Green-eyed former model Denise Richards went in a few short years from complete obscurity to one of the many "Next Big Things" to entice filmgoers in the late 1990s. Born February 17, 1971 in a Chicago suburb, Richards moved with her family to San Diego at the age of twelve. Following a modeling stint in New York (which was of limited success due to Richards' 5' 6" height), Richards moved to Los Angeles to try her hand at acting. She found work in shows such as Doogie Howser, MD and Saved By the Bell before getting her first break in 1993 as Ben Affleck's girlfriend in the short-lived Against the Grain.
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1993 also marked Richards' film debut in National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1. This led to her first starring role in the bizarre 1994 "family film" Tammy and the T-Rex. Following a small part in Gregg Araki's Nowhere (1997), Richards acquired relative fame, not to mention a dedicated group of male followers, for her role in Paul Verhoeven's $100 million sci-fi action film Starship Troopers. Featuring an army of giant ants doing battle with an army of tawny-skinned, white-toothed young men and women who appeared to have wandered off a Nordic Track commercial, the movie met with enough success to constitute Richards' "big break." She gained further exposure (literally) and fame with her next venture, 1998's Wild Things. Cast as spoiled socialite Kelly Van Ryan, Richards gave a delightfully trashy performance in a film that called for her to lie, cheat, scheme, seduce, kill, and even perform a lesbian love scene with co-star Neve Campbell. The film was successful in its ability to satisfy its audience's desire for tacky and oversexed fun, and it provided Richards with further opportunities, including 1999's Drop Dead Gorgeous. Co-starring with Kirsten Dunst, Richards played a small-town beauty pageant contestant in a film that gleefully plays with America's beauty ideals, something that was undoubtedly familiar territory for the actress.
Though 2001's horror flop Valentine and the straight-to-video Good Advice did little for her career, Richards saw her star rise further in 2002 with a set of high-profile films that did much to expand her range. In director Malcolm D. Lee's cheeky Blaxploitation send-up Undercover Brother, Richards was able to give her evil Wild Things persona an even broader, more satirical spin as White She-Devil, an operative for an evil caucasian conglomerate bent on converting the world to its mayonnaise-eating ways. Richards' intentionally wooden line readings and sly self-parody made her an invaluable part of Brother's comic ensemble, helping the film become a minor hit. The romantic comedy The Third Wheel came later that year.
It was also in 2002 that Richards married actor Charlie Sheen, a somewhat notorious lothario in the Hollywood scene, whom she met of the set of Scary Movie 3. Gossip magazines predicted that the couple would inevitably split as a result of Sheen's wandering eye, but the couple had two daughters together, born in 2004 and 2005. Then in 2005, storm clouds gathered over the couple in the press, but instead of focusing on Sheen, they focused on Richards herself, with stories that she had been carrying on an affair with her family's neighbor, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, who was married at the time to Richards' friend, actress and bombshell Heather Locklear. Richards, in turn, accused Sheen of gambling, drug abuse, and violence, and the two finalized their divorce in 2006.
Richards subsequently appeared minor films like Blonde and Blonder and Deep in the Valley, but by this time, public perception of her career was greatly overshadowed in by her personal life. Leveraging her fame in this regard, Richards then became the star of her own candid reality show, Denise Richards: It's Complicated, which premiered on the E! network in 2008. The show turned the cameras on Richards' home, her daughters, her many pets, and her recently widowed father, who had begun living at her house. In 2009, Richards began gearing up for another season of the show, while at the same time preparing for a stint on the ABC competitive reality series Dancing with the Stars. 2010 found the actress starring in the comedy Cougar's, Inc, and in 2012 she appeared in Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi