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Kim Basinger turns 70: These are the moments that marked her career and her life

From being an erotic myth in the 1980s to buying a town in Georgia and starring in one of the most high-profile divorces in Hollywood, the actress has been making headlines for decades

Kim Basinger
Kim Basinger on the red carpet at a gala for animal welfare, in Beverly Hills (California), in October 2019.Tibrina Hobson (Getty Images)
Jesús Delgado Barroso

“Oh my God...! Thank you!” sobbed an emotional Kim Basinger as she accepted the Oscar for her role in L.A. Confidential in 1998. “If anyone has a dream out there, just know that I’m living proof that they do come true,” she said through tears in front of the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Twenty-five years later, as she turns 70 on Friday, December 8, the actress is part of the history of cinema, but also of fashion and music. Although for a long time her life made headlines all over the world, these days little has been heard about the woman who epitomized the term “sex symbol” in the 1980s.

In 1983, a Playboy cover opened the doors to cinema for her. Shortly after, she landed a role in one of the longest-running and most successful film sagas. The actress, who was born in 1953 in Athens, Georgia, brought curves back to the canon of beauty, first as a Bond girl in Never Say Never Again (Irvin Keshner, 1983) and later as an art gallery owner that rediscovers her sexuality through sadomasochism, cherries and honey in 9½ Weeks (Adrian Lyne, 1986).

Basinger’s personality has been in the spotlight throughout her career. However, the woman who made half the world sweat is actually shy and has suffered from stage fright throughout her professional life. The actress has never hidden the fact that she has greatly suffered the consequences of fame; she has experienced frequent anxiety attacks as well as agoraphobia, a situation with which she has struggled for years and which has driven her to seclude herself at home for months at a time. In 2022, she told the British newspaper Daily Mail that she still feels anxiety from time to time, but it does not paralyze her anymore.

Lights and shadows of 9½ Weeks

In 1986, Kim Basinger left the audition for 9½ Weeks crying. After calling her agent to yell that she felt humiliated and that it had been the worst experience of her life, she received 24 red roses and a note from director Adrian Lyne. The rest is history: she took the role that catapulted her to world fame — not for the reasons she had in mind, though, but because of her physical beauty. The scene in which she performed a striptease in front of a very young Mickey Rourke turned her into an erotic myth at the end of the 1980s, but it also haunted her forever. The mark it left on her career, and on her life, remains. “I wanted to get up and leave,” the actress, who was 33 at the time of filming, would confess later.

Mickey Rourke, Kim Basinger
Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger in ‘9½ Weeks.’

9½ Weeks became one of the highest-grossing films of the 1980s. However, doing it almost killed the actress. She was slapped, drugged and psychologically abused. The director himself proudly told The New York Times how in one of the scenes Rourke grabbed Basinger by the arm forcefully; despite her pleas, he did not let her go, as she screamed, cried and hit him. The actor finally released her arm, but then he slapped her. She suffered a panic attack. “There were times I was ready to quit, when I wondered if [Adrian Lyne] weren’t a sick human being, if we weren’t all sick to do this, but in the end I faced my own fear and came through it,” the actress confessed in an interview for the same newspaper during the 1990s. To make that film, she had turned down the lead in Sleeping with the Enemy, directed by Joseph Rube in 1991. “Isn’t it funny that I turned down Sleeping with the Enemy and then I went on to sleep with the enemy!” she would declare later. Ultimately, that role went to Julia Roberts.

An Oscar and a Razzie

Since her Hollywood debut in the 1970s, Kim Basinger has frequently been cast in roles based on her appearance, most of them femme fatales, love interests and erotic thriller characters. She herself has spoken on multiple occasions about feeling like a sex object. According to Rotten Tomatoes, she has made four times as many bad films as good ones. In total, only six of her films have earned positive ratings from both the critics and the general public. In fact, Kim Basinger has been nominated six times for a Razzie, the annual awards that recognize the worst actors and actresses in Hollywood. The seventh time she was nominated, she won; it was for her role as a supporting actress in 50 Shades Darker (2017).

Kim Basinger
Kim Basinger at the 70th Academy Awards, after winning her first and only statuette in 1998.Steve Granitz (WireImage / Getty)

Almost two decades earlier, she had achieved the dream of any performer. The same year that James Cameron’s Titanic won 13 awards at the Oscars and Robin Williams won his first and only statuette, Kim Basinger won the Oscar for Best Actress thanks to her role in L.A. Confidential, a 1997 thriller directed by Curtis Hanson.

