Is Demi Moore’s heyday over, following her break-up from toyboy husband Ashton Kutcher? Julia Molony investigates her downfall from most bankable actress to desperate star and estranged mum.
HAPPY FAMILIES: Demi, Ashton, Bruce Willis and daughters Tallulah and RumerTHE BREAK-UP: Demi’s split from Ashton|Kutcher has hit her hardBOMBED: Moore’s role in flop StripteaseFor months now, the tabloids have been charting the decline of Demi Moore. The former queen of Tinseltown and indomitable on-screen siren has pitched into emotional freefall following the end of her marriage.
Ashton Kutcher, her trophy toyboy, who for years she paraded as a totem to her enduring sexual appeal and from who she split after rumours of him having an affair, in recent weeks seems to have started a relationship with 26-year-old actress Mila Kunis. Demi is said to be “hysterical” at the news.
It seems obvious to surmise that this represents a cruel assault on Demi's self-esteem. For any woman to lose the attentions of her partner to a younger model is eviscerating to the ego, but for one whose public identity has been built around her youthful sex appeal, it's nothing short of devastating.
For Demi, 49, this break-up means more than just a broken heart. As a sex symbol, her enduring professional relevance was demonstrated by her marriage to a younger man. For most Hollywood actresses, the sell-by date on their desirability is set around 35. But for years, Demi had gleefully and conspicuously flouted these limits.
It's fair to say that, from the very earliest days of her career, Demi's key strength was her appearance. It was something she enjoyed and exploited, and it carried her through an endless list of roles from her years at the centre of the 1980s bratpack, through to her 1990s heyday when she was the most bankable female star in Hollywood.
After Striptease tanked in 1996, she gradually fell out of favour with Hollywood, and was called on less and less for her services as a leading lady. But rather than slip into obscurity, Demi sustained her position by exploiting the explosion of a whole new adjunct industry that ran side by side with movies - celebrity culture. Thanks to reality TV, supermarket tabloids and Twitter, Demi realised she didn't have to wait for movie producers to come calling to keep her place in the A-list, she could take care of boosting her profile herself.
With her marriage to pretty-boy teen-idol Kutcher, Moore didn't just break the mould, she reinvented it. She did more than just reverse the classic trope of the rich powerful man married to a hot young female star, because the key to her appeal to Ashton wasn't her money or her influence, it was her hot body. She bagged him by successfully maintaining a patina of youth long after it should naturally have departed.
A pin-up well into her 40s, she played the 25-year-olds at their own game — and won. Each time her young husband (15 years her junior) tweeted a sexy snap of his super-buff wife, he reinforced her triumph. Meanwhile, she took every opportunity to underscore the carnality of their relationship. Speaking in one interview about how spending time together, she insisted they liked to share life's simple pleasures, such as “sharing a bath with one another and watching TV. Snuggling up naked”.
In the past decade, Demi has pursued her goal of staying sexy with the rigour of an Olympic athlete. If there was a touch of desperation in her increasingly rigorous quest for eternal youth, it was easy to understand. Though she has denied going under the knife, surgery speculators have guessed that, thus far, she has racked up a list of procedures that include liposuction, a tummy tuck, repeated breast surgeries and a lift on her knees. But then, Demi learnt early on that desirability had immense value. Since her sensational debut as a 18-year-old erotic model on the cover of Oui magazine, she had come to understand that her sexual appeal was her ticket. It was force enough to lift her out of her dysfunctional childhood, out of poverty and abuse, and carry her into a life of almost unimaginable luxury.
Moore was born to a teen mother in New Mexico. In early life, she inhabited a world a million miles away from the one she knows now. Her home life was peripatetic and rootless. Though her parents were married, they did little to anchor the young Demi emotionally. Her home life was troubled and volatile. Both of her parents were heavy drinkers, and, it has been reported, could be violent.
When Demi was 15 she was further disassembled by the discovery that the man who had raised her was not her real father. Her mother and her father had split when Demi was a year old, and her mother had then swiftly remarried her previous boyfriend. The new union was not a happy one. According to the UK Biography Channel, her mother and step-father “often fought and beat each other”.
In 1980, her stepfather committed suicide, and mental illness would continue to plague the family. Demi's mother, Virginia, died in 1998 from a brain tumour after several failed suicide attempts and unsuccessful stints in rehab. Until her death, the relationship between Virginia and Demi had remained difficult. Virginia had racked up a string of criminal charges, mostly relating to her alcoholism. She had also, with an alarming lack of decorum, posed for a porn magazine in a spread that capitalised on her daughter's fame, with a cover quote that read: “If my daughter Demi can take her clothes off, so can I.”
Demi herself was just 18 when she married for the first time. Her first husband, the rock musician Freddy Moore, became aware of the profound psychic scars her troubled past had left: “I've never met a woman with a more obsessive need to be liked and loved,” he has said. “She made me feel that, if I ever stopped loving her even for a single moment, she would kill herself. She was always plagued by jealousy and insecurity.”
