People magazine once called Shannen Doherty the “iconic bad girl of the 1990s". She made a career playing bad girls, and her on-screen persona leaked into her real life in the most scandalous way.
Shannen Doherty was born in Memphis Tennessee on April 12, 1971. Her parents, Rosa Elizabeth and John Thomas Doherty, raised Shannen and her older brother in the Southern Baptist religion. Life could have been a blessed existence and rather ordinary for Doherty, however, her father made a decision that altered the course of her life forever.
Once Doherty was in LA, it didn’t take her long before she became interested in acting. When she was just 11 years old, she had roles in shows like Voyagers! and Father Murphy. The latter show had Michael Landon as its producer. Landon, like Doherty, was religious and he wanted to work more with young Doherty.
He asked her to join him on another show he worked on: the iconic family-friendly show, Little House on the Prairie. Young Doherty was ecstatic—and not just because she got the part.
The real reason that young Doherty was so happy that she got a role on Little House on the Prairie was because, as a child, she'd been a huge fan of the show. Imagine growing up watching a TV show and then finding out you were going to appear on it. Doherty particularly looked up to another female star on the show: Melissa Gilbert.
Young Doherty was just looking up to her TV idol. In a few short years, however, the two would be sworn enemies.
After a small film role in 1985’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun with Sarah Jessica Parker, Doherty finally hit the big time. The film was 1989’s Heathers and she was going to be one of three nasty characters with the titular name. This was a dark teen comedy that everyone was talking about before filming even began.
Up to this point, Doherty had mostly starred in family-friendly productions. This was her first adult role that was decidedly not family-friendly. It was destined to be an eye-opening experience.
The first thing that Shannen Doherty noticed when she saw the Heathers script was that her lines were full of bad words. Doherty was still mommy and daddy’s little Southern Baptist and had trouble saying such obscenities. In fact, you can see her smirking sometimes in the film when she says a naughty word.
It wasn’t, however, just the bad words that upset the holier-than-thou Doherty. In her eyes, the set of Heathers was full of sin.
While filming Heathers, it came to Doherty’s attention that one of the married crew members was in a relationship with one of the extras. When Doherty found out that the extra was a teenager, she went ballistic. She walked right up to the crew member and told him that what he was doing was wrong.
That’s when the crew member called her one of those bad words Doherty had so much trouble saying in the film. Doherty made it through the filming of Heathers, so how would this film affect her career?
Heathers was a huge hit and it was clear that some of the actors were bound for bigger things. TV producer Aaron Spelling was looking for young actors for his teen-themed TV show Beverly Hills, 90210. His daughter Tori Spelling, who’d already been cast, saw Doherty in Heathers and thought dad should consider her.
Aaron Spelling ended up giving Shannen Doherty the coveted role of Brenda Walsh. In the show, Doherty’s character became entangled in a love triangle consisting of Doherty’s Brenda, Kelly Taylor, played by Jennie Garth, and Dylan McKay, played by the late Luke Perry.
It seemed that fans quickly became obsessed with the triangle, and most were hoping that the love match would be Kelly and Dylan. One viewer got so consumed with her desire to see Kelly and Dylan together that she published a rather nasty newsletter about it.
Now, remember this was back in the dark ages—before the internet—and to express your opinion about things like love triangles on teen TV shows you had to put more of an effort into it. Darby Romeo created the I Hate Brenda Newsletter to share her opinion about Brenda Walsh and eventually Doherty herself.
It even included a page with letters to the editor and a horoscope. This newsletter made it kind of official: America hated Brenda Walsh and they also kind of hated Doherty too.
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So why did people have a hate-on for Shannen Doherty and not just her character? Well, for starters she did some truly annoying things. Pearl Jam's lead singer Eddie Vedder tells a tale of Doherty trying to meet up with him at a hotel in San Diego.
He said that although they didn’t ever meet, she’d been more than a little rude when trying to get information about him at the hotel. She demanded tickets to his show and said things like: ”Make it happen”. Vedder later said he would gladly let his girlfriend beat Doherty up.
However, there was something else that made Hollywood turn their backs on Doherty, something she did to a beloved co-star.