A stormy divorce from Alec Baldwin

In 1998, Kim Basinger said before the millions of viewers of the Oscar ceremony that she thanked Alec Baldwin, her husband and father of her only daughter, for his unconditional support in her film career. Ten years later, after a bitter divorce and millions of dollars in lawyers’ fees, the actor’s shouting made multiple headlines in the international press, this time due to a message in which Baldwin insulted their daughter, who was 13 at the time, during their divorce proceedings: “Rude, thoughtless little pig,” he was heard saying.

Kim Basinger, Alec Baldwin
Kim Basinger with her then-husband, Alec Baldwin, in Los Angeles, on February 6, 1992.Vinnie Zuffante (Getty Images)

After almost a decade of marriage (1993–2002), the divorce was hard. Even more so because the couple had to go through it under the gaze of thousands of paparazzi who crowded at the doors of the courts. It was a long, complex separation. They fought for custody of their only daughter, Ireland Baldwin. Amicability was out of the question. A few years later, the aftermath was still being felt: in 2006, Baldwin took Basinger back to court for allegedly violating custody terms, People magazine reported at the time. The court ruled that the actress was lying, for which she faced a fine of $12,000 and other legal consequences.

A musical career that never took off

Kim Basinger, Prince
Kim Basinger with her then partner, the singer Prince, in 1998.Kypros (Getty Images)

Kim Basinger has been passionate about singing all her life. On numerous occasions, she has unsuccessfully tried to break away from her acting career to make it in the music industry. In the early 1990s, she released a handful of singles, mostly covers or collaborations with established artists like Ozzy Osbourne or Prince. With the latter, she even recorded a full album titled Hollywood Affair in 1989, although it was never officially released. The album was leaked in Germany in 1997, and it can still be found online. The relationship between both artists was particularly controversial; their passion was so intense, that Basinger gave up her life in Hollywood and moved to the musician’s mansion in Minneapolis. Her family disapproved of the relationship, thinking that Prince did not let the actress think or act clearly. One day they showed up at the mansion while Prince was not there and took Basinger back to California against her will, as reported by Page Six.

An entire city for her

When the money was pouring in thanks to the movies, covers and interviews, Basinger decided to buy Braselton, an entire town, in her home state of Georgia. The year was 1989, and her goal was to create a theme park dedicated to Hollywood, modernize its buildings and promote tourism in the area. However, the project never came to fruition, as the compensation she was forced to pay after refusing to honor the contract for a film she had promised to star in was so high that she had to sell it for much less than what she had paid, according to Looper.

Braselton is a rural town with less than 500 residents. The BBC reports that the actress paid more than $20 million to become the official owner of the inhabited land; after she decided to opt out of the agreement she had signed and look for another buyer, she ended up selling it for around $1 million, losing most of her investment. Years later, The Simpsons would poke fun at this frustrated endeavor, with Homer setting up a makeshift museum of stars in the Baldwins’ garden.

Away from the screen, fighting animal cruelty

Kim Basinger tried hard to get more serious roles in line with her talents as an actress, but the shadow of that nude scene from 9½ Weeks still haunts her to this day. Her talent has remained in the shadows, while other contemporary performers have managed to remain relevant thanks to the many television series that have brought them out of oblivion. Even so, living away from the cameras does not seem to bother her too much; in fact, she only took the role in Fifty Shades Darker at the insistence of her daughter Ireland.

Kim Basinger
Kim Basinger and Jamie Dornan, in 'Fifty Shades Darker' (2017).

The latest work that stands out in her IMDb page is her participation in the animated short Back Home Again (2021). She is also no longer seen at public events or red carpets, in Hollywood or anywhere else. In fact, most of the news that appear under her name on the People magazine website are no longer about her but about her daughter Ireland, who made her a grandmother for the first time in 2023. What has not changed in these decades is her fight against animal abuse: Basinger has been a vegan since she was 8 years old, as well as an animal rights activist. The description on her Instagram account, where she has just over 300,000 followers, leaves no room for doubt: “Actress that hopes all of humanity will one day treat animals with the respect they deserve.”

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