There is no more famous or enigmatic actress alive today. And her latest biographer, Andrew Morton, knows what it takes to be world famous after writing about the lives of Princess Diana and Tom Cruise, among others. Morton set his sights on Jolie and has produced this just-released, unauthorized 313-page biography. Of course, Angie’s lived a very public life so while Morton’s bio isn’t full of unknown details, there are more than a few revelations to keep you flipping the pages. Here’s our take on a few of the most intriguing insights of the book.
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What’s in a Name?
Angelina Jolie was almost born Shiloh Baptist Voight. The inspiration for the name was a truck her father, Jon Voight, and her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, were stuck behind while taking a drive through the woods. (Marche, as Marcheline was known, shot it down, thinking it was “too Hebrew.”) It’s a charmingly insignificant story, considering the symbolic weight names carry for the rest of the biography. Marche gave Angelina the middle name of Jolie and James, her son, the middle name of Haven, thinking they would drop their surnames to go into show business. Ironically, “Voight” probably would have opened doors for Angelina, but Morton says she dropped it in order to succeed on her own merits, a plan her mother foiled by secretly calling agents to tell them Angelina was the daughter of Jon Voight. Later, during a nadir in Angelina’s relationship with her father, she had “Voight” legally struck from her name. But then after years of freezing out her father, she named her daughter Shiloh.
Angelina had a troubled childhood, the result of growing up with an estranged and famous father and a mother who, despite her laissez-faire parenting style, used her daughter as a vehicle through which to live out her own dreams of stardom. For the first year or so of Jolie’s life, she was kept in a white office five floors above her mother's apartment and tended by a rotation of babysitters (her mother finding her too similar-looking to her just-run-off husband), and then at 14 she was given the run of the master bedroom along with her live-in boyfriend. The idea was that her mother could keep a better eye on the couple that way. As Morton says, this didn't quite work out: "While she thought her liberal behavior meant that she would be able to keep an eye on them, the proximity of the master bedroom to the street made it easy for them to sneak out at night, which they did regularly." (76)
Girl, Interrupted… And Interrupted
Her unorthodox family situation took a psychological toll, as Morton points out. He sets a bevy of psychoanalysts speculating on the psychic damage, none of whom have ever analyzed Jolie or her family. Their diagnosis? That "Angelina Jolie will have experienced profound abandonment, anxiety, and may have experienced depression" (36). To these issues, they attribute most of her behavior, like suicidal thoughts, obsessive crushes, drug use, desire to act, bisexuality, exhibitionism, and kinky proclivities. Or was her astrological sign to blame? Morton contents that her being a Gemini explains a lot—"As a Gemini, the child was destined to have a dual personality, the forces of good and evil, darkness and light, male and female, wrestling with her psyche" (30)—with the help at one point of Princess Di's astrologer (188). Whatever her affliction, she started dressing in black and wearing studded dog collars, which got her mocked in school, and for a time, she aspired to be a funeral director. Less innocuously, Morton claims she started doing some pretty heavy drugs, including coke and heroin.
Part of her Goth phase involved acquiring an impressive array of swords. "She enjoyed not only their cold, unforgiving beauty and the intriguing stories they suggested, but also the thrill of holding, spinning, and throwing them. Knives, often decorated with ornate symbolism, stained with honor and battle, excited and inspired the collector in her." (63) This, too, one of Morton's army of psychoanalysts attributes to her "the emptiness where the connection to the self is missing." At 14, she used one of these knives to cut and be cut by her live-in boyfriend, and later to cut herself. In 1991, when she was busy fleshing out her theatrical résumé, she channeled her love of blades into the healthier hobby of fencing.
Saved by Rock 'n' Roll
Later, she contemplated suicide, first by pills, then, more dramatically, by taking a hit out on herself. But, in true Hollywood fashion, the would-be hitman talked her out of it. "Her suicidal thoughts came about because she has no sense of self. She had internalized all that abandonment as a baby," one of Morton's shrinks says (74). Morton says she came out of her downward spiral when she learned to play the drums. "I sincerely believe the drums helped save her life," says Joey Covington, her drum teacher and the former drummer of Jefferson Airplane. Early on, when Covington was trying to get Jolie to really hit it, he asked her to write the names of people she hated on gaffer tape and stick them to the drumheads. Among those named? Her father and her agent.
Jolie, apparently, broke Mick Jagger’s heart. At her mother's behest (she was a fan), Angelina agreed to dance as a stripper in a Rolling Stones video. Jagger was smitten, and, still married to Jerry Hall and with a fourth kid on the way, pursued her doggedly. He left long, pleading, and, tortured by her unresponsiveness, increasingly self-abasing messages on her answering machine. Only it turns out that Angelina had given Jagger her mother's number, who played the messages for her friends. "Here was Mick Jagger virtually sobbing down the phone" (133). Meanwhile, Angelina's mother was encouraging her daughter to formalize her divorce from her first husband, Jonny Lee Miller of Trainspotting, and consulting astrologers on the likelihood of her marrying Jagger. Finally, just as Jolie's relationship with Billy Bob Thornton was beginning, Jagger succeeded in publicly making out with Jolie at Toronto’s Skydome during a Stones concert, in the middle of which he called her backstage and presented her with a cashmere sweater (146).
