Hollywood loves a comeback, a career renaissance. From Robert Downey Jr. to Keanu Reeves to Matthew McConaughey, we can't get enough of seeing an actor go from punchline to finally receiving the respect they've long deserved.
The trouble is, this phenomenon doesn't seem to extend to women.
Demi Moore was one of the biggest stars on the planet. She was the first actress to be paid over $10 million thanks to her role as Esmeralda in Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and her career is filled with moments that remain majorly iconic, from Ghost's pottery scene to her G.I. Jane buzzcut to that Vanity Fair cover photo taken while she was seven months pregnant.
But as is so common, it's to be wearily, sadly expected, power and fame come with the labels always used to tear down women who've risen beyond their perceived station. For the simple demand of equal pay to a male star of her stature, she was given the nickname "Gimme Moore." Daughter Rumer Willis told Huffington Post in August, "When my mom was the highest-paid actress, she suddenly was 'difficult,' 'high maintenance' or a 'diva.' If the same thing happened to my dad [Bruce Willis] or any [man], then they’re lauded and told how amazing they are."
After G.I. Jane, Moore took some time off — several years, in fact, only appearing onscreen in one film, 2000's Passion of the Mind, between 1997 and 2003. Her return to the spotlight should have been glorious. Instead, she was made a tabloid target.
Moore's comeback came courtesy of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. She played Madison Lee, a former Angel turned devilish operative. Her bikini-clad body was essentially the film's entire marketing campaign, and people were somehow shocked that a 40-year-old woman could be capable of such attractiveness (eyeroll).
The same year, Moore started dating 25-year-old Ashton Kutcher, who is now the same age Moore was when they started dating. For the next 10 years of her life, the words "cougar" and "MILF" would be hurled like stones — ostensibly as compliments, but in that predatory way catcalls are "compliments." Their relationship was part of the early-aughts tabloid boom, the modern-day "freak show," and Moore was the one being ogled, not her partner.
She was older, she was a mother, and she was dating a hot celebrity in his 20s. The implication was always that she was doing something wrong.
Suddenly every publication was an expert, running studies about how relationships between an older woman and a younger man are doomed to fail, even saying dating younger men can actually kill you. Even Drew Barrymore, her Full Throttle co-star and executive producer, blamed Moore for the film's lackluster box office. "You could say there is a bit of irony in all that," she told the Calgary Sun in 2003. "In the film, Demi’s character, Madison Lee, wanted to overshadow the new Angels, and that’s what happened in reality."
With her memoir Inside Out nearing release, Moore is now sharing what else was going on while she and Kutcher were making headlines and we were making our cougar jokes. The uneven power dynamics that often exist between an older man and a younger woman don't necessarily correlate when the genders are reversed, particularly in the public eye when middle-aged women are so often reviled and denigrated. According to Moore, the relationship severely eroded her self-esteem, self-worth, and health — and if her plea to be seen as a puma rather than a cougar was any indication, the public focus couldn't have helped much either. After two decades of sobriety, Moore says she relapsed when Kutcher told her, "I don't know if alcoholism is a real thing — I think it's all about moderation." She claims that he cheated on her, and she blamed herself for having threesomes with him to show him "how great and fun I could be." She had a miscarriage at six months pregnant, and again blamed herself for the loss, citing her relapse. She spiraled out of control, nearly losing her daughters, but today she is sober again.
Moore is 56 years old, and she's been through the wringer. But she's still here. Her latest film, Corporate Animals, was just released, and she will appear in USA's Brave New World, starring Alden Ehrenreich and based on Aldous Huxley's classic novel.
If there's any justice, the Demi Moore-issance is just beginning. And we're more than ready.
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