31 must-read celebrity biographies
31. The Soundtrack of My Life
By Clive Davis with Anthony DeCurtis (Simon & Schuster)
Sony Music Entertainment's chief creative officer and famous hit-maker Clive Davis, who launched the careers of Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys and more, released his biography on Feb. 19, 2013. In it, he reveals his homosexual relationships and sparked a feud with Kelly Clarkson, who says Davis "bullied" her in the book. (Feb. 18, 2013)
30. POKER FACE: The Rise and Rise of Lady Gaga
By Maureen Callahan (Hyperion)
The meteoric rise of the Ga — once known as Stefani Germanotta — is now documented in her first in-depth bio. The book covers her from her beginnings at NYU Tisch School of the Arts (what, a tad more than two years ago?) to her cultivation of the hyper-persona that keeps the clubs pulsating — with dish on her quirks, control freak-outs, messy (already?) love life and what pop music execs originally said (“not pretty enough”).
29. STORMY WEATHER: The Life of Lena Horne,
By James Gavin (Atria)
“I’ve had stormy weather all my life, and if anybody can sing about the trouble they’ve seen, it’s this old broad.” That’s Lena on Lena, the extraordinary diva who attained wealth and world renown despite racism on both sides of the color divide (allowed to sing but not drink at segregated clubs, and, with the exceptions of “Cabin in the Sky” and “Stormy Weather,” She actually had sizable roles in both of these films, only given bit parts in Hollywood films in the pre-civil rights era; and criticized by other African-Americans for marrying a white man). She makes it through, beauty intact. Bitterness, too.
28. MARTHA STEWART: Just Desserts,
By Jerry Oppenheimer (out of print)
Any analysis of the woman behind the decorating dynasty is going to be a little — pardon the expression — dishy. We’re talking dirty, dirty dishes, here. This tabloid biographer, known for salacious tales (see No. 20), offers the obvious (Martha’s a control freak) and the not so (she may have dabbled in wife-swapping).
26. THE ANDY WARHOL DIARIES
Edited by Pat Hackett (Grand Central)
Not a bio, per se, but biographical, for sure. Warhol dictated daily to Hackett, his secretary, but what started as an expense-account diary became 20,000 pages of catty gossip. When the edited version hit in 1989 (two years after his death), celebs, socialites and the Studio 54 crowd raced to find their names — and found they were savagely dissed: Liz Taylor (“like a fat little Kewpie doll”), Patti Smith (“all I could think about was her B.O.”), Jerry Hall (“underarm B.O.”). Got it, Andy — they’re stinkers. So were you.
25. I AM OZZY,
By Ozzy Osbourne with Chris Ayres (Grand Central)
A TELL-ALL (it needs all caps) with something for everyone: sex, cocaine, Black Sabbath, sex, hash, booze, sex, pills, sex, sex, wife beating, MTV, almost killing a vicar (accidentally), nasty moments with chickens and cats and . . . of course . . . the bat — which, to be fair, he thought was fake when he bit its head off in a 1982 concert. “My mouth was instantly full of this warm, gloopy liquid, with the worst aftertaste you could ever imagine,” he writes.
24. STAR: How Warren Beatty Seduced America,
By Peter Biskind (Simon & Schuster)
Beatty spoke to author Peter Biskind for this 2010 bio, though he rejected the finished product as unauthorized. Though his life with wife Annette Bening and their kids was off limits, there’s plenty of insight on the hits (“Bonnie & Clyde,” “Reds,” “Heaven Can Wait”), flops (“Ishtar”), politics and all those loves (Natalie Wood, Julie Christie, Diane Keaton — 12,775 in all, by the author’s estimate, including the women in bios No. 16 and 27). Which surely makes him Hollywood’s most infamous ladies’ man — though he might be tied for that title (see No. 4).
23. KING OF COMEDY: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis,
By Shawn Levy (St. Martin’s)
It’s not all laughs — not by a long shot. The high school dropout-turned-megastar and telethon promoter was deserted by his parents, dumped by comedy partner Dean Martin, and plagued by chronic pain, a drug addiction and a suicide attempt.
22. TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL: The Making of a Movie Star
By Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller (Algonquin)
If Tab were coming of age today, he’d be a sensation on “Gossip Girl,” and maybe — just maybe — more open about his sexuality. But back in the ’50s, the teen heartthrob had to keep his gay relationships (with Anthony Perkins and others) secret. He finally breaks his silence in this frank (one chapter is titled “Happy to Be Forgotten”) and touching 2005 book.
21. MY FIRST FIVE HUSBANDS ... And the Ones Who Got Away
By Rue McClanahan (Broadway)
A must-read for anyone who’s ever loved “The Golden Girls” — and surprisingly engaging, too. Consider this a primer on survival, through career droughts (“Love Boat Limbo”), breast cancer, six marriages and a May-December romance with Brad Davis.
