What's interesting about Bertinelli is that she's as vain as the next woman, but not a whit more. In fact, in some ways, less. When she met me earlier in the day, it was fresh out of the shower, with no makeup, no hair extensions -- just the grown-up beauty of a woman who has lived. There's been no plastic surgery -- not even injectables like Botox. Not out of any anti-cosmetic-surgery principle, but simply because "I'm scared of needles. Really scared," she says. "Still, I'd never say never."
"Never say never" is something of a guiding principle with Bertinelli, since every time she does say "never" she later finds herself saying, "Why not?" Take her recent marriage to Vitale, whom she wed at her Malibu cliffside home on New Year's Day.
Although they'd been together for six years, Bertinelli had been fairly certain that as much as she loved him, she didn't want to marry again. (Vitale has four children from a previous marriage, ranging in age from 12 to 20; the younger ones live with the couple part-time in Los Angeles.) Then Vitale proposed to her on a vacation to Florence, Italy, last year. "When he asked me I thought, 'Well, he's very old-fashioned, and I want to do it for him.' But as soon as he put the ring on my finger I realized, no, I did it for me. This is the man I love. I wanted to be able to say that this is my husband, as opposed to this is my best friend, buddy, spousal equivalent...but even 'husband' doesn't seem big enough for what he is in my life."
Vitale, Bertinelli says, is a lot like her father. "I always told him he was born 20 years too late. He's like one of the Rat Pack guys, suave, only with traditional family values." Their idea of a perfect weekend together? Watching football in sweats ("I'm a New Orleans Saints fan and Tom's a Cleveland Browns fan," she says) and keeping fit together. "We walk a lot," she says. "We'll walk around our neighborhood or we walk to town for dinner and walk back after. That's what we did in Italy and we never gained anything. Now we try to live our lives like that here."
Not that the couple is always compatible. "Tom's nickname for me is Shhhhh. In the morning I'll be turning a page in a book while he's sleeping and I'll hear, 'Shhhhhhhhhh.' He has ultra-sensitive hearing, so he married the loudest woman in the world. This is God's sense of humor."
And as anyone who has read Bertinelli's memoirs (2008's Losing It and 2009's Finding It) knows, God is very much on Bertinelli's mind. "I'm always trying to find my spiritual path," she says. Raised Catholic, Bertinelli has explored various religious philosophies, including, briefly, Kabbalah. "I love their belief in wearing a red string: It's supposed to be a protector against mean things coming toward you, but for me it was a reminder not to put anything negative out there. I believe what you put out you get back," she says. "If you don't hold yourself responsible for your own behavior, it's gonna keep coming back to you...I mean, it's not like I can be friendly to everyone. But you try not to do anything so bad that it comes back to bite you on the butt."
One of the more challenging areas of Bertinelli's life in recent years has been watching the struggles of her only child, Wolfie, 20. He has inherited his father's musicality, but when he replaced Van Halen's bassist, Michael Anthony, in 2007, critics said he got the job through nepotism rather than talent. On top of that, he had to deal with his father's very public battle with alcoholism. (Van Halen has said he is now sober.) "Wolfie's been hurt, he comes out of the hurt, then he gets hurt again...and all along he's been such a sweet, sensitive soul," Bertinelli says. "When he was little all I wanted to do was to protect him from everything. But it didn't work out that way." Still, she adds, "He's come through it all with flying colors. He and his dad are close, and that's the gift that came out of it."
Perhaps Bertinelli sees a little of her earlier self in her son: unsure, self-critical, a little too eager to please others. "Look, this journey that I'm on, of trying to keep yourself healthy and trying to love yourself and feel you're worth it...it's the journey millions and millions of people are on. Mine is just more in the public eye. There's a song out right now by Pink called 'F'in' Perfect.' The other day I was jogging and listening to it and I started to cry. The line in it about stopping the negative voices and listening to the good ones instead is so profound. So many of us feel so little about ourselves. Why not try to be positive instead?"
Bertinelli has changed the voices. Not that her life is seamless, but she is clear about what she wants ("I could see moving out of L.A. and maybe to Ohio, where Tom is from. I'm a small-town girl at heart.") and what matters most. "I never pictured myself being happy," she says. "So all of this is a lovely surprise. But it's also my choice. I wake up every morning and before I even open my eyes I say a prayer of gratefulness for the life I've been given. Being happy is a choice."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, July 2011.