In 1983, Shields suspended her career as a model to attend Princeton University, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in Romance Languages. In the 1990s, Shields returned to acting and appeared in minor roles in films. She starred in the titular role of the sitcom Suddenly Susan, which ran for four seasons between 1996 and 2000. Shields has made appearances in other television shows, including That '70s Show and Lipstick Jungle, also starring in the animation film Under Wraps, alongside Matthew Lillard and Drake Bell. She also worked alongside Bell again in the animated films Adventure Planet and A Monsterous Holiday. In August 2017, Brooke Shields was enlisted to assume a major recurring role in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit starting in Season 19 of the long-running dramatic series on the NBC television network.
Shields was born in Manhattan; she was the daughter of Teri (née Schmon; 1933–2012) and Frank Shields (1941–2003), a businessman. Through her father's side, she has Italian, French, Irish, and English roots, along with high social position and relations to nobility. According to research by William Addams Reitwiesner published in 1995, Brooke Shields has ancestral links with a number of noble families from Italy, in particular from Genoa and Rome. These are namely (in chronological order of descent from 1355 to 1965) the Gattilusi-Palaiologos-Savoy; Grimaldi; Imperiali; Carafa; Doria; Doria-Pamphili-Landi; Chigi-Albani; and Torlonia dynasties. Her paternal grandmother was the Italian princess Donna Marina Torlonia (Donna Marina was the daughter of an Italian nobleman and an American socialite). Shields' mother was of German, English, Scots-Irish, and Welsh descent. Shields was raised in the Roman Catholic faith.
When Teri announced that she was pregnant, Frank's family paid her a sum to terminate the pregnancy. Teri took the money, but violated the agreement and gave birth to their daughter whom they named Brooke. Frank married Teri, but they were divorced when Brooke was five months old. She has two stepbrothers and three half-sisters.
When Shields was only five-days-old, her mother openly stated she wanted her to be active in show business: "She's the most beautiful child and I'm going to help her with her career." Growing up, Shields took piano, ballet and riding lessons.
For her confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church at age 10, she took the name "Camille". While attending high school, she resided in Haworth, Bergen County, New Jersey, across the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan. Shields has stated that her very first encounter with the paparazzi was in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria New York at the age of 12, stating that she "stood like a statue wondering why they were all hired to photograph me", and that she "debuted at the Waldorf".
Shields attended the New Lincoln School until eighth grade. She graduated from The Dwight-Englewood School in Englewood, New Jersey, in 1983. She moved to a dorm at Princeton University to pursue her bachelor's degree in French literature, where she graduated in 1987.
At Princeton, she spoke openly about her sexuality and virginity. Shields was a member of the Princeton Triangle Club and the Cap and Gown Club. Her autobiography, On Your Own, was published in 1985. Her 1987 senior thesis was titled "The Initiation: From Innocence to Experience: The Pre-Adolescent/Adolescent Journey in the Films of Louis Malle, Pretty Baby and Lacombe Lucien."
Shortly after Shields graduated from college, her four-year transcript was published in the July 1987 edition of Life Magazine. Based on that transcript, The New York Times published a light-hearted op-ed piece intended to tweak the claim that Princeton produced superior, well-rounded graduates. Noting that Shields "got all As and Bs, and obviously paid attention to her school work," it claimed "she got cheated" because Princeton did not require her to take any classical studies, medieval, modern or American history, nor any course in mathematics, philosophy, economics, political science, world literature or science with laboratory experience. "[I]f that adds up to a liberal arts education from a place like Princeton, there is no longer any danger that our society will ever suffer from elitism in any form," concluded the piece.
Shields began her career as a model when she was 11 months old in 1966. Her first job was for Ivory Soap, when she was shot by Francesco Scavullo. She continued as a successful child model with model agent Eileen Ford, who, in her Lifetime Network biography, stated that she started her children's division just for Shields. In 1978, when she was 12-years-old, Shields played a child prostitute in the controversial film Pretty Baby. Eileen Ford, founder of the Ford Modeling Agency, said of Brooke Shields: "She is a professional child and unique. She looks like an adult and thinks like one."
In 1980, the 14-year-old Shields was the youngest fashion model ever to appear on the cover of Vogue. Later that same year, Shields appeared in controversial print and TV ads for Calvin Klein jeans. The TV ad included her saying the famous tagline, "You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing." Brooke Shields ads would help catapult Klein's career to super-designer status.
From 1981 to 1983, Shields, her mother, photographer Garry Gross, Playboy Press and the New York City Courts were involved in litigation over the rights to some photographs her mother had signed away to the photographer (when dealing with models who are also minors, a parent or legal guardian must sign such a release form while other agreements are subject to negotiation) which were originally intended to appear in a book titled Sugar and Spice to be published by Playboy Press. The courts ruled in favor of the photographer, but due to a strange twist in New York law, it would have been otherwise had Brooke Shields been considered a child "performer" rather than a model.