Remember, Doherty worked as a child actor opposite Melissa Gilbert on Little House on the Prairie. Well, ten years after the show was over, Doherty happened to be living next to Gilbert’s husband. It seemed that the two were on a trial separation, and Doherty wasted no time.
She swooped in for a one night stand with her ex-costar's husband. When Gilbert confronted Doherty about this blatant betrayal, Doherty had this to say: “I told you that when I grew up I wanted to be just like you”.
So, safe to say, some of Doherty’s personal choices weren’t earning her any friends. But what about her professional life? Well, that was even worse.
The complaints against Doherty while she was working on Beverly Hills, 90210 are legion. Producers Darren Star and Charles Rosin said her lateness was epic. It wasn’t just that she was late, she also had a callous attitude toward it. Pehaps contributing to her lateness was her constant partying.
The girl was a new celebrity and she just wanted a good time. The problem was that the good times she was having off the set were leading to bad times on it.
The plan was to have the love triangle between Brenda, Kelly and Dylan continue throughout the entire run of the Beverly Hills, 90210. That was the plan anyway. What stopped that from happening was something Doherty did: She abruptly walked off the show. With Doherty’s unexpected departure, the fans found a new focus for their obsession.
They didn't care about the triangle anymore, they wanted to know why Doherty had left. So what was going on behind the scenes at Beverly Hills, 90210?
Doherty’s character on 90210 was in a hostile battle with Jennie Garth’s character Kelly over the love of Dylan. Unfortunately, the two actors had also been getting under each other’s skin. Doherty and costar Garth were apparently at each other’s throats while making the show.
Some report that their arguments became close to physical fighting. The producer’s daughter, Tori Spelling, watched all this with horror. She didn’t want to work on a show with such negative energy. That’s when Spelling turned to her dad for a favor.
Tori Spelling was a cast member on Beverly Hills, 90210, but her father was also the producer and creator of the show. Spelling’s assessment of the situation was that it was Doherty who was causing all the onset drama. She asked her dad to fire Doherty and he did just that.
Years later, on Celebrity Lie Detector, Spelling admitted that it wasn’t just her. Many other cast members weren't happy with her either. Doherty left the show with her head held high. But what would she do now?
While working on Beverly Hills, 90210, Doherty seemed to have lost her Southern Baptist innocence. To prove this, she even posed sans clothes for Hugh Hefner’s magazine in 1993. She did it again the next year and once again in 2003. It seems that her post-90210 career was more concerned with her body than creating a body of work.
She also, it seemed, had time to focus on love.
Shannen Doherty met and started dating Dean Jay Factor who was the heir of the Max Factor cosmetics company. By the beginning of 1993, they had decided to become man and wife, and by May of the same year, things had already gone sour. They were so bad, in fact, that Factor asked authorities for a restraining order.
So what was Factor afraid of? Well, he alleges that she had tried to hit him with her car, threatened him with a firearm, and—weirdly—taken a log and tossed it through his window. Of course, that’s just his side of the story. Let’s hear hers.
Because of her reputation, Doherty could deny what Factor accused her of until she was blue in the face and no one would believe her. For this reason, Doherty’s father stepped in. He alleges that it was Factor who was violent and mentioned a black eye that Doherty sported when she returned home from a vacation with her husband.
The two non-love birds eventually came to an agreement, but Doherty’s reputation was a mess. The media was now calling her “out of control”.
Less than five months after the restraining order, Doherty had met someone else and was ready to tie the knot. This was actor and musician Ashley Hamilton. For some reason, this marriage only lasted about a half a year. It could be the fact that the two only dated for a couple of weeks before walking down the aisle—or maybe it was this: Hamilton claimed that Doherty had threatened him. Either way, Hamilton was out.
With two relationships already under her belt, it was beginning to look like Doherty was the cause of her romantic woes. That’s when things started spiraling out of control. In 1992, someone called the authorities to the street outside a nightclub. It turned out that Doherty had had a fight with another actor.
