Model, television personality, and author
Born February 15, 1955 (some sources say February 17, 1953); married Ron Levy (a music composer; divorced); married Simon Fields (a film producer; divorced); children: Nathan (with Fields), Savannah (with Michael Birnbaum).
Addresses: Office —9972 West Wanda Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
Began modeling in early 1970s under contract to the Wilhelmina agency in New York City; appeared on the cover of French Vogue ; worked for designers Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein, and many others in print ads and on the runway; became freelance photographer; America's Next Top Model judge, 2003, 2004 seasons.
In 2003, former model Janice Dickinson began assessing the chances of young modeling hopefuls as a judge on the hit UPN reality-TV/elimination contest America's Next Top Model. Not one for sugar-coating opinions, Dickinson has used her experiences in the cutthroat world of modeling to raise awareness of the dangers that lurk for all young women who strive for physical perfection. She herself was once one of the world's highest-paid models, but fell prey to an array of self-abusive habits, detailed with her trademark candid humor in two volumes of memoirs. "I want them to avoid the pitfalls that I've made—bulimia, alcohol addiction,
Dickinson provides a birthdate of 1955, though one source claims she is two years older. She grew up in Hollywood, Florida, in a dysfunctional household headed by her father, a merchant marine with a bad temper. The middle of three daughters, she said she was a tall, gawky teenager, "an ironing board with legs," she recalled in an article she wrote for London's Sunday Times. "I was tall and dark, with no curves, no nothing, and I took heat for it from everyone around me."
Obsessed with fashion and fashion magazines, Dickinson moved to New York City and tried to break into the modeling business. At the time—in the early 1970s—young women with all-American looks like Cheryl Tiegs set the beauty standard, and Dickinson, with her dark hair and lush lips, was considered too Mediterranean-looking to succeed. She regularly had "the door slammed in my face at every appointment," she told Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service reporter Margaria Fitchtner. "'Sorry. Your face isn't the right shape to sell magazines.' 'Sorry. You're way too ethnic.' 'Excuse me. You don't serve our purposes.' 'You'll never make it in this town. You'll never make it, period.'"
One day, Dickinson went to visit the studio of a fashion photographer unannounced, and found that preparations were underway there for a photo shoot. Thinking quickly, she announced that she was the model that was expected, and the resulting professional shots finally landed her a contract with Wilhelmina, one of the top agencies in New York City. The agency wisely sent her to Europe, believing that she would find work there more easily due to a modeling strike, and Dickinson returned with a slew of excellent credits, including the cover of French Vogue. Soon inundated with job offers from American designers, ad agencies, and magazines, Dickinson quickly rose to the top of her profession. For a time in the late 1970s and early '80s, she "appeared in issue after issue of Vogue, and became a beacon of sorts for a wide range of women—Italian, Hispanic, Greek, biracial—who longed to see their own physical features in the big magazines," noted Nara Schoenberg in a Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service report.
Dickinson's career trajectory was copied by a younger model from Philadelphia named Gia Carangi, who was the toast of the fashion world for a time before substance abuse problems resulted in her death from AIDS in 1984. Early in her career, Carangi was sometimes referred to as "the next Janice Dickinson," and a young Cindy Crawford was tagged as "the next Gia Carangi" as the trend toward models who better reflected American demographics became the norm.
Dickinson commanded high rates when she was at the top of her game in the early 1980s, working for such designers as Gianni Versace and Calvin Klein. Her autobiography asserts that she coined the term "supermodel" to describe herself long before it came into common usage, but it had been used at least as early as the mid-1970s to describe Margaux Hemingway and Veruschka von Lehndorrf, who were then segueing into film careers. Supermodel or not, Dickinson maintains she was a pioneer in her field. "I was the first to do editorial, runway, TV commercials, spokesperson and catalogs," she explained to Newsweek interview with Nicki Gostin. "Those are five separate categories."
Dickinson worked with some of the world's best photographers, such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, and her boyfriend for many years, Michael Reinhardt, was a fashion photographer himself. She eventually picked up a camera herself. "All of our friends were photographers," she recalled years later in an interview with Petersen's Photographic writer Jay Jorgensen. "I was eating and sleeping photographs. You'd have to be a moron not to pick it up."
Dickinson thoroughly reveled in the jet-set, decadent lifestyle her fame and fortune begat. She used cocaine to stay slim, and a raft of other drug problems began affecting her work. She once fell off a runway during a Valentino show and into film icon Sophia Loren's lap, and later was a passenger in a car that went off the side of a cliff. The injuries stemming from that accident put her in the hospital for four months. The modeling jobs grew scarcer, and her personal life spiraled downward. There were two failed marriages, a long relationship with actor Sylvester Stallone, and two children. The father of her son, Nathan, was Simon Fields, a film producer to whom she had been married in the late 1980s. The paternity of her daughter, Savannah, however, was disputed for a time before DNA testing proved conclusively that another film producer, Michael Birnbaum, was the father of her daughter, not Stallone.
In July of 2000, Dickinson swore off drugs and alcohol, and began attending regular 12-step meetings. Back in the 1970s, the late makeup artist Way Bandy had suggested she keep a journal as way to attain some personal insight, and she started doing it again early in her recovery period, writing "rooms full. I couldn't stop," she told Fitchtner in the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service article. Thinking perhaps that she had the makings of a book on her hands, she made a phone call to publisher Judith Regan of ReganBooks. "I just told her from my heart about my life," Dickinson recalled. "She said, after about a minute, 'I'm in.' I didn't turn in one shred of writing sample."
