Kim Basinger was hardly the first successful model to head to Hollywood in hopes of a career on the big screen, but few have managed to achieve the same degree of public acclaim and professional recognition that she has earned. Born in Athens, GA, on December 8, 1953, Kim Basinger was raised in a family of entertainers; her father had been a jazz musician and her mother a dancer who was part of the "water ballet" chorus in a handful of Esther Williams musicals. Basinger's parents enrolled her in dance classes at an early age to help her overcome a strong case of shyness; in time, she discovered she enjoyed both dancing and singing, and began contemplating a career in show business. She began competing in beauty contests as a teenager, and won the Junior Miss Georgia pageant, which took her to the national competition in New York City. By this time a striking and statuesque blonde beauty, Basinger was spotted by a representative of the prestigious Ford Modeling Agency and offered a contract; while she had hoped to make her mark as a cabaret singer, she wisely decided moving to the Big Apple was a step in the right direction. Before long, Basinger was earning 1,000 dollars per day through modeling jobs, and had signed on as the Breck Shampoo girl; in her spare time, she studied acting and picked up occasional singing gigs.
In 1976, Basinger decided to take a more serious stab at acting, and moved to Los Angeles. Within a year, she made her television debut as a female police detective in the pilot for a short-lived crime drama entitled Dog and Cat; in 1978, she landed the starring role in the made-for-TV movie Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold, appropriately playing a beautiful Southern girl who comes to Los Angeles in search of stardom. After being cast as Lorene Rogers in a TV remake of From Here to Eternity (a role she reprised in a subsequent series based upon the film), Basinger finally made her way to the big screen in the low-budget drama Hard Country. But while it (and Basinger) received good reviews, her screen career didn't take off in a big way until 1983, when she was cast opposite Sean Connery in the James Bond adventure Never Say Never Again. She also posed for a well-publicized layout in Playboy which, coinciding with the film's release, certainly didn't hurt her growing popularity.
While Basinger's career took off after Never Say Never Again, and she appeared in several major hits (including The Natural, 9 1/2 Weeks, and Batman, the latter of which led to a brief romance with pop star Prince), quality roles tended to elude her. But she generally fared well with the material given to her, and shined in several smaller films, including Fool for Love and Nadine. In 1991, Basinger was cast opposite Alec Baldwin in the comedy The Marrying Man, and the two hit it off -- so much so that some accused their romance of interfering with the production. The couple rode out the negative publicity, however, and married in 1993. (It was Basinger's second marriage after divorcing Ron Britton in 1989.)
The next several years were difficult for Basinger. Her decision to not appear in the film Boxing Helena after verbally committing to the project led to her being sued by the film's producers, who won an eight-million-dollar judgment against her. Although the ruling was eventually overturned on appeal, legal bills forced Basinger to declare bankruptcy. And after several undistinguished projects, the actress went three years without working, during which she and Baldwin had a child. However, Basinger's 1997 comeback in L.A. Confidential suggested her time away had been well spent; playing a high-priced call girl with a close resemblance to Veronica Lake, Basinger's assured performance won her an Oscar as best supporting actress. This triumph was followed by another three-year sabbatical, which was followed by her divorce from Baldwin and a pair of box-office flops, I Dreamed of Africa and Bless the Child. In 2002, Basinger re-teamed with L.A. Confidential director Curtis Hanson, and won rave reviews for her gritty performance as a troubled single mother in the acclaimed urban drama 8 Mile. A committed vegetarian, Basinger also became an outspoken animal-rights activist In her offscreen life during the '90s. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi