A Kiwi beauty, Rachel Hunter became an international supermodel, conquering the United States with her sultry Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue appearances. Moving from modeling to acting, Hunter booked small roles in high-profile films like "Rock Star" (2001) and "The Benchwarmers" (2006) and starred as "Stacy's Mom" in the Fountains of Wayne music video, but had better luck in reality television. She earned her judging and hosting stripes on such projects as "Are You Hot? The Search for America's Sexiest People" (ABC, 2003), "Style Me with Rachel Hunter" (WE tv, 2006), the British version of "Make Me a Supermodel" (Five, 2005-06), "She's Got the Look" (TV Land, 2008-2010) and "RuPaul's Drag Race" (Logo, 2009- ). Hunter also competed on several reality shows, including "The Real Gilligan's Island" (TBS, 2004-05), "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ), "Strictly Come Dancing" (BBC One, 2004- ) and "Celebrity Circus" (NBC, 2008). Dedicated to supporting charities that benefited animals, Hunter also occasionally earned more straightforward acting roles, and was a series regular on the suicide-survivors comedy series "Gravity" (Starz, 2010). As charming as she was beautiful, Rachel Hunter outlasted many of her glamorous contemporaries to build an interesting and varied life both on- and off-screen.
Born Sept. 9, 1969 in Auckland, New Zealand, Rachel Hunter overcame a childhood full of obstacles; her unhappily married parents went through a painful divorce and Hunter herself made a difficult recovery from a rare blood disease. Surviving these difficult situations only helped her become more outgoing and self-confident, and when her original dream of becoming a ballerina failed to come true, she decided to pursue the equally competitive field of modeling. Blessed with a world-class beauty, Hunter broke through to become one of the most internationally successful and famous models of her era, booking the cover of Vogue among many others. Considered royalty in the modeling world, Hunter saw mainstream audiences fall deeper in love and lust with her after sizzling Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue pictorials, which were among the magazine's most popular. Appearing in the company's videos as well as in fitness videos of her own, a promo clip of the 20-year-old Hunter caught the eye of rocker Rod Stewart, who found himself becoming obsessed with her.
Although he was 24 years her senior, Stewart took full advantage of a chance meeting at a Los Angeles nightclub, attempting to break the ice by mimicking her exercise video motions. Although Hunter was not impressed, she accepted an invitation to attend a party at Stewart's house, and upon her arrival, promptly slipped and fell. Having each embarrassed themselves in front of the other, Hunter and Stewart made a real connection, which was sealed after Stewart's father died and Hunter not only comforted him, but made all the arrangements for them both to travel to London for the funeral. Upon their return, the couple moved in together and their whirlwind romance set off global headlines, culminating in their 1990 marriage - a union that scandalized and delighted celebrity watchers who noted that Hunter was the latest in a string of Stewart's romances with leggy blondes, with her predecessors including actress Britt Ekland and his first wife, Alana Hamilton. Although he had quite a reputation for being a ladies' man, Stewart would later write that he was completely faithful to and besotted with Hunter as they welcomed two children and built a life together.
Successfully navigating the leap from supermodel to celebrity thanks to her marriage, Hunter stepped away from the catwalk to focus on acting, enrolling in classes and booking a guest spot on "The Drew Carey Show" (ABC, 1995-2004) as herself. She made her film debut in the romantic comedy "Just a Little Harmless Sex" (1998) and went on to notch roles in everything from the erotic thriller "Two Shades of Blue" (1999), the campy comedy "Best Actress" (E!, 2000), the Mark Wahlberg drama "Rock Star" (2001) and the revenge-of-the-underdogs yukfest "The Benchwarmers" (2006). Hunter served as a judge on the trashy guilty pleasure competition "Are You Hot? The Search for America's Sexiest People" (ABC, 2003) and found a comfortable niche in reality TV, playing a variation on Ginger, the most glamorous castaway, on "The Real Gilligan's Island" (TBS, 2004-05) and raising temperatures as the star of the music video for Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom."
After posing for Playboy in 2004, the actress then competed on "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ) and its British forerunner, "Strictly Come Dancing" (BBC One, 2004- ) and then hosted a reality show to determine who would be her next stylist on "Style Me with Rachel Hunter" (WE tv, 2006) as well as the British version of "Make Me a Supermodel" (Five, 2005-06). That same year, the longtime marriage between Hunter and Stewart officially ended in divorce, although they had technically been separated since 1999. In his autobiography, Stewart would write that what had split them up was simply Hunter's very understandable need to figure out her own needs and path, having gotten married too young. He would call Hunter the love of his life, but supported her desire to stand on her own two feet. Carrying on with strength and grace, Hunter launched the fashion line Lola, competing on "Celebrity Circus" (NBC, 2008) and adding comic commentary to the popular "truTV Presents: World's Dumbest." (truTV, 2008- ). A seasoned pro at reality TV, Hunter also served as a guest judge on the competitions "She's Got the Look" (TV Land, 2008-2010) and "RuPaul's Drag Race" (Logo, 2009- ). In real-life, however, Hunter suffered a blow when her much younger fiancé, hockey player Jarret Stoll, broke off their engagement. One of Hollywood's few registered Republicans, Hunter landed a series regular role on the darkly comic sitcom "Gravity" (Starz, 2010), but remained heavily involved in animal welfare charity work, founding the Rachel Hunter Gorilla Fund.
By Jonathan Riggs