Appearing in blockbusters and gracing the hottest red carpets, Kim Basinger was the star of the '80s and '90s. Then suddenly, she was nowhere to be seen. Here's the remarkable story behind her disappearance.
A Fickle Business
Kim Basinger and Hollywood have long had a complicated relationship. While she benefitted greatly from the movie industry, she's made no secret of its faults and has often recognized its inherent instability.
"This business is so fickle. I know what it feels like to be on the absolute bottom — emotionally, spiritually, professionally — to be absolutely naked down there and then to get up and start rising, one step at a time. I've learned a lot of things the hard way," she confessed to Vanity Fair.
It's not just the movie industry that Kim has always been brutally honest about. The actress has opened up on numerous occasions about her mental health struggles. Growing up as a middle child of five in a middle-class family in Athens, Georgia, she has often cited her complicated upbringing as a potential explanation and cause.
In the Vanity Fair interview, she maintained that "parents can be very influential in designing those little creepy-crawlers that jump around in your mind for the rest of your life." Would these be the creepy crawlers that would eventually cause her to become homebound?
Taking it back to the beginning, Basinger made her start in modeling. With her natural and effortless beauty, it seemed like the destined move for her. By the late 1970's, she was attempting to make her move into acting, scoring a few minor television roles in shows such as Charlie's Angels, McMillan & Wife, and Dog and Cat.
In 1981, she finally made her big-screen debut, acting in the western drama Hard Country. Playing Jodie, Basinger showed off her incredible talent for acting. However, it wasn't until two years later that she truly made it big when she played Bond Girl Domino Petachni in Never Say Never Again. The offers then began flooding in...
A Leading Lady
Her performance opposite Robert Redford in the 1984 film, The Natural, earned her her first Golden Globe nomination. Two years later, she took on the role of Elizabeth in the erotic movie 9½ Weeks and cemented her position as a Hollywood star. Her career's most significant acting job came in 1989 when she played Vicki Vale in Batman.
When the Batman movie broke box-office records, Kim became the leading lady of every film director's dreams, and she took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1998 for L.A. Confidential. However, as Basinger said, the Hollywood industry is fickle, and alongside her wins, there were plenty of box office and critical fails...
While she dealt with the ups and downs of Hollywood, her love life seemed pretty stable in comparison. After meeting fellow actor Alec Baldwin on the set of The Marrying Man in 1990, the pair fell in love and became one of the decade's most famous power couples. This relationship kept her in headlines - whether she liked it or not.
Three years after meeting, the couple wed in 1993, and within two years, they were the proud parents of Ireland Baldwin. However, as with many Hollywood couples, it all came crashing down. And the pair split up in the year 2000 when Ireland was just five years old.
The Bitter, Public Divorce
The following two years involved a challenging, dragged-out divorce. To make matters worse, it was blasted into the public eye for everyone to input their opinions. On top of the divorce itself, there was a heated custody battle over their daughter, Ireland.
Things took a turn when an angry voice message left by Alec for his eleven-year-old daughter was leaked to the public. He was then prevented from seeing her. It was a difficult and overwhelming time for Basinger, who actually preferred to stay out of the limelight when not on the big screen.
As contradictory as it may sound, the superstar actress was surprisingly shy behind the scenes. Yes, she attended the red carpet events and made herself known as one half of a famous movie-star couple - but she was somehow painfully shy at the same time.
In a 2000 interview with Vanity Fair, Curtis Hanson, who directed Basinger in L.A. Confidential, commented on the contradiction in her personality. "Most actors crave the spotlight; they love the attention. Kim is extremely uncomfortable in the spotlight. She genuinely hates it."
Becoming An "It Girl"
At the peak of her career, Kim had become somewhat of a sex symbol thanks to some of her more erotic film projects. She played sultry characters in some of the biggest movies of the late 2000s and even posed for Playboy magazine. However, Basinger maintained throughout that this was all just another form of acting for her.
"I don't consider myself sexy," she admitted to Vanity Fair. "I have to act to be sexy. I'm not very good at being a 'girl,' for the type of man who loves that kind of thing. I'm a clean person. I'll put on a little makeup, but I'm basically not a very feminine girl."
Through everything, Basinger's priority and focus remained on her daughter, with all her actions and decisions being made with Ireland's best interests in mind. As a single mother, there were some significant challenges along the way - but Basinger said that the thought of her daughter kept her going at the toughest of times.
In a 2013 interview with People magazine, Basinger discussed her daughter. "She grew up in the limelight, but I tried to provide stability and a quieter world," she explained. In 2015, Basinger told Elle magazine that despite their challenges over the years, she and her daughter were "joined at the hip."
Teaching A Valuable Lesson
Kim focused her efforts on educating her child. She had learned so much from her experiences in Hollywood and from her public relationships and wanted to share these life lessons with her daughter. Giving her this advice, she hoped, would lead her down a less tumultuous path than her own.