By the age of 16, Shields had become one of the most recognizable faces in the United States, because of her dual career as a provocative fashion model and child actress. Time magazine reported in its February 9, 1981 cover story that her day rate as a model was $10,000. In 1983, Shields appeared on the cover of the September issue of Paris Vogue, the October and November issues of American Vogue and the December edition of Italian Vogue. During that period Shields became a regular at New York City's nightclub Studio 54. In 2009, a picture of a naked Brooke Shields taken when she was 10 and included in a work by Richard Prince, Spiritual America, created a row. It was removed from an exhibition at the Tate Modern after a warning from the police.
Shields' first major film role was as a lead actress in Louis Malle's Pretty Baby (1978), a movie in which she played a child named Violet who lived in a brothel (in which there were numerous nude scenes). She was only 12-years-old when the film was released, and controversy regarding child pornography arose. This was followed by a slightly less controversial and less notable film, Wanda Nevada (1979).
After two decades of movies, her best known films are still arguably The Blue Lagoon (1980), which included nude scenes between teenage lovers on a tropical island (Shields later testified before a U.S. Congressional inquiry that older body doubles were used in some of them), and Endless Love (1981). The MPAA initially rated Endless Love with an X rating. The film was re-edited to earn an R rating. She won the People's Choice Award in the category of Favorite Young Performer in four consecutive years from 1981 to 1984. In 1998, she played a lesbian, Lily, in The Misadventures of Margaret.
In 2001, Lifetime aired the film What Makes a Family, starring Shields and Cherry Jones in a true story of a lesbian couple who fought the adoption laws of Florida.
Shields began her television career at an early age. In 1980, she was the youngest guest star to ever appear on The Muppet Show, in which she and the Muppets put on their own version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. She was also the youngest person to host ABC's Fridays, a Saturday Night Live-like sketch comedy show, in 1981. In one episode of the popular comedy sitcom Friends, Shields played Joey's stalker. This role led directly to her being cast in the NBC sitcom Suddenly Susan, in which she starred from 1996 until 2000, and which earned a People's Choice Award in the category of Favorite Female Performer in a New Television Series for her, in 1997, and two Golden Globe nominations.
In the early 1980s, she starred in the USPHS PSA sponsored by the American Lung Association as an initiative that VIPs should become examples and advocates of non-smoking. In the mid-1980s, Brooke began her support of the USO by touring with Bob Hope.
Shields made a couple of guest appearances on That '70s Show. She played Pam Burkhart, Jackie's (Mila Kunis) mother, who later was briefly involved with Donna's (Laura Prepon) father (played by Don Stark). Shields left That '70s Show when her character was written out. Shields recorded the narration for the Sony/BMG recording of The Runaway Bunny, a concerto for violin, orchestra, and reader, by Glen Roven. It was performed by the Royal Philharmonic and Ittai Shapira.
In the late 2000s, Shields guest-starred on shows like FX's Nip/Tuck and CBS' Two and a Half Men. In 2005, Shields appeared in a season-two episode of HBO's Entourage, entitled "Blue Balls Lagoon." In 2007, she made a guest appearance on Disney's Hannah Montana, playing Susan Stewart, Miley and Jackson's mother, who died in 2004. In 2008, she returned in the primetime drama Lipstick Jungle. The series ended a year later.
In 2010 and 2012, she made guest appearances on The Middle as the mother of a brood of terror-inducing children and the nemesis of Frankie Heck (played by Patricia Heaton). She also appeared as a featured celebrity in NBC's genealogy documentary reality series, Who Do You Think You Are?, where it was revealed that, through her father's ancestry, she is the distant cousin (many generations removed) of King Louis XIV of France, and thus a descendant of both Saint Louis and Henry IV of France.
Starting in 2013, Shields has been an occasional guest co-host in the 9:00 hour of Today on NBC.
Shields has appeared in several Broadway theater productions, including the musicals Grease (1994 revival) as Betty Rizzo, the 1998 revival of Cabaret (in 2001), the 2003 revival of Wonderful Town (in 2004–2005) and Chicago. She also performed in Chicago in London's West End. She took over the role of Morticia Addams in the Broadway musical The Addams Family on June 28, 2011.
In the June 2009 issue of Health magazine, Shields related that she lost her virginity at age 22 to actor Dean Cain while they were dating at Princeton. She said it would have occurred earlier had she had a better self-image.
In the 1990s, Shields promoted physical fitness as an extension of femininity, maintaining that femininity and athletics are compatible. Although she was not the only woman doing so, Shields had what was required to promote women's athletics.
Shields is also a well-known vegan and an animal rights activist. However, despite coming out against the fur industry in 1989, Shields later went on to create her own mink fur coat at Kopenhagen Fur. She came under the scrutiny of animal rights organizations such as PETA for this visit, which prompted media attention.