20. FRONT ROW: Anna Wintour — What Lies Beneath the Chic Exterior of Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief
By Jerry Oppenheimer (St. Martin’s Griffin)
As we know, there’s trash and good trash . . . and this bio lies somewhere in between. Alas, most of Anna’s pals and colleagues refused to go on the record, so the 2005 book relies on accounts by random old school chums, ex-beaus, distant relatives and other gripers with mud to sling. Still, you get a truer sense of what she’s like than you do from a certain lame (if bestselling) novel with “Prada” in the title.
19. UNMASKED: The Final Years of Michael Jackson
By Ian Halperin (Simon Spotlight)
There are plenty of Jacko books out there, mostly cheesy. This bio — notable for its quickie production (the publisher bought the unedited manuscript a day after MJ’s death and it hit shelves before the burial) — at least comes from a veteran celeb biographer, albeit packed with scads of unnamed “inside” sources. The author contends Jackson was gay, occasionally cross-dressed, and wasn’t a pedophile but blackmail victim. Also, he used wife Lisa Marie Presley as a beard. No! Really?
18. STORI TELLING
By Tori Spelling (Gallery)
Stupid title — but a charming read about a tabloid princess. Everyone’s fave virgin from “90210” sets the record straight. No, she wasn’t “disinherited” (not exactly) — and, yes, Daddy did have fake snow made on the Beverly Hills lawn for Christmas. Twice.
By Diana Vreeland (Da Capo)
Here’s the grande dame of American fashion: poised, meticulous, daring and — let’s get real — sometimes so over-the-top (“pink is the navy blue of India”) it’s hilarious. (And true.) The former editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue recounts her exotic, hothouse life peppered with boldfaced names (Wallis Simpson, Jackie Kennedy, Balenciaga) and lush locales, from Park Avenue to Long Island’s Gold Coast, London, Hungary, Morocco and — believe it or not — Albany.
16. JUST JACKIE: Her Private Years
By Edward Klein (Ballantine)
OK ? journalist (and Jackie pal) Klein is clearly k-k-k-krazy for the Kennedys (having written no less than five books on members of the clan). Folks seem to love or hate this book and all its insider dirt: Onassis putting the moves on Jackie 48 hours after Dallas; her make-out sessions with Brando; and those rumors about her and Sinatra, or Bobby Kennedy? No, she didn?t sleep with them, Klein asserts.
One of the images of Elizabeth Taylor from "Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor
by C. David Heymann
14. GRACE: The Secret Lives of a Princess
By James Spada (out of print)
This 1987 bio with the sub-subtitle, “An Intimate Biography of Grace Kelly,” is just that — a sympathetic tale of one of the most beautiful and mythic (hey, she actually married a prince) women in America. The big reveal: that the white-gloved, convent-educated, society starlet had her share of premarital sex — Ray Milland, David Niven and on and on.
13. HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN: A Biography of Kurt Cobain
By Charles R. Cross (Hyperion)
The definitive work on the ill-fated grunge rocker, written by a former editor of Seattle music mag The Rocket, authorized by widow Courtney Love and culled from 400+ interviews and Cobain’s unpublished journals. Disclosed: the Nirvana front man never lived under a bridge (as one song alleges), he’d talked about his “suicide genes” since his teens, and as for the Courtney-killed-Kurt rumor — nahhh.
12. OPEN: An Autobiography
By Andre Agassi (Vintage)
This 2009 stunner isn’t stocked with the typical megastar mea culpas (sorry about all the sex and drugs). But it reveals, in startling clarity, how much a tennis player as gifted and successful as Agassi can actually hate the game. His “exes” (ex-wife Brooke Shields and ex-rival Pete Sampras) aren’t crazy about how they get depicted, and former No. 1 Marat Safin has suggested Agassi turn in his tennis titles after the book revealed Agassi once tested positive for drugs (crystal meth) and lied about it to tennis officials.
11. NO ONE HERE GETS OUT ALIVE: The Biography of Jim Morrison
By Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman (Grand Central)
The first biography of Morrison — the man, the myth — written by a journalist (Hopkins) and an office aide to The Doors (Sugerman). The book idolizes its subject a tad, fans admit. Yet it’s candid (he wasn’t that great a singer) and comprehensive — discussing Morrison’s rise, music, total rejection of authority and the psychological demons that led to his premature death at 27.