"I always tried to be sincere in sending messages to her that she could do anything in the world," Basinger told Elle. "I've always told her, 'Stand up for what you believe in. Even when the crowd won't speak, stand up anyway and speak with your heart. Your heart will never lead you wrong.' I see her getting there."
One of the most critical messages Basinger wanted to teach her daughter through the way of example was about moving on. As challenging and exhausting as the divorce battle was, she focused on the fact that it was in the past and that she had her whole future ahead of her.
Talking to The Edit magazine in 2016, the actress noted that she and her ex-husband were "cool now" and quipped that "life goes on." For Kim, it was more important to focus on how all of this had impacted her daughter, Ireland. She understood some 'damage-control' might be needed.
"Divorce Is Hard On A Kid"
"Divorce is hard on a kid, no matter how you cut it, and ours was very public and nasty," Basinger told Elle. She understood that divorce is no easy adjustment for children in the best of cases - and theirs had undoubtedly taken its toll on Ireland. With the cameras constantly around, the situation was made even more intense.
Basinger told Elle magazine that she believed Ireland's exposure to her parent's complicated relationship at such a young age had caused her to struggle with relationships throughout her life. This helps support Kim's earlier theory about the impact of childhood on a person's future mental health.
In an attempt to counteract the negative impacts of the divorce, Basinger told The Edit that she "brought up Ireland in a very unconventional way." "If she wanted to have her friends over and write over the walls with a pen, that was fine. I wanted her childhood to be full of love and light and animals and friends."
Well, she must have done something right as the mother and daughter duo remain incredibly close to this day. Although most children opt to live far away from their parents when they are of age, Ireland chose to purchase a house down the road from her mother. Hand in hand, they made the brave decision to finally address their past...
The Red Table
In April 2022, Kim Basinger and her daughter Ireland Baldwin walked into the Red Table Talk studio. A talk show which has famously brought stars to tears, forced celebrities to confront their greatest demons, and exposed headline-worthy revelations, the duo had no idea what to expect.
Within a matter of minutes, Basinger was putting it all on the table. The multi-generational hosts, Jada Pinkett Smith, daughter Willow Smith, and mother Adrienne Banfield-Norris, listened intensely as she discussed her ongoing battle with mental health, anxiety, and agoraphobia.
What Went Wrong?
Kim explained that if she had to trace it all back, it would be to a day in 1982 when she was making a regular visit to the supermarket. "It was my neighborhood store; I was going down aisle number three," she told the hosts confidently, clearly still feeling the emotions of that infamous day.
"My basket was almost full, and I found something really overcoming me in such a way that I couldn't breathe. So, I left the basket, and I made it to my car. And that was the last time I drove for almost six, seven months," she said. With this, she was referencing the subsequent agoraphobia.
Confined To The Home
According to the NHS, Agoraphobia is "a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, or that help wouldn't be available if things go wrong." For Basinger, it meant her anxiety was so overwhelming and unbearable that she could not physically leave her home.
Simply put, she was confined to the four walls of her home, afraid of what would occur if she were to leave. "I wouldn't leave the house. I would no longer go to dinner. I could not even have people for dinner. We tried that," she recalled. Despite her attempts to overcome it, the condition consumed her.
Relearning Simple Tasks
Feeling like she had lost the battle against the disease, Kim explained that she "completely shut down." Making things harder, she did not know at the time the condition even had a name. To her, it felt like she was "in it alone" as the only person in the world dealing with this undiagnosed problem.
As a result of the complete shutdown, Basinger was forced to relearn everything. "I had to relearn to drive," she said. "Everything used to make me nervous, like the glass [sliding] to open the door or 'Where do I step to open the door?' Everything became a big job to figure out how to do it."
As is usually the case with mental health illnesses, Kim soon developed physical symptoms of the disease. While she was desperately trying to take control of the stress and anxiety of everyday life, she was also forced to deal with its physical repercussions.
"You live with a dry mouth all the time, you're very shaky, you're just so exhausted all the time," she emotionally told the ladies of the Red Table. Soon, it all became too much for the star, and she decided to check herself into an anxiety treatment facility for six months.
Addressing the Stigma
Kim told Jada and co. that her journey was made more difficult and scary by the fact that she felt she could not be honest about it. At the time, there was a negative stigma in Hollywood when it came to mental health. "People just think you're crazy," noted Pinkett-Smith.
"I was really scared because I didn't want to tell anybody in my work what was happening," she said in the sit-down interview. Fearing she could lose out on future acting projects, she kept it all to herself, worrying she would come to regret it if she were to open up to someone.
Kim was living in a perpetual state of fear. Not only the fear of the unknown that comes with the disease itself but an additional fear of what would be if her secret got out to the public. "That must be a very hard way to exist because you're not really living your life," sympathized Banfield-Norris.
In the 1999 HBO documentary Panic, Kim drew on her own experiences to explain the reality of anxiety. "There's a fear of fear — fear that fear will come… I remember how lonely I felt and how in need of help I was. And for a length of time, I couldn't find it."
