Basinger was born in Athens, Georgia, on December 8, 1953. Her mother, Ann Lee (née Cordell), was a model, actress and swimmer who appeared in several Esther Williams films. Her father, Donald Wade Basinger (died 2016), was a big band musician and loan manager; as a U.S. Army soldier, he landed in Normandy on D-Day. The third of five children, she has two brothers, James Michael "Mick" and Skip, and two sisters, Ashley and Barbara. Basinger's ancestry includes English, German, Swedish, and Scots-Irish. She was raised a Methodist. Basinger has described herself as extremely shy, which had a major effect on her during her childhood and young adulthood. She has said that her shyness was so extreme that she would faint if asked to speak in class.
Basinger studied ballet from about age three to her mid-teens. By her mid-teens, she grew in confidence and successfully auditioned for the school cheerleading team. At 17, she entered the America's Junior Miss Scholarship Pageant, won at the city level and was crowned Athens Junior Miss. Although she lost in the state pageant to Sue Whitted, who competed as "Georgia's Junior Miss," her beauty was profiled in the national program. She had competed at the state level for the Breck Scholarship and was featured in an ad for Breck in a joint portrait with her mother. She was subsequently offered a modeling contract with the Ford Modeling Agency. She turned it down in favor of singing and acting, and enrolled at the University of Georgia, but soon reconsidered and went to New York to become a Ford model. Despite earning $1,000 a day, Basinger never enjoyed modeling, saying "It was very hard to go from one booking to another and always have to deal with the way I looked. I couldn't stand it. I felt myself choking." Basinger has said that even as a model, when others relished looking in the mirror before appearing, she abhorred it and would avoid mirrors out of insecurity. Not long after her Ford deal, Basinger appeared on the cover of magazines. She appeared in hundreds of advertisements throughout the early 1970s, most notably as the Breck Shampoo girl. She alternated between modeling and attending acting classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse, as well as performing in Greenwich Village clubs as a singer.
In 1976, after five years as a cover girl, Basinger quit modeling and moved to Los Angeles to act. She made guest appearances on a few TV shows such as McMillan & Wife and Charlie's Angels, turning down a regular role in the latter series that eventually went to Cheryl Ladd. Her first starring vehicle was a made-for-TV movie, Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold (1978), in which she played a small-town girl who goes to Hollywood to become an actress and winds up becoming a famous centerfold for a men's magazine. In 1979, she co-starred with Natalie Wood, William Devane and Steve Railsback in the miniseries remake of From Here to Eternity, reprising the role in a 13-episode spinoff that aired in 1980. Her feature debut was the critically well-received rural drama Hard Country (1981), followed by the Charlton Heston-directed adventure film Mother Lode (1982).
In 1981, Basinger posed for a famous nude pictorial for Playboy, which didn't appear for two years, until she used it to promote her breakthrough role as the Bond girl Domino Petachi in Never Say Never Again (1983), where she starred opposite Sean Connery. In his review of the film, Gary Arnold of The Washington Post said Basinger "looks like a voluptuous sibling of Liv Ullmann and has a certain something." Basinger said her subsequent Playboy appearance led to further opportunities, such as Barry Levinson's The Natural (1984), co-starring Robert Redford, for which she earned a Golden Globe nomination as Best Supporting Actress.
In 1986, Basinger starred opposite Mickey Rourke in Adrian Lyne's controversial erotic romantic drama 9½ Weeks. Though the film failed at the U.S. box office, it performed very well in Europe, especially France, and acquired a large American fanbase on home video and cable. Roger Ebert praised the film, comparing it to Last Tango in Paris, and said Basinger helped "develop an erotic tension... that is convincing, complicated and sensual." Academy Award-winning writer-director Robert Benton cast her in the title role for the film Nadine (1987). Several directors cast her twice in their films, including Blake Edwards for The Man Who Loved Women (1983) and Blind Date (1987) and Robert Altman for Fool for Love (1985) and Prêt-à-Porter (1994).
The highest-grossing film of her career thus far was Tim Burton's 1989 film Batman, where Basinger played the role of photojournalist Vicki Vale. After her role in Batman, Basinger was invited to present the award for Best Original Score at the 63rd Academy Awards, during which she publicly chastised the Academy for not nominating Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1990) for Best Picture.
In 1992, Basinger was a guest vocalist on a re-recorded version of Was (Not Was)'s "Shake Your Head", which also featured Ozzy Osbourne on vocals, and reached the UK Top 5. That same year, she starred in the live-action/animated film, Cool World (directed by Ralph Bakshi), where she voiced/played Holli Would, a cartoon bombshell who longs to become a real human woman. The film marks her only voice-acting role to date.
In 1997, after a three-year hiatus from acting, Basinger made a comeback as the femme fatale in Curtis Hanson's neo-noir L.A. Confidential alongside Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe. She initially turned down the film twice, feeling an insecurity at returning to the screen and enjoying motherhood. The role earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, as well as the Golden Globe and Screen Actor's Guild Award. She holds the distinction of being the only actress who has both posed nude in Playboy and won an Academy Award (Oscar winner Charlize Theron also appeared nude in Playboy, but those photos were from a separate shoot and published in the magazine without her consent). In a 2000 interview with Charlie Rose, Basinger said that L.A. Confidential and her next project, I Dreamed of Africa (2000) (where she played Kuki Gallmann), were the most pleasurable of her career and that the cast were all there for the right reasons. She says that Vincent Pérez was the "most incredible actor she had ever worked with" and had the "biggest heart of anybody she has ever worked with." Hanson cast her again, as Eminem's mother in 8 Mile (2002).
In 2004, Basinger co-starred with Jeff Bridges and Jon Foster in The Door in the Floor, a drama with heavy sexual themes adapted from the novel A Widow for One Year by John Irving. She was next featured in the crime thrillers Cellular (2004) and The Sentinel (2006), and starred in the Lifetime original film The Mermaid Chair (2006) as a married woman who falls in love with a Benedictine monk and experiences a self-awakening. Her 2009 film The Informers premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009. Her next film, The Burning Plain, was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2008 and at the Savannah Film Festival in October 2008.
Basinger's more recent work in the 2010s includes Charlie St. Cloud (2010) and Grudge Match (2013). She recently finished filming 4 Minute Mile for director Charles-Olivier Michaud, where she stars alongside Richard Jenkins, Kelly Blatz and Analeigh Tipton, and a German-Danish movie directed by Anders Morgenthaler, The 11th Hour. The latter work has been presented at the 2014 Hamburg Film Festival, held in September. Basinger played Elena Lincoln in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades Darker (2017), the sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey.
Basinger has received an Academy Award, a Golden Globe award (out of two nominations), a Screen Actors Guild Award (out of two nominations), an award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, and an award from the Southeastern Film Critics Association. For her lifetime achievements in the cinematic arts, she received the Athena Award at the Kudzu Film Festival, and has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She has also been nominated for the British Academy Film Awards, the People's Choice Awards, the Saturn Awards (three times) and the MTV Movie Awards (four times).
In 1979, Basinger met makeup artist Ron Snyder-Britton (born Ronald Snyder) on the film Hard Country, and they married on October 12, 1980. In the same year, Basinger developed agoraphobia following an episode where she had a panic attack in a grocery store, and was housebound for two months. Snyder quit his job during the marriage and changed his surname to Britton after Basinger had requested he choose "something with a B" so she could keep the same initials when using her married name. They separated in November 1988, when she left him for Batman producer Jon Peters, and were divorced a few days before Christmas 1989. In the interim, Basinger also dated Prince. Britton later wrote a memoir titled Longer Than Forever, published in 1998, about their time together, in which he claimed Basinger suffered a miscarriage in 1981 and had an affair with Richard Gere while filming No Mercy (1986). Basinger met her second husband, Alec Baldwin, in 1990 when they played lovers in The Marrying Man, and they married on August 19, 1993. They appeared together in the remake of The Getaway (1994) and played themselves in a 1998 episode of The Simpsons, in which Basinger corrected Homer Simpson on the pronunciation of her last name and polished her Oscar statuette. Basinger and Baldwin have a daughter, Ireland Eliesse Baldwin (born October 23, 1995). They separated on December 5, 2000, and divorced on February 3, 2002. In 2008, Baldwin wrote a book which dealt with the contentious custody battle with Basinger over their daughter.
Some family members recommended Basinger buy the bulk of the privately owned land in the small town of Braselton, Georgia, some 1,691 acres in 1989, for $20 million, to establish it as a tourist attraction with movie studios and a film festival. However, she encountered financial difficulties and started to sell parts of it off in 1995. The town is now owned by developer Wayne Mason. In a 1998 interview with Barbara Walters, Basinger stated that "nothing good came out of it," because a rift resulted within her family.
Basinger's financial difficulties were exacerbated when she pulled out of the controversial film Boxing Helena (1993), resulting in the studio's winning an $8.1 million judgment against her. Basinger filed for bankruptcy and appealed the jury's decision to a higher court, which ruled in her favor. She and the studio settled for $3.8 million instead.
Basinger is a vegetarian and an animal rights supporter. She has posed for anti-fur advertisements by PETA. Basinger also filmed a public service announcement (PSA) on downed farm animals for Farm Sanctuary, stating about a calf born to a dairy cow and taken from her, "He should be with his mother."EPs
1989: The Scandalous Sex Suite EP with Prince, Warner Bros. Records
1991: Too Hot to Handle EP: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (to The Marrying Man), produced by Tim Hauser; Hollywood Records