Best known as an Academy Award–winning actress, Georgia native Kim Basinger has also been recognized as a fashion model, businesswoman, animal activist, and to a lesser extent, recording artist.
Kimila Ann Basinger was born in Athens on December 8, 1953, to Ann and Don Basinger. The third of five children, Basinger was raised in a family of entertainers. Her father was a jazz musician before becoming a loan-company manager, and her mother was a former model, dancer, and swimmer who had performed in the water ballet chorus of several Esther Williams musicals. At a young age, after her parents enrolled her in dance classes to combat shyness, Basinger discovered that she loved singing and dancing. In 1971 she won the Athens Junior Miss pageant, and soon thereafter she was offered a modeling contract by Eileen Ford of the well-known Ford Agency in New York City.
Although Basinger initially hoped to have a career as a cabaret singer, she became a full-time working model in New York City within weeks of signing a contract with the Ford Agency. By the time Basinger was twenty years old, her numerous appearances on magazine covers and in print advertisements, most notably as the Breck Shampoo girl, were commanding $1,000 a day. She disliked modeling, however, and in her spare time took acting and voice lessons, in addition to singing at open-mike nights in Greenwich Village. In 1976 Basinger’s modeling career literally became water under the bridge, after she threw her portfolio into the East River and moved to Los Angeles, California, with her boyfriend, model Dale Robinette, to pursue an acting career.
Early Acting Career
Less than a year after her arrival in Los Angeles, Basinger made guest appearances in several mid-1970s television hits, including The Six Million Dollar Man and Charlie’s Angels. In 1977 she played the title female role in Dog and Cat, a short-lived cop series, and in 1978 landed the leading role in the made-for-television movie Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold. A role in the miniseries remake of From Here to Eternity (1979) was followed by her first feature film, Hard Country (1981), in which she starred opposite Jan-Michael Vincent. Basinger married makeup artist Ron Britton in 1982.
Basinger’s popularity spiked in 1983 when she posed nude for Playboy magazine and appeared opposite such leading men as Sean Connery in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983) and Burt Reynolds in The Man Who Loved Women (1983). She continued to costar in several successful movies, including The Natural (1984) with Robert Redford, Fool for Love (1985) with Sam Shepard, and No Mercy (1986) with Richard Gere. The film 9 1/2 Weeks (1986), in which Basinger costarred with Mickey Rourke, propelled her to international stardom. She followed up with comic roles in Nadine (1987) and My Stepmother Is an Alien (1988).
After her divorce from Britton in 1989, Basinger starred as Vicky Vale opposite Michael Keaton in the blockbuster hit Batman (1989). This led to a brief relationship with the musician Prince, who wrote and performed the movie’s soundtrack. In 1991 Basinger met actor Alec Baldwin on the set of the romantic comedy The Marrying Man, in which both actors starred. The couple soon began a relationship, and they married in 1993.
Despite her success, Basinger filed for bankruptcy in 1993 after losing a court fight with the producers of Boxing Helena (1993). Basinger had committed to starring in the movie but backed out at the last minute. The production company sued, and Basinger was fined more than $8 million. Although she won an appeal in 1994, Basinger was forced to sell the small town of Braselton in Jackson County, which she had purchased in 1989 for some $20 million in hopes of creating a tourist attraction with upscale boutiques, movie studios, and a film festival.
Basinger’s debut as a recording artist came in 1991, on Disney’s Marrying Man soundtrack, where she performed several big band–era songs. Scheduled to appear simultaneously was Giant Records’ production of Basinger’s own rock album, The Color of Sex, which, for unknown reasons, was never released.
In 1992 Basinger guest-starred with Ozzy Osbourne in a remake of the Was (Not Was) single “Shake Your Head” when Madonna, who sang the duet with Osbourne in the original version (1982), requested that her vocals not be restored for the remake. That same year Basinger stood in for Cindy Wilson, a singer in the rock band the B-52’s, during a fund-raising concert for Democratic presidential candidate Jerry Brown.
In 2001 Basinger, an animal rights activist and a member of People for the Ethical Protection of Animals, participated in the recording of Hollywood Goes Wild, a 2001 Hollywood compilation CD benefiting the Wildlife Way Station, a refuge for wild and exotic animals in Los Angeles.
Between 1992 and 1995, Basinger starred in a string of mediocre films: Final Analysis (1992), Cool World (1992), The Real McCoy (1993), Wayne’s World 2 (1993), and The Getaway (1994). After the birth of Ireland, her daughter with Baldwin, in 1995, Basinger took a hiatus from acting and immersed herself in motherhood. She returned to the big screen with the role of Lynn Bracken, a glamorous, old-school call-girl in the film L.A. Confidential (1997). Basinger’s critically acclaimed performance won her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1998.
After L.A. Confidential, Basinger was offered the lead role in I Dreamed of Africa (2000), a harrowing drama set in Kenya and based on the 1991 international best-selling memoir by Kuki Gallmann. Playing Gallmann, an Italian environmentalist who moves to Africa to fulfill a lifelong dream but is instead faced with family tragedy, Basinger was poised for a breakthrough performance. But the film was a commercial flop, and Basinger received only lukewarm reviews. In 2002, after eight years of marriage, Basinger and Baldwin divorced. The ensuing custody battle over their daughter lasted several years.
Highlights from Basinger’s recent career include 8 Mile (2002), in which she plays the downtrodden mother of the rapper Eminem, and The Door in the Floor (2004)—a movie based on the first third of John Irving’s 1998 novel, A Widow for One Year —in which she portrays the depressed wife of a womanizer and failed novelist, played by Jeff Bridges. Other recent screen credits include Cellular (2004), Even Money (2006), The Sentinel (2006), and While She Was Out (2008). Basinger continues to be remembered best for her supporting roles in 9 1/2 Weeks, Batman, and L.A. Confidential.
In 2005, at age fifty-one, Basinger returned briefly to the modeling world when she appeared in print advertisements for Italian fashion designer Miuccia Prada. In 2006 The Mermaid Chair (based on Sue Monk Kidd’s best-selling novel), in which Basinger played the lead role, aired on the Lifetime cable channel. She subsequently starred in three feature films, all crime dramas: The Burning Plain (2008), While She Was Out (2008), and The Informers (2009).