Oh, Billy Bob
No surprise here but Billy Bob Thornton comes off as a bit of an odd duck. "His genuine talent often overshadowed by ribald discussions of his many idiosyncrasies, including an obsessive-compulsive disorder that left him with a morbid fear of flying and a hatred of harpsichords, silverware, and antiques, particularly French furniture" (143). When he moved in with Laura Dern, he planted a Confederate flag in the bedroom and tossed out all her French furniture and silverware. No word on the harpsichords. Also, he apparently eats only orange-colored foods (188).
Nevertheless, it was love at first sight: "It was not so much a stairway to heaven as an elevator ride to ecstasy. He told her he was going to buy a pair of pants. She was heading for the hotel lobby. As they stood in the elevator, both felt a shock of attraction....The word "pants" conjuring up all kind of thoughts in her head, Angie sat on a wall by their hotel and tried not to faint or swallow her cigarette. Irresistible object meeting improbable subject" (140). Two years after their elevator ride, the pair takes a wild roadtrip to Vegas and Little Rock before heading to Nashville, where Billy Bob disappeared into the recording studio, sending Angelina into a nervous breakdown.
[David Lynchian postscript: Laura Dern, who was Thornton's fiancée until she read in the tabloids that he'd married Angelina, said she was visited in a Sunset Boulevard Tower Records by an angel who told her Ben Harper was her soul mate. "'Call him, call him,' the angel implored, before fading away" (186). She did, or called her publicist, who called his publicist, and she and Harper, who had two kids with his now-former-wife, Joanna, were wed in 2000.]
When Jolie won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Girl, Interrupted, Angelina embraced her brother and kissed him on the mouth. Later, they supposedly kissed at the Vanity Fair afterparty. Morton depicts Angelina's relationship with her brother, James, at the time an aspiring director, as close but on-again-off-again. She starred in his student films when the two were starting out, and he helped her through a rough patch with heroin when she rejected the intervention of their father. She didn't approve of his girlfriends, though Morton quotes her as saying, tongue in cheek, that "if Tom Cruise and my brother came out as a couple, I think the public would embrace them" (172). Regarding the kiss, Morton defers to the tabloids and, of course, the shrinks. It's described by turns as the result of incestuous desire, a craven play for attention, a symptom of her abandonment as a child and her mother's preference for her brother, and, by an anonymous "friend," as "the kiss of a vampire...She drained the blood out of any career James had" (174).
Two anecdotes testify to Angelina Jolie’s team’s extreme canniness in handling paparazzi. Shortly after Brad Pitt’s break with Jennifer Aniston became public, he went to Ethiopia to give Diane Sawyer a tour of Bono’s One charity (he’d gotten into charity work while filming Mr. & Mrs. Smith with Jolie). After the interview, he hopped a private jet to Diani Beach on the Kenyan coast, where he rendezvoused with Jolie and her adopted son, Maddox. It was supposed to be a secret escape from media attention, but Diani Beach is a popular European vacation spot and easily accessible to paparazzi. Sure enough, a paparazzo received a call from what Morton calls “a suspiciously well-informed caller” (256) directing him to a specific beach at a certain time, where he shot long-range photos of Pitt and Jolie strolling chastely with Maddox. It kept with the duo’s official line, that they were only friends, while keeping speculation alive that they might be something more. The photos sold for $1 million. As Morton points out, the situation was strikingly similar to a story The New York Times broke following Jolie’s separation from Billy Bob Thornton, in which her publicist tipped off photographers so they could shoot “candid” photographs of her playing alone in the park with her son, casting her in the sympathetic role of single mother.
When Angelina and Brad truly wanted to stay out of the public eye, they didn’t fool around. In the late stage of pregnancy, she and Brad flew to Namibia, where they took shelter in essentially a military compound. They rented an entire seaside resort, which they covered in green mesh netting to prevent long-range photography. They got the Namibian government to establish a “no fly” zone around the hotel. They surrounded the hotel with armed guards, including several former South African soldiers, “who cordoned off roads, made nighttime searches of houses, and stopped suspect vehicles” (265). One photographer was maced and others were beaten up. When Angelina left for the hospital to deliver her baby by Cesarean section, a decoy convoy was sent out to lure away the press surrounding the compound. Then they circumvented the photographers who’d been camped out for months by taking a picture of their child themselves and selling it to several media outlets for an estimated total of $11 million, which went to the Jolie-Pitt Foundation (267).
Between her acting jobs and work as U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, Jolie rarely stays in one place for more than a week, yet she travels with a huge staff, mostly because of her six children, five of whom joined her family in only three years. While the family was staying in France, Morton lists “nannies from Vietnam, the Congo, and the U.S.; four nurses; a doctor on permanent call; two personal assistants; a cook; a maid; six French former army guards” (289).