The officers cited her for battery. Three years later, officers actually took her down to the station and booked her for vandalism. Apparently, she’d thrown a bottle and hit a car. Once again this happened outside a club.
Doherty’s problems seem to all revolve around one thing: drinking. We’ll soon see how her use of the bottle would get her into big trouble.
After Doherty’s bad behavior on Beverly Hills, 90210, Aaron Spelling really should have known better. And yet, for his new project, he called on Doherty once again. This was the series Charmed, about three sisters who find out that they are witches.
It's possible that Spelling assumed Doherty had grown up since 90210 and that she would keep the dramatics to a minimum. Well…that certainly didn’t happen.
Just like she did on 90210, Doherty quickly found a co-star to feud with. This was Alyssa Milano who, like Doherty, had also been a child star. Doherty says that their feud had a lot to with her competitive streak. Doherty’s last TV feud ended with her walking away. I wonder if she had learned her lesson.
Once again, it was Doherty who left the show to end the fighting. Remember, it was costar Tori Spelling who got Doherty fired from 90210. In the case of Charmed, Milano later cited "creative differences" as the catalyst for Deoherty's departure. The question on everyone’s lips was why would bad girl Doherty walk away without a fight?
To most people, this made her look like the guilty party. There was, however, something else behind her troubles: A secret that was about to get out.
In 1999, Doherty let a secret from her life become public. It seemed that since she was a child, she had been suffering from Crohn’s disease. The symptoms of this disease—also known as IBD—are severe diarrhea, weight loss, and even malnutrition. Doherty was quite outspoken and released this quote that many sufferers could relate to.
She said, “There’s nothing sexy about women saying, ‘I’ve got to go to the bathroom right now’”. Poor health, however, was not the biggest problem in her life.
In 2000, Doherty’s drinking problem landed her in prison. This time, Doherty was behind the wheel and under the influence. She was only locked up for a few hours, but she called it, "one of the most humiliating, degrading experiences you can ever go through".
Luckily for her, her punishment was pretty light: She had to pick up trash—which also sounds pretty humiliating—and talk to teens about the dangers of drinking and driving. These days, Doherty seemed to be appearing in more headlines than movies or TV shows. So, what about her career?
With her reputation in shambles, the offers Doherty received were mostly bad, made-for-TV films. She starred in TV movies with titles like Obsessed and Freeze Frame. One title that stood out was Blindfold: Acts of Obsession, which was very titillating for a TV movie.
Her co-star was another actor who’d seen better days: The Breakfast’s Club’s Judd Nelson. All the heat and steam on the set led to Doherty and Nelson having a fling. This fling, however, was soon over, and Doherty moved on to a new guy.
In 2002, Doherty started dating professional poker player—and recent divorcee—Rick Salomon. In true Doherty style, the two walked down the aisle shortly after meeting. Also in Doherty style, the marriage only lasted nine months before they called it quits.
It seems, however, that Doherty likely made the right decision in ending it. Salomon is the guy who would eventually date Paris Hilton and coerce her into making an infamous video tape. Doherty’s personal life was a disaster. Sounds like it would make a good TV show.
By leaving both 90210 and Charmed and taking roles in not-so-great TV movies, Doherty had more or less sabotaged her career. So what was left? Reality TV of course.
In 2003, Doherty agreed to host Scare Tactics, which was a hidden camera show that pranked victims. The show later replaced Doherty with another star who had seen better days: Stephen Baldwin. Doherty couldn’t even maintain a reality show gig. What she needed to do was become the boss.
In 2006, Doherty decided to go out on a limb and produce and star in a reality series of her own. Breaking Up with Shannen Doherty aired on Oxygen Channel and had Doherty capitalizing on her bad girl reputation. In the show, Doherty did other people’s dirty work.
She stepped in when members of the public were too shy to break up with partners or tell their friends what they really thought of them. While it sounded like it was right up Doherty’s alley, the public didn’t like it one bit. I wonder who stepped in and told Doherty the bad news: Her show was not coming back for a second season.
It’s likely that Doherty felt that she’d hit rock bottom. Luckily, a lifeline was on its way and from a surprising source.
