An effervescent blonde, blue-eyed beauty, Christie Brinkley became one of the world's most successful supermodels, gracing the cover of more that 500 magazines worldwide, from Cosmopolitan to Sports Illustrated. Landing her first big contract with Cover Girl near the start of her career, Brinkley remained a spokesperson for the cosmetics brand for 20 year - one of the longest-running modeling contracts in history. As talented as she was beautiful, Brinkley managed to parlay her success into a number of other ventures and pursuits; as an artist and photographer, her work graced album covers and appeared in numerous publications, As an advocate of fitness and wellness, Brinkley published a New York Times best-selling fitness book and served as a partner and spokesperson for Total Gym. Though she was as one time named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" and Harper's Bazaar magazine's "Ten Best Bodies," Brinkley's extensive and remarkable 20-year career made her more than just an archetypical California girl done good.
Born Christie Lee Hudson on Feb. 2, 1954, in Monroe, MI, to Donald Hudson, a television writer who worked on shows such as "The Virginian" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," and Marge Hudson, Brinkley grew up in sunny Malibu, CA and attended Lycée Français de Los Angeles, a bilingual French-American school, where she worked as an entry-level illustrator. Fluent in French, Brinkley went on to study art in Paris after graduation, and found work as a professional illustrator. While living in the City of Lights, Brinkley's stunning all-American looks - most especially her brilliant smile - caught the attention of a photographer; the encounter leading to Brinkley signing on with the esteemed Ford Modeling Agency. A natural beauty and talent, Brinkley's career took off quickly - and with the exception of fellow all-American blonde, Cheryl Tiegs - there were simply not a lot of models uniquely like her. Signing with Cover Girl cosmetics in 1976, Brinkley's name eventually became synonymous with the brand, making it one of the most successful makeup lines in the U.S. Landing the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1979, Brinkley's popularity was sealed, leading her to grace the magazine's cover for three consecutive years - a major coupe in the modeling world. She was also the first model to be featured exclusively in the first Sports Illustrated calendar.
Due to such high profile success, like many models, Brinkley longed to branch out a bit - leading her to the stereotypical acting gig. Making her feature film debut in 1983, she appeared as Chevy Chase's red Ferrari-driving fantasy girl in hit comedy, "National Lampoon's Vacation." Though the film was a major hit, critics were less than kind to her painfully forced dialogue. That same year - arguably her peak year, career-wise - the supermodel wrote the best-selling fitness book, Christie Brinkley's Outdoor Beauty and Fitness Book and, even more importantly, met someone who would not only change her life on a personal level, but put her over into a whole new level of fame as one half of one of America's most beloved couplings.
Having just lost her fiancé Olivier Chandon de Brailles, heir to the Moët-Chandon Champagne fortune in a 1983 auto racing accident, Brinkley was far from healed when she traveled to St. Barts for some R&R. The self-confessed "Angry Young Man" singer/songwriter Billy Joel - himself, recovering from an acrimonious divorce from his manager/wife, Elizabeth - was also on the island and happened upon Brinkley at a local bar. Instantly smitten like any red-blooded man, Joel returned home and wrote the song "Uptown Girl" - a ditty about whether a beautiful woman could falling for a blue-collar downtown boy. Featured on his hit 1983 LP, An Innocent Man, the song proved to be a smash hit for Joel, and Brinkley was later featured in the video, playfully dancing around Joel and his grease monkey back-up dancers. By then, the "beauty and the beast" - as they were often cruelly referred to by the fascinated media - were in a full-blown, celebrated romance. Two years after meeting, the rocker and supermodel were wed on a boat in New York Harbor in March of 1985. A daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, came later that year.
While Brinkley's personal life as a rocker's wife only added to her twinkle, her career continued to steamroll over other models of the time. As model and spokesperson for Cover Girl, Brinkley hosted the video, "CoverGirl's Guide to Make-up with Christie Brinkley" in 1987. Actively interested in moving beyond her work as a model, Brinkley hosted a daily lifestyle program on CNN called "Living in the 90's with Christie Brinkley," (1992), scripting and filming her own segments, Brinkley covered a wide variety of topics including health, style, travel, food and entertainment. As further proof that Brinkley was more than a pretty face, the model successfully showcased her other talents - art and photography. She painted her husband's 1993 album, River of Dreams, which Rolling Stone would go on to name the best album cover of the year. Her photography - most specifically, her sports photographs, were featured in Ring Magazine, Photo and Autosprint Magazine.
In a move that stunned everyone, Brinkley and Joel announced their intention to divorce in 1994 after nine years of marriage, ending a fairytale union that many felt was one for the long haul. Thankfully the dissolution of the marriage was an amicable one, and the couple remained friendly while still raising a daughter together. Finding a new love that same year, Brinkley became engaged to real-estate developer Richard Taubman after surviving a helicopter crash together in Colorado. The couple went back to the site of the crash nine months later to tie the knot. Though Brinkley had her second child, Jack Paris, with Taubman, she quickly ended the rebound marriage after only a year. Resilient despite her personal troubles, Brinkley went on to flourish professionally. Though her contract with Cover Girl ended in 1996 (after a record 20-year run), Brinkley signed with NuSkin International, lending her face and expertise to the company as the first spokesperson for their personal care division. She also found love once again, this time with architect Peter Cook. The couple wed in September of 1996 and became a fixture in upscale Hamptons society.
An advocate of fitness and personal wellness during her career, Brinkley partnered with Total Gym in 1997, hosting one of the most profitable infomercials at the time alongside Chuck Norris. Though Brinkley was modeling less by this point in her life, she remained active, both as a wife and mother, and as an entrepreneur and philanthropist. She gave birth to her third child, daughter Sailor Lee, in July of 1998, introduced her own cosmetics line and fragrance, and went on to participate in a USO tour of Bosnia and The Balkans in 1999. Active in a number of charity organizations, Brinkley was honored by The March of Dimes, The Make a Wish Foundation of New York, and was named "Mother of the Year" by the National Mother's Day Committee. Still a knock-out beauty at the age of 52 with no discernible plastic surgery nips and tucks, Brinkley renewed her contract with Cover Girl in 2005 to promote a skincare line for mature women. Everything was an upswing, but like many times before in Brinkley's glamorous life, as soon as she hit a high, she was struck with a brutal low.
After years of supposed marital bliss, Brinkley and Cook found themselves ensnared in ugly headlines in 2006, when reports surfaced that Brinkley's husband of 10 years had been having an affair with a 19-year-old co-worker. Despite this very public humiliation, Brinkley was able to maintain her composure through the hailstorm of media coverage, going so far as to graciously hand out popsicles to media reporters camped outside her property on a hot day. Rising above it all with the public firmly on her side, Brinkley filed for divorce from her philandering husband in September of 2006. Brinkley was back in the headlines two years later when the couple went to court to battle over the custody of their two young children. The media circus again captured America's imagination with its unflattering portrait of the duplicitous husband for whom one of the world's most beautiful women was not enough. Allegations which Cook admitted to on the stand included spending $3,000 a month on Internet porn, paying off his young lover and various other tawdry activities. Only days after the sordid mess had begun, an agreement was reached which awarded Brinkley full custody of the couple's two children and gave Cook a financial settlement of $2.1 million as well as "parenting time." Brinkley retained all of the couple's properties, including 18 in the Hamptons, which were at dispute because Cook had advised the former model to buy them during their 10-year marriage.
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Signed with cosmetics giant Cover Girl; contract continued to be renewed until 1996, making it the longest model contract ever
Appeared on the cover of three consecutive Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues
Was the inspiration for husband Billy Joel¿s major hit "Uptown Girl"; also appeared as the title character in the music video
Wrote the best-selling fitness book, Christie Brinkley¿s Outdoor Beauty and Fitness book
Made acting debut as Chevy Chase's fantasy girl in the blockbuster "National Lampoon's Vacation"
Reprised her role as the mysterious lady in the red Ferrari, in the sequel, "Vegas Vacation"
Hosted the short-lived show "Living in the '90s with Christie Brinkley" (CNN)
Created the cover art for Billy Joel¿s River of Dreams album
Appeared as herself in an episode of the NBC comedy, "Mad About You"
Signed with NuSkin International, to become the companies first spokesperson for their personal care division
Hosted the most profitable infomercial in America for Total Gym
Launched her own perfume, Believe
Once again signed with Cover Girl to appear in magazines and commercials for their mature skin line