a paparazzo snapped some photos of the two of them paddle-boarding together. When Jennette saw the photographer, she entered full panic mode: Her secret was out. The next morning, she looked at her phone: 37 missed calls from Debra.
In addition to her 37 calls, Debra also sent Jennette some disturbing voicemails and emails. She’d seen the photos on TMZ and wanted to disown her daughter. She told Jennette, “What happened to my good little girl? Where did she go? And who is this MONSTER that has replaced her? You’re an UGLY MONSTER now…” Oh, but this wasn’t the worst email—not even close.
Debra’s awful messages caused Jennette to spiral and hate herself more than ever. But the email that drove her mother’s point home was the one that read, “YOU caused my cancer to come back I hope you’re happy knowing this. YOU have to live with this fact. YOU gave me cancer”. However, the second that Jennette apologized and asked to meet, Debra slithered right back to her side.
As volatile as Debra was, she didn’t have much time left. While riding in the car with her mother, Jennette experienced a real-life nightmare. Her mother began convulsing in the seat next to her. But the situation took an even more terrifying turn when Debra began frothing at the mouth. Instructed by her grandfather to have her mother lie down, Jennette pulled her shaking mother onto her lap.
After arriving at the hospital, Jennette learned the sad truth. As it turned out, Debra’s brain tumor had caused her to have a seizure. It truly was the beginning of the end. However, for Jennette, her dying mother wasn’t the only thing in her life on its way out. Not only was iCarly ending, but her disappointing relationship with Joe had run its course.
Although her mother managed to hang on for a while longer, there was no escaping the inevitable.
On September 20, 2013, Jennette’s mother passed. However, she still wielded great power over Jennette, even in death. In an effort to honor her mother, she chose to continue her mission to stay skinny. However, while still struggling with binge eating, Jennette found a horrifying way to balance her intake of food…She learned how to throw it all up.
Jennette soon learned that bulimia had chilling consequences. Her teeth began to feel softer and get cavities, while her throat bled every day. But in addition to her constant purging, she also got hooked on drinking. All the while, her co-workers congratulated her on her slim figure: “I’m miserable. I’m depleted. And yet the compliments keep pouring in”.
After iCarly wrapped, Jennette began filming what was supposed to be her own show. But it wasn’t really. The show was called Sam & Cat, and her co-star was none other than Ariana Grande. Ariana had everything that Jennette didn’t: She came from a privileged upbringing and her mother was healthy. And that’s why Jennette’s jealousy began to get the best of her.
Jennette couldn’t help but compare her lackluster career to Ariana’s. While Ariana was a promising pop star making every 30 Under 30 list, Jennette was at a standstill. She wasn’t getting the attention Ariana did, not even close. Jennette felt stuck in tween Hollywood limbo. Her latest accomplishment? She’d become the face of a clothing line exclusively sold at Walmart. But that wasn’t what sent her over the edge.
When Ariana excitedly shared that she’d played charades with Tom Hanks, something inside Jennette snapped. From then on, any time Ariana missed work or landed yet another amazing opportunity, Jennette only felt pure resentment. But all of this misery only led her toward her ultimate fate. Her days with Nickelodeon were numbered.
Unsurprisingly, The Creator’s bad behavior eventually caught up to him—and he got into some serious trouble. Allegations of emotional abuse had the network in turmoil. But this wasn’t anything new to Jennette. She had her own terrible memories of The Creator—and she’d been putting up with his chilling antics for years.
At the age of 18, Jennette had her very first taste of alcohol, given to her by none other than The Creator. She took a sip just to please him. According to her memoir, this memory was accompanied by another uncomfortable exchange. The Creator also put his hand on her knee and then proceeded to give her a shoulder massage. Jennette wrote, “I want to say something, to tell him to stop, but I’m so scared of offending him”.
Eventually, Jennette’s managers dropped the inevitable bombshell: Her show had been canceled. But there was also a shady offer that came along with it—and it had everything to do with The Creator. Nickelodeon wanted to give her a “thank-you gift” of $300,000 dollars under one condition: that she never speak about her experiences at Nickelodeon. Clearly, they didn’t want The Creator’s dirty laundry aired.
Jennette had a legendary response for them.
Instead of tiptoeing around the sensitive subject matter, Jennette said, “This isn’t free money. This feels to me like hush money”. And then she turned them down. For her film career, it was only a matter of time before she closed the door on Hollywood forever. 2018 was her last film credit, and she walked away feeling utterly embarrassed by her body of work—but ready to take back control of her own life.
Of course, her memoir had one last shock in store for its readers.
Jennette’s father Mark seemed to play a distant role in her life. He was often absent and disconnected from her—and maybe that was because he kept a jaw-dropping secret. He eventually confessed to Jennette that she and her brothers Dustin and Scottie were not his biological children. Instead, they were a product of one of Debra’s affairs.
This left Jennette with one immediate question. Who was her real dad?
Eventually, Jennette decided to track down her biological father She discovered that he was a trombone player in a jazz band and ambushed him after one of his shows. After locking eyes with him, she blurted out, “I think we have something in common”. And that’s when the man’s eyes filled with tears.
Jennette’s biological father confessed that he’d lost the custody battle for his children after Debra accused him of dangerous behavior. But though they exchanged information, Jennette still felt disappointed in the fact that he’d never attempted to reach out to her. What’s more?
Her relationship with Mark, the man who’d raised her, never really bounced back. As she worked through therapy—and began to understand just how harmful her upbringing had been—Jennette felt betrayed by the fact that Mark had never tried to protect her from her mother. They have since grown apart.
Therapy has really helped Jennette tackle her eating disorders and has given her the necessary tools to cope with her past trauma. Additionally, quitting acting was a huge step for her and allowed her to focus on what she’d always wanted to do—write.
On the final page of I’m Glad My Mom Died, she wrote about her mother, “If she were still alive, she’d still be trying her best to manipulate me into being who she wants me to be”.
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