In 2008, Doherty’s phone rang. Her agent told her that the people from Beverly Hills, 90210 wanted her back for a spin-off on The CW Television Network. The show that had made her famous—and infamous—was crawling back for more. Surely Doherty was a little hesitant. Did she really want to face that venomous environment one more time?
Apparently the answer was yes…yes…a thousand times yes.
Shannen Doherty must have been beyond nervous to go face to face with her old “frenemies” Jennie Garth and Tori Spelling. As it turned out, she would only have to face Garth. When Spelling found out that Doherty and Garth were earning a higher salary than hers, she demanded that she get a raise.
I guess the producers of the show didn’t think they needed her that much because they gave her a big no thank you. As it turned out, Doherty only remained on the show until the new breed of 90210 kids could carry the torch on their own. Both Doherty and Garth were soon out of the picture—literally.
After leaving the rebooted 90210, Doherty wanted to keep herself front and center in the public’s eye, so in 2010 she got herself onto the tenth season of Dancing with the Stars. Doherty’s partner was the very successful Mark Ballas. He had already won the competition twice, so it looked like Doherty would have a chance of being with a winner.
Sadly that didn’t happen. In fact, Doherty and Ballas were the first couple to go.
Before you get too much joy out of Doherty’s dismal performance on Dancing with the Stars, you should know why she went on the show in the first place. It turned out that her dad was a big fan of the show and was often encouraging his daughter to go on it. When Mr Doherty had a massive stroke, Doherty couldn't say no to her dad’s wishes.
It seemed that Doherty was still daddy’s little girl. But she certainly wasn't a good girl any longer.
After her disappointing turn on Dancing with the Stars, Doherty broke into publishing. Her book, which has this unbearably long title: Badass: A Hard-Earned Guide to Living with Style and (the Right) Attitude seemed to be Doherty’s way of owning her fraught reputation.
Some readers expressed disappointment that the book was more of a self-help thing than a gossipy tell-all. Doherty desperately needed a new TV project—and that’s when she came up with an idea. She would combine her two passions: reality TV and getting married.
What was next in the romance department for Doherty? In October 2011, Doherty walked down the aisle with Kurt Iswarienko. But let’s back up a second. Before the wedding took place, she talked her new fiancé into something that he never should have agreed to: filming the entire planning of the wedding.
Doherty’s new love, Kurt Iswarienko, mostly lists his profession as “photographer”. His IMDB page, however, looks more like he’s an electrician. Whatever he does, it’s pretty clear that he has spent most of his time behind the camera. So now, Doherty has told him that she wants to chronicle the planning of their wedding for a TV show.
Was the guy reluctant? The answer to that is not clear, but I’m willing to say that he should have been.
Doherty prepared for her reality show by doing research. She took a look at the reality shows of Tori Spelling and Kim Karadshian and started to form what she wanted for her own show. What she decided was that she wanted her show to be less like a reality show and more like a documentary.
She then added, contradictorily, that she was going to be an actor on the show and not a personality. So what was it? Reality? Fiction? Or something in between? Well, as it turned out, it didn’t matter which it was because almost nobody watched it.
The wedding planning show about Doherty and Iswarienko’s wedding had the title Shannen Says, which we can assume refers to the fact that Doherty always wants her way. This should have been a red flag for the groom. The show met with some mixed reviews, with some complaining that Doherty was no longer a “bad girl” and therefore kind of boring.
So, the wedding show was more or less a bust. Now, how about the actual marriage?
Doherty's marriage to Iswarienko was her most successful relationship. They lasted an astonishing—well, in Hollywood terms anyway—11 years. When it came time to call it quits, the reasons Doherty gave were pretty vague. She said she “had no other option”.
Her publicist gave another clue to the reason for the end of their marriage. She said that Iswarienko’s agent—Collier Grimm—was “intimately involved” in the break up. Sounds like another love triangle to me. It seemed that Doherty hadn't learned any lessons at all. Maybe it was time for her to hit the books.
Right after she married Iswarienko, Doherty did something she’d always wanted to do: She pursued an education. At the age of 40, however, she wasn’t about to pledge a sorority and go to a bunch of keggers—as much fun as that sounds. Instead, she studied online. There was, however, another reason for her sudden interest in academia.
She paid the bills by doing commercials for a company which finds online colleges for people in search of a degree. Let’s call it a perk of her employment. So would the newly academic Doherty give up acting? I don’t think so.
Around this same time, there was talk that the 1988 film Heathers—which Doherty’d appeared in—was going to be remade into a TV series. Rumors quickly began churning around Hollywood that Doherty would have a role in the show. Doherty herself actually wasn’t that interested in it.
Everything changed, however, when she read the script, which she said blew her away.
Of course the new Heathers had to be as dark—or even darker—than the original story about a teen outcast that plans to murder the cool kids at school. Since the film Heathers came out, school shootings in the US had reached a dizzying number. Was it really a good idea to make a comedy about such a touchy subject matter?
Well, they went ahead and made the show, and then something happened to stop it.
Just before they released the TV version of Heathers, a tragedy occurred. It was a school shooting in Parkdale Florida where 17 people lost their lives. The studio got nervous: Could they really release a show about high school murder in the face of such a tragedy?
The studio eventually canceled all plans for the release of the show. The studio later forgot about the tragedy and released the show anyway. This was another tragedy: It was widely panned by both viewers and the press.
The failure of Heathers the TV show was a huge disappointment for Doherty, but later in 2018, she’d face something much much worse than a bad review.
In 2018, wildfires devastated southern California, destroying many homes. Sadly, Doherty’s Malibu mansion was among the casualties. When a devastated Doherty went to the insurance company to get her house rebuilt, she got some horrible news: The company refused to rebuild her house. The next year, an inflamed Doherty decided to take this matter to the courts.
When Doherty and her insurance got to court, the insurance company quickly pointed out that Doherty did not have to rebuild her home as it had only suffered smoke damage—there was no fire damage at all. They also said that they had already given Doherty $1 million to clean up the damage from the smoke.
Doherty had a startling reason for needing the house rebuilt—and it goes all the way back to 2015.
In an early Beverly Hills, 90210 episode, Doherty's character Brenda has a cancer scare after finding a lump in her breast. She winds up being okay...but sadly, Doherty didn't have the same luck. In 2015, Doherty's doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer.
This wound up being a major factor in her court battle with the insurance company. In Doherty’s attorney's view, this meant that the smoke damage in her home affected her in a more profound way. For this reason, the house needed to be completely rebuilt.
Though Doherty’s cancer had been in remission since 2017, she eventually relapsed. The outcome of this disagreement was now in the jury's hands.
In the end, the jury did feel sorry for Doherty. The court asked the insurance company to pay a whopping $6.3 million settlement to cover damages, emotional stress, and the fee for her lawyers. Ironically, the amount that Doherty originally asked for to rebuild her house was only $2.7 million.
The insurance company was not happy and considered appealing the ruling. Doherty finally had some good news, and it was about to get better.
Just when Doherty thought 90210 was over for good, in 2019, another reboot surfaced. This time, producers were going meta. The premise for BH90210 is a little tricky to get your head around. The actors from the original series play themselves, or a fictionalized version of themselves.
In the show, the cast is trying to make a reboot of the original 90210. Before Doherty would sign on for this incredibly complicated show, she made one very clear demand.
Doherty was willing to appear opposite her old 90210 cast members as long as the producers and writers agreed on one thing: She was not going to play a villain. Doherty wanted the public to know that she had grown as a human being.
To make this very clear, in the trailer for the show, all the cast members are shown doing everyday tasks—all except Doherty, who is busy meditating.
As it turned out, Doherty had indeed changed: There were no onset hysterics. This was in spite of the fact that while filming it, Doherty carried around the most tragic secret: Her cancer had returned.
Shannen Doherty has always been fairly open about her fight with cancer. In January 2023, Doherty let her fans know that a CT scan had revealed that the cancer had moved to her brain. She made her announcement on social media, and what followed were many words of encouragement and support from celebrities and fans alike.
It seemed that the girl that America had loved to hate was finally experiencing what it felt to just feel love.
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