Shields has been married twice. From 1997 to 1999, she was married to professional tennis player Andre Agassi; the couple had been together since 1993. Following her divorce from Agassi, she married television writer Chris Henchy in 2001, after they had met through mutual friends in 1999. The couple has two daughters and reside in Manhattan, New York City. She is a spokeswoman for Tupperware's Chain of Confidence SMART Girls campaign, a program that teaches girls to nurture their mental and physical well-being.
Between April and May 2005, Shields spoke to magazines (such as Guideposts) and appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to publicize her battle with postpartum depression, an experience that included depression, thoughts of suicide, an inability to respond to her baby's needs and delayed maternal bonding. The illness may have been triggered by a traumatic childbirth, the death of her father three weeks earlier, stress from in vitro fertilization, a miscarriage and a family history of depression, as well as the hormones and life changes which were brought on by childbirth. Her book, Down Came the Rain, discusses her experience, contributing to a greater public awareness of postpartum depression.
In May 2005, Tom Cruise, an actor and scientologist whose beliefs frown upon psychiatry, condemned Brooke, both personally and professionally, for both using and speaking in favor of the antidepressant drug Paxil. As Cruise said, "Here is a woman and I care about Brooke Shields, because I think she is an incredibly talented woman, you look at [and think], where has her career gone?" Shields responded that Cruise's statements about anti-depressants were "irresponsible" and "dangerous." She said that he should "stick to fighting aliens" (a reference to Cruise's starring role in War of the Worlds as well as some of the more esoteric aspects of Scientology doctrine and teachings), "and let mothers decide the best way to treat postpartum depression." The actress responded to a further attack by Cruise in an essay "War of Words" published in The New York Times on July 1, 2005, in which she made an individual case for the medication and said, "In a strange way, it was comforting to me when my obstetrician told me that my feelings of extreme despair and my suicidal thoughts were directly tied to a biochemical shift in my body. Once we admit that postpartum is a serious medical condition, then the treatment becomes more available and socially acceptable. With a doctor's care, I have since tapered off the medication but, without it, I wouldn't have become the loving parent I am today." On August 31, 2006, according to USAToday.com, Cruise privately apologized to Shields for the incident. Shields accepted Cruise's apology, which she said was "heartfelt." Three months later in November 2006, she and her husband attended the wedding of Cruise and Katie Holmes.
On July 7, 2009, Shields spoke at the memorial service for Michael Jackson. She stated in that speech that she first met Jackson when she was 13 years old, and the two instantly became friends. Shields said:
Thinking back to when we met and the many times that we spent together and whenever we were out together, there would be a caption of some kind, and the caption usually said something like 'an odd couple' or 'an unlikely pair,' but to us it was the most natural and easiest of friendships... Michael always knew he could count on me to support him or be his date and that we would have fun no matter where we were. We had a bond... Both of us needed to be adults very early, but when we were together, we were two little kids having fun.
In her eulogy, she shared anecdotes, including an occasion in which she was his date for one of Elizabeth Taylor's weddings, and the pair sneaked into Taylor's room to get the first look at her dress, only to discover Taylor asleep in the bed. Shields gave a tearful speech, referring to the many memories she and Jackson shared and briefly joked about his famous sequin glove. She also mentioned Jackson's favorite song "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin, which was later sung in the memorial service by Jermaine Jackson.
New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote that "it was a little peculiar hearing Brooke Shields's weepy testimony about her deep friendship with Jackson given the fact that she told reporters that the last time she saw him was at Elizabeth Taylor's eighth wedding in 1991." Jackson stated in his 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey that he was dating Shields at the time. Shields has stated that Jackson asked her to marry him numerous times and to adopt a child together.
In a conversation with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in 2001, Jackson said of Shields:
That was one of the loves of my life. I think she loved me as much as I loved her, you know? We dated a lot. We, we went out a lot. Her pictures were all over my wall, my mirror, everything. And I went to the Academy Awards with Diana Ross and this girl walks up to me and says 'Hi, I'm Brooke Shields.' Then she goes, 'Are you going to the after-party?' I go, 'Yeah.' 'Good, I'll see you at the party.' I'm going, 'Oh my God, does she know she's all over my room?' So we go to the after-party. She comes up to me she goes, 'Will you dance with me?' I went, 'Yes. I will dance with you.' Man, we exchanged numbers and I was up all night, singing, spinning around my room, just so happy. It was great.Shields, Brooke (1978). The Brooke Book. Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0671790189.
Shields, Brooke (1985). On Your Own. Villard. ISBN 978-0394544601.
Shields, Brooke (2006). Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression. Hyperion. ISBN 978-1615530076.
Shields, Brooke (2009). It's the Best Day Ever, Dad!. Illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld. Middle Grade. ISBN 978-0061724459.
Shields, Brooke (2014). There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me. Dutton Adult. ISBN 978-0525954842.