The result was the memoir No Lifeguard on Duty: The Accidental Life of the World's First Supermodel, issued in 2002. In it, Dickinson details the more harrowing experiences of her youth—revealing, for example, that her father sexually molested her older sister. Dickinson managed to fend him off when he approached her around the age of nine, but she was thrown across the room for her insolence and then pummeled and verbally abused on a daily basis. He even locked her in the trunk of a car once. Their mother, who died in 1995, was addicted to prescription drugs, and neither Dickinson nor her sister said anything to her to stop the abuse. "That inability to tell anyone, a teacher, a friend, was like a silent prison," she told Mackenzie in the Mirror article. "It led me to a lifetime of self-destructive behaviour."
No Lifeguard on Duty goes on to recount Dickinson's life in the fast lane during the prime years of her career, when she frequented places like Studio 54 with pals Andy Warhol, Keith Richards, and Jack Nicholson. She reveals some intimate details about famous names, including Mick Jagger and Warren Beatty. "What keeps the book from becoming too tawdry is Dickinson's sense of humor," noted WWD journalist Jessica Kerwin. "She applies a healthy dose to both her conquests and disasters alike." Dickinson displayed the same self-deprecating wit in an interview with Daily Mail writer Lina Das largely devoted to the affair with Jagger, the Rolling Stones' lead singer and a legendary rake. "It was all about jets and limos and first-class flights to concerts and although he was always wanting me to fly out to see him in concert, I played pretty hard to get, initially," Dickinson recalled about their time together. "Yes, some of the attraction was that he was in one of the biggest rock bands in the world. If that makes me shallow, then I'm shallow."
Dickinson's book caused a bit of a stir, but reviewers commended her courage. "Janice Dickinson is a funny and fluid narrator," asserted New York Observer writer Philip Weiss, and though he conceded that some other critics had been less than kind in their reviews, "what makes it interesting is her scathing inventory—from age 47, in Los Angeles—of everyone's desperate behavior, including her own." A Publishers Weekly contributor found that the fact that Dickinson comes across as someone prepared to acknowledge and admit "her own flaws makes it easy to relate to her positive message and should inspire readers searching for solutions to career and personal conflicts."
In 2003, Dickinson began appearing on a new reality-television series hosted and created by model Tyra Banks. A model-search contest similar to the talent-show elimination series American Idol, America's Next Top Model offered the first-prize winner an exclusive modeling contract. As one of the judges, Dickinson's sometimes-acerbic remarks to the young modeling hopefuls helped the show score impressive ratings during its first season, which ended in July of 2003. "I'm brutally honest," she admitted to Mackenzie in the Mirror interview. "I feel like I'm saving the girls a lot of time by telling them, 'You're too fat, too skinny, too old or too short.'"
Dickinson's second volume of "brutally honest" revelations came out in 2004: Everything About Me Is Fake—And I'm Perfect. True to form, she underwent $60,000 worth of cosmetic-surgery procedures a few months before it was published, and the promotional efforts included a face-lift diary, complete with before-and-after photographs, for People magazine. "I'm not doing anything that most people in the entertainment industry aren't doing," the former model pointed out to readers. "I'm just talking about it. People wonder, Why can't I look like that celebrity? This is why."
The dangers of "perfliction"—a term that Dickinson really did coin as a way to describe an unhealthy addiction to perfecting one's appearance—was a topic that Dickinson discussed often. She was fond of warning that magazine images are far, far from reality, telling readers in the article she wrote for the Sunday Times, that the women in those photographs "starve themselves for weeks on end, smoke up a storm, scoff diuretics and then, when everyone's still unhappy with their photos, someone sits at a computer and points and clicks them into perfect, unreal sexiness."
Dickinson's first volume of memoirs was acquired as a film property by Warner Brothers in 2004. She is planning a third book, and told Entertainment Weekly writer Jennifer Armstrong she had many more stories as yet untold. "I'm like The Lord of the Rings of supermodels," she said. "This is only book 2 of the trilogy." A single parent, she lives in the Los Angeles area and appeared on America's Next Top Model 2, the 2004 follow-up, where she once again delivered her barbed advice. But Dickinson told one writer that her bravura front was merely a facade. "God granted me this gruff exterior," she told Weiss in the New York Observer. "But basically, inside, I'm a piece of fluff."
No Lifeguard on Duty: The Accidental Life of the World's First Supermodel, ReganBooks (New York City), 2002.
Everything About Me Is Fake—And I'm Perfect, Regan-Books, 2004.
Advocate, August 17, 2004, p. 93.
Daily Mail (London, England), July 29, 2004, p. 54.
Entertainment Weekly, February 27, 2004, p. 14; April 30, 2004, p. 168.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 31, 2002; September 10, 2002; July 23, 2003.
Mirror (London, England), May 25, 2004, p. 38.
Newsweek, April 26, 2004, p. 63.
New York Observer (New York, NY), September 9, 2002, p. 1.
People, May 3, 2004, pp. 87-89.
Petersen's Photographic, December 1999, p. 59.
Publishers Weekly, July 29, 2002, p. 67.
Sunday Times (London, England), August 8, 2004, p. 22.
WWD, August 23, 2002, p. 4.
Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2004.