Christie Brinkley (born February 2, 1954) is an American model best known for her three appearances on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in the late 1970s and early ’80s, for her long-running contract with CoverGirl and for being the ex-wife of musician Billy Joel.
Brinkley has also worked as an actress, illustrator, photographer, writer and designer, and as an activist for human and animals rights and the environment.
Her financial holdings are worth an estimated USD $80 million, primarily as the owner of real estate, much of it in the Hamptons.
Born Christie Lee Hudson in Monroe, Michigan, Brinkley is the daughter of Herbert and Marjorie Hudson. Her mother moved to California, where she later married television writer Don Brinkley, and Christie adopted her stepfather’s surname. Brinkley attended Palisades High School in Pacific Palisades, California, graduating in 1972. During this time, the family lived in Brentwood, Los Angeles. Brinkley was educated at Le Lycée Français de Los Angeles and moved to Paris to study art in 1973.
Brinkley was discovered in 1973 by American photographer Errol Sawyer in a post office in Paris. He took her first modeling pictures and introduced her to John Casablancas of Elite Model Management agency in Paris. Brinkley stated later: “I was basically a surfer girl from California. I never looked like a model.” After being introduced to Elite, where Brinkley also met the French photographer Patrick Demarchelier, she returned to California, and by the end of a lunch meeting with Nina Blanchard, Eileen Ford affiliate in Los Angeles, she had been booked for three national ad campaigns.
Multiple appearances on the cover of Glamour soon followed, along with a record 20-year contract with cosmetics brand CoverGirl, the longest in the history of the modeling industry. In 2005, CoverGirl again signed Brinkley, using her in ads in magazines and TV commercials for mature skin products.
Brinkley appeared on three consecutive Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Edition covers (1979, 1980 and 1981) – the first time that had happened – and appeared in the publication’s annual swimsuit issues and television specials for years to follow. Brinkley was featured exclusively in the first Sports Illustrated Calendar and also released two of her own exclusive calendars to unparalleled success. In 2005, Brinkley was featured in the special Sports Illustrated 40th Anniversary Issue’s Hall of Fame, celebrating the most revered figures in the magazine’s history.
As an editorial model, Brinkley has appeared on over 500 magazine covers, including US, Vogue, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Glamour and the best-selling issue of LIFE ever. She has held major contracts with Chanel No. 19, Prell, MasterCard, Breck, Diet Coke, Anheuser-Busch, Got Milk?, Healthy Choice, Max Factor, Nissan, Noxema, Revlon, Clairol, Borghese Cosmetics, Danskin, Nu Skin, Yardley of London, Halston, Vogue Patterns, Gottex and Black Velvet, among others.
Brinkley played her first role as an actress in the 1983 hit National Lampoon’s Vacation as “The girl in the red Ferrari” opposite Chevy Chase; she reprised that role in the 1997 sequel Vegas Vacation, and later spoofed it in a 2008 DirecTV commercial interspliced with footage from Vacation.
As for television, Brinkley hosted Celebrity Weddings InStyle, the highest rated special in Lifetime’s history, and her appearance on NBC’s Mad About You was the broadcaster’s highest rated half-hour episode, since the finale of The Cosby Show.
In 1983, Brinkley appeared on the Today Show in a four part segment featuring beauty tips and, in 1992, began her own television series Living in the 90’s – With Christie Brinkley, a daily half-hour show on CNN.
Brinkley made further television appearances, including Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Specials and music videos for Billy Joel (Uptown Girl, Keeping the Faith, All about Soul, River of Dreams, A Matter of Trust and Leningrad) and Mick Jones Just Wanna Hold.
In 1983, Brinkley wrote and illustrated a book on health and beauty titled Christie Brinkley’s Outdoor Beauty and Fitness Book, which topped the New York Times best seller list.
Brinkley has designed clothing patterns for Simplicity Pattern and in March, 1994 helps design, for brand Nouveau Eyewear, her line of prescription glasses and sunglasses called Christie Brinkley Perspectives with worldwide sales.
Brinkley has promoted home fitness equipment sold on cable TV infomercials.
In Spring 1998, released her own signature fragrance, Believe. Her jewelry collection is manufactured by Swank.
Christie Brinkley married four times:
French artist Jean-François Allaux (born in Rabat, Morocco), (1973–1981).
Billy Joel (William Joseph Martin Joel, born May 9, 1949 in Bronx, New York), (1985–1994). Brinkley and Joel met in 1983 on the Island of St. Barts, in the Caribbean. Joel and Brinkley were married on March 23, 1985 on a yacht on the Hudson River and this was the second marriage for both. Joel was 35 and Brinkley 31 and took their vows in a private ceremony attended by 175 family members and friends, including Paul Simon and the Straycats Band.
Real estate developer Richard Taubman (born 1948), (1994–1995). Brinkley and Taubman met in 1994 when a mutual friend introduced them. He proposed to her in May, 1994 although she and Billy Joel were still married. They were married on December 22, 1994 in Telluride, Colorado near the area where they were both in a helicopter crash in March, 1994. Brinkley was 40 years old and Taubman 46 and she announced at their wedding that they were expecting a baby boy.
Peter Halsey Cook (born January 1, 1959, New Jersey), an architect (1996-2008). Cook and Brinkley first met in 1979 when he was modeling, and had their paths cross a few times after that. But at their re-introduction later by mutual friend, NBC’s Jill Rappaport and announced their engagement in August 1996. They married on September 21, 1996 a ranch in Bridgehampton, New York. Brinkley was 42 and Cook 37. They had nearly 120 guests at their wedding including Billy Joel.
Brinkley has three children:
Alexa Ray Joel, (born December 29, 1985), with Billy Joel. The name “Ray” was given to Alexa in honour of Ray Charles.
Jack Paris Taubman, (born June 2, 1995), with Richard Taubman. He was later adopted by Peter Cook and named Jack Paris Brinkley Cook.
Sailor Lee Brinkley Cook (born July 2, 1998), with Peter Cook.
Brinkley and Cook settled out-of-court in July 2008, with Brinkley granting her fourth husband $2.1 million in exchange for custody of their two children and the retention of 18 disputed properties in the Hamptons. Additionally, Cook was granted parenting time with the children. Further details of the settlement were kept private. The divorce from Peter Cook was officially finalized on October 3, 2008.
Since 1998, Brinkley has given nearly $100,000 to organizations and candidates of the Democratic Party of the United States, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, America Coming Together and Moveon.org. In the New York delegation, Brinkley served as a delegate on the 2000 democratic national convention in Los Angeles.
Brinkley supports animal rights, most notably through the organization PETA, having previously spoken out against the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. She has also been involved in anti-nuclear activities and campaigned against the restarting of the High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR) located at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Brinkley became a vegetarian when she was 13 years old and then got her entire family to become vegetarians. She lives on Long Island in Sag Harbor, New York; previously lived in Bridgehampton and Amagansett, Long Island.