10. I, TINA
By Tina Turner with Kurt Loder (It Books)
Her volcanic stage presence and legs of death mesmerized audiences for decades. Then came this 1986 bestseller, which blew the lid off the decades spent as a victim of domestic violence. Ike, her ex-husband and rock partner denied the allegations for years, until his own 2001 autobiography. “Sure, I’ve slapped Tina,” he admitted. “We had fights and there have been times when I punched her without thinking .?.?. But I never beat her.” Sure, Ike.
9. STILL ME
By Christopher Reeve (Ballantine)
This memoir, which Reeve wrote in 1998, three years after the tragic horseback riding accident that left him paralyzed, recounts his metamorphosis from Hollywood heartthrob to medical research maverick and icon for the disabled. He takes an unflinching look at his WASP-y youth (talk about a dysfunctional family), acting career, political activism and then the family life and paralysis foundation he built with his wife, Dana.
8. HIGH ON ARRIVAL: A Memoir
By Mackenzie Phillips (Simon Spotlight)
The young actress who America watched grow up on the sitcom “One Day at a Time” was actually exposed at an astoundingly young age to sex, drugs and rock and roll, thanks to her dad, John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas. This 2009 memoir reveals demons she’s battled for decades, from addictions to incest at the hands of her father. Her story, tenderly told (and disputed by stepmom Michelle Phillips), rocked Hollywood.
7. MARILYN MONROE: The Biography
By Donald Spoto (Cooper Square)
The veteran biographer of Alfred Hitchcock, Laurence Olivier and Ingrid Bergman relied on 150 interviews, plus Monroe’s letters and diaries, to craft this detailed account of a cultural icon. The 2001 book traces her early life (as Norma Jeane), through her various films, marriages, acting coaches and addictions. Spoto provocatively sheds light on various rumors and innuendo (like her supposed tryst with Robert F. Kennedy — not!) and what really happened the night she died.
6. LAST TRAIN TO MEMPHIS: The Rise of Elvis Presley and
CARELESS LOVE: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley
By Peter Guralnick (Back Bay Books)
Yes, it’s two books here, not one — but it’s impossible to decide between the two and, really, they come off as one fascinating read, covering both Elvises — the cool, up-and-coming hip-swiveler (growing up in Tupelo, recording sessions at Sun Studios, being drafted) and the sequined Vegas chubby. Released in 1994 and ’99, the two volumes are considered the definitive accounts of the life of the King.
5. THE LIVES OF JOHN LENNON
By Albert Goldman (Chicago Review Press)
This 1988 unauthorized bio by an academic and music critic is as hefty (720 pages, 1,200 interviews and written over the course of six years) as it is controversial (it’s been called a “hatchet job” by ardent Lennon fans and condemned by Yoko Ono). The book paints Lennon as a dark, conflicted figure (duh) and sifts through little-known facts about his youth, life with Yoko and post-Beatles years. Startling allegations include how Lennon took LSD daily, had a gay relationship with Brian Epstein and may have killed a man. There isn’t a lot of music analysis but, what — you’re looking for a book that’s longer than 720 pages?
4. MY WICKED, WICKED WAYS: The Autobiography of Errol Flynn
It’s all here — obsessions, addictions, divorces and brawls from the greatest of Hollywood swashbucklers. The big question of this 1959 autobiography: How much is true? Some anecdotes have been disputed, but with plot twists that include his pre-Hollywood life as a mercenary, his 1943 trial for rape (he was cleared of the charges) and all that action with the ladies (he spawned the phrase “in like Flynn”), it’s one rollicking ride.
3. HIS WAY: An Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra
By Kitty Kelley (Bantam)
Sinatra sued Kelley to stop publication of this unauthorized 1986 biography, which dug up the dirt on his abusive marriages, womanizing, hair-trigger temper and ties to organized crime. He ultimately withdrew the lawsuit, and the book went on to become a huge bestseller, forever changing our perception of Ol? Blue Eyes.
2. DIANA: Her True Story
By Andrew Morton (Pocket Books)
Morton’s 1992 bio of Princess Diana exposed her scarily unhappy marriage to Prince Charles and the dysfunctions of the royal family, giving Elizabeth her unshakable rep as an Ice Queen. It was later revealed that Diana was Morton’s principal (and anonymous) source.
1. MOMMIE DEAREST
By Christina Crawford (Seven Springs Press)
The Mother’s Day card to end all Mother’s Day cards. This how-to of maternal dysfunction set the benchmark for tell-all tomes written by the offended offspring of freaky celebrities. Written by Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter (who Mommie disinherited before she died), this 1978 bestseller told a Hollywood horror story of a tempestuous megastar and the psychological and physical abuse she heaped on her kids. Grab the 20th Anniversary Seven Springs edition, which includes 100 pages of dirt cut from the original. The 1981 film starred an irrepressibly campy Faye Dunaway. C’mon, let’s all say it together: No! More! Wire! Hangers!