Whatever neediness kept her ambition burning, it was soon gratified by the external success and attention she craved. She got her first break in the American soap General Hospital. Then, after a run of schlock B-movies, she was cast opposite Michael Caine in Blame it on Rio. Demi started as she meant to go on, appearing topless in the movie and setting a precedent for a long line of roles that focused on her body as much as her talent. It was a formula that worked. By the time she appeared in Striptease, the 1996 flop, she was able to command $12.5m for the job, a record-breaking fee for a film actress.
But early in her career, her troubled inheritance had threatened to catch up with her. Having divorced Freddy Moore just as she hit the big time, she swiftly became part of the 1980s notorious bratpack, in which rehab was a rite of passage. Moore was no exception. By the time she married Bruce Willis in 1987, thus cementing her status as the queen of Tinseltown, she had already been treated for dependence on alcohol, after turning up to work drunk.
But marriage to Willis seemed initially to anchor Demi. As one part of a Hollywood power couple, and a globally adored sex symbol, she had the affirmation she'd been searching for — and it seemed a salve to those childhood wounds that had driven her in pursuit of fame.
In 1992 she famously appeared naked on the front cover of Vanity Fair while seven months' pregnant. The shot, taken by Annie Leibowitz, was to become a piece of Hollywood history, enshrining her as an icon. The provocative image was as far away as possible from the cosy contemporary concept of a yummy mummy. Demi's challenging sexuality is striking in it, and un-obscured by her enormous bump.
She and Bruce had three children — Rumer, Scout and Tallulah — and they had a good innings, by Hollywood standards, their marriage lasted 13 years, during which time they bought up most of an Idaho town
(it was the high-rolling 1990s) and converted it into a theme park of excess, a monument to their lavish lifestyles.
The couple divorced amicably in 1998 and Demi retreated from the public eye. She didn't really emerge again until the release of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, in which she was back to her best as silver-screen totty. By now, she was 40 and starting to feel the pinch of working in such an unforgiving industry.
“It's been a challenging few years, being the age I am,” she said not long after, “with so much focus on how I look. It almost got to the point where I felt like, ‘Well, they don't know what to do with me. I am flawed. I'm not 20. Not 30. But I'm certainly different from what most people feel someone in her 40s should be'.”
Through her relationship with Ashton Kutcher, she gave a further two fingers to people's expectations. What at first looked like a mutually beneficial publicity stunt started to take shape as a real relationship.
By 2005, the pair had married, with the blessing of Bruce Willis, who was often photographed with the couple and was present at their wedding. The couple took to Twitter to flirt with each other, entertain their public and generally broadcast their love. In interviews, Demi gushed about having found her soulmate. They even talked about having children.
She must have known the incredible sleight of hand that she had been carrying off couldn't last for ever. And her hubris in thinking that she could beat the Hollywood system was brutally punished when rumour began circulating that Ashton had had his pants down in the company of a young woman almost half Demi's age.
Since she announced their split, Demi's dissolution has been dramatic. In January, she was rushed to hospital after suffering seizures at her home. She was discovered unconscious by her eldest daughter in the aftermath of a party at which Demi was allegedly inhaling nitrous oxide to get high.
Whatever substances she had taken, they were only part of her problem. When she arrived at hospital she was so thin that the medics on duty believed she was suffering from end-stage cancer.
In previous months, the press had painstakingly catalogued her changing physique as she lost more and more weight, and headlines speculated wildly about the state of her mind based on the shape of her body. Demi's distress was readable in her appearance. The body which had been so integral to Demi's feminine power had failed her, and now she was responding by starving herself.
The timing of her collapse was unfortunate, forcing her to step down from her first meaty movie role in years. She'd been cast as the feminist writer Gloria Steinem in a new biopic of porn star Linda Lovelace. The part, some have said, could have potentially offered her a chance to branch out professionally, to be recognised as an actor first and hottie second.
Recent rumours circulating on the internet have alleged that, in her despair, Demi has been reaching out to her daughters, inserting herself into their group of friends and leaning on them heavily. One online snitch suggested that the 49-year-old Demi had even been making romantic overtures to Zac Efron — a good friend of her daughters.
How much truth underlies this gossip is anyone's guess, but it does seem likely that the pressure of propping up an emotionally floundering mother is a lot for her children to bear. New — and even more damning — gossip emerged last week, suggesting that Rumer and Scout are running out of patience and considering taking out a restraining order against her.
“Demi has been calling them incessantly and emailing them, leaving them tearful messages and begging them to call her, and the girls are sick of it,” a source told Radar Online.com.
Unsupported and emotionally unmoored once again, Demi has a huge challenge ahead of her in her quest for peace of mind. In some ways, her determination to challenge the showbiz status quo has been ground-breaking. But this was a battle she couldn't fight forever. Perhaps finally accepting defeat will be the first step to her rehabilitation.