The Healing Process
Things finally took a turn for the better when her husband at the time heard about a therapist on the radio and suggested she visit him. "Dr. Ronald Doctor — he gave me a new start in this life. I even had to learn how to drive again. It was quite a process; I'll tell you that," she told the hosts.
By 2013, Kim was in a much better place with her mental health. Finally feeling a sense of inner peace, she told People magazine that she had gone off the prescribed medication. "Now I wake up and enjoy life," she told them. "I didn't want to live on drugs. I wanted to face everything I was afraid of."
In The Family
Long before the supermarket incident, Kim had been dealing with mental health issues all of her life - though not always her own. Talking at the Red Table, she explained how her mom suffered from anxiety, and as a kid, she would often tell lies to get out of school and take care of her.
Kim often worried that the condition ran in the family and that she would come to inherit the anxiety. However, in hindsight, she can recognize that she had, unknowingly, been dealing with the issue from an early age. One traumatic incident, in particular, still stands out clearly in her mind.
Talking in the Panic documentary, Kim recalled one specific time in the fourth grade when the teacher asked the class a question. "It's very quiet, and kids are raising their hands. But the teacher called on me." Within seconds, Kim began to break down at the thought of speaking in front of the class.
"I stood up, and I was shaking, and my mouth wouldn't move, and everybody stared at me, and I thought I was going to faint," she continued. "I ran out of the classroom. It was horrible… As a child, I was very shy. Painfully, excruciatingly shy. I hid a lot in my room."
Covering Up The Problem
Coming home and recalling the incident, her mother understood her pain personally and did what she could to ensure Kim would not be in a situation like this again. She called the school and demanded that her child would not be called out in class again.
Looking back, though, Kim believes this approach did more damage than good as it simply covered up an underlying issue. "She was a mother tiger; she thought she was protecting me, whereas, in reality, I needed help. That was a sign of something that was definitely wrong," she told Vanity Fair.
Avoiding The Public Forum
Basinger has often referenced this incident as the triggering cause behind her fear of public speaking. Well into her adult life, she did what she could to avoid having to stand up in front of a crowd and relive those feelings of embarrassment and anxiety.
"It will never be an easy task for me to get up in front of the public," she said in the documentary. "I think I'm getting better, but it's an inch-by-inch process. Not even a whole inch!" There would soon come a moment when she would have no choice but to speak in front of the people…
Good News, Bad News
Tragically, Basinger's anxiety interfered with one of the most noteworthy moments in her career. Basinger was filled with excitement and positive emotions when she was announced as the winner of 1998's Best Supporting Actress Oscar. However, the second she stepped onto the stage to accept it, the 'creepy crawlers' returned.
"I was just absolutely scared to death," Basinger recalled in Panic. Rather than feel a sense of relief when the speech was over, she realized that she would have to present next year's award. "I don't know if I was more elated over winning or more in pain over knowing that I had to come back!"
Passing It Onto Ireland
To Basinger's despair, the anxiety was also passed down to her daughter. Like her mother, Ireland dealt with panic attacks and anxiety throughout her life, especially around the time of her parent's divorce. "To see her hurt, it used to hurt me worse than probably anything could," Kim told Jada about her daughter's struggles.
"I think I've had it my whole life since I was a kid. I just don't think I was comfortable calling it what it was. I just felt so ashamed of it. And I didn't understand what was happening to me," Ireland told the youngest host, Willow, in a pre-table talk segment.
Down A Dark Path
As an adult, Ireland's battle with anxiety led her down a dangerous road of unhealthy habits and addictions. She also told Willow that there was a year-long period when she avoided all interactions with her parents because she was so ashamed of who she had become.
With all the money in the world for access to the best doctors on offer, Basinger desperately tried to get her daughter professional help. However, nothing would prove effective, and Ireland was headed down a dangerous path. That was until a family member came into town...
To The Rescue
Ireland's cousin, Alaia Baldwin, had come to visit from New York. After spending just a few minutes with Ireland, she knew something was severely wrong and decided to take action. "She saved my life; she pulled me out of it," she told Willow confidently before explaining how close to the end she had felt.
When asked by Willow what she would recommend loved ones do to help those dealing with anxiety, Ireland was happy to advise. "The most important thing is not to question when someone says they need to go to the hospital. Don't make someone feel ashamed or embarrassed." The most crucial thing, she added, is to "reach out."
At present, Kim has never been stronger. As she sat at the Red Table Talk in April 2022, it was instantly clear how far the actress had come. Talking about her past struggles and recognizing her long recovery journey, she credits Ireland for "being a great healer" and bringing her out of her shell.
Now, in 2022, she's slowly moving back to doing what she loves best, acting in movies such as Back Home Again and the Fifty Shades franchise. Of course, she's still dealing with her inner demons, but she's learned the ways of her mind and has a strong understanding of the best methods to combat them...