Christie Brinkley Looks Up
A Brutal Year
Christie Brinkley's sprawling wood-shingled home, perched on the top of a hill in the Hamptons, is decorated to reflect her whimsical, eclectic style. The kitchen sports two shimmering chandeliers with dangling red and purple glass grapes. Her own handmade shell-encrusted picture frames are scattered through the house along with Early American paintings. The powder room is hot pink, and her living room, with zebra-striped couches and chairs, is dominated by son Jack's drum set and daughter Alexa's piano.
On this sunny day the perfectly groomed blonde with the startlingly familiar CoverGirl face wants to sit outdoors on the terrace overlooking her vast backyard, with the Atlantic Ocean visible in the distance. It's a serene setting -- the large stone Buddha, the birds chirping, the flowers planted in the shape of a giant peace sign -- but Brinkley is emotionally unsettled. As she explains, she learned "just a few seconds ago" about the latest salvo from her philandering ex-husband Peter Cook, in their long-running and contentious divorce.
Today's sore subject: her wedding dress. Brinkley, who threw out her sheets and mattress several years ago after discovering that Cook had cheated on her with a teenager, was recently asked to donate gowns for a charity auction for Haiti earthquake victims. Spying her ill-fated wedding dress in the back of her closet, she sent the white extravaganza off along with six other dresses. New York's Daily News had reported the donation this morning, including comments from her ex. "Why would anyone want to buy a wedding dress from someone who has failed at marriage four times?" Peter Cook reportedly told the press. "I suggest that anyone who buys the dress and wants to have a happy marriage burn it immediately."
Appearing to be stung by his words, Brinkley tries to take the high road, telling me, "I think that quote is very revealing. This is somebody who just doesn't understand trying to help other people." Moving to change the topic, she adds, "I don't want to waste time feeding his narcissistic supply."
Wearing a blue-and-white striped Ralph Lauren knit dress, oversized gold hoop earrings, and a blue cashmere shawl, Brinkley remains iconically stunning at age 56. Though she has graced more than 500 magazine covers since she began modeling at age 18, the California golden girl is keenly aware of her own flaws. ("I went bathing suit shopping yesterday," she confides, "and for the first time in my life I've put on a little weight around the middle.") With a net worth estimated at $60 million, Brinkley presides over several thriving businesses (a new nature-inspired jewelry line that is scheduled to be sold on QVC starting next month, branded sunglasses, eco-friendly fabrics, spokeswoman for Total Gym equipment).
Yet her personal life has hardly been enviable of late, with a litany of Job-like woes. "Christie's stress level is beyond what you can endure," says Lisa Greenberg, a Hamptons friend who speaks to Brinkley several times a day. Brinkley's daughter Alexa, 24, was hospitalized last winter after taking too many pills. ("She's doing great now," her mother insists.) Brinkley's parents, Donald and Marjorie Brinkley, who live nearby, are both in failing health: Her father suffers from Parkinson's and scoliosis. "He's been on a feeding tube for over a year. He can't even have a sip of water," says Brinkley, choking up with emotion. Just 18 months ago Brinkley suffered an excruciating back injury that required major surgery (a chair with wheels "skooched away" as she was sitting down and she hit the floor). And the fallout from her bitter divorce from Cook, with whom she shares two children, Jack, 15, and Sailor, 12, is unending. Ask how she manages to sleep at night and Brinkley flashes a wry smile and describes cuddling up with her heating pad for comfort. "That's my secret. Things get stressful, I'll wake up in the middle of the night. My eyes will shoot open, and I'll go, Nope. Don't think about it. Get your heating pad, focus on that, breathe, sleep." As Manhattan art dealer Mindy Moak, the godmother to Brinkley's three children and a friend for 25 years, puts it, "Christie is resilient, but this has been brutal."