Brooke Shields Was Contemplating Mortality, So She Made a Podcast

After snapping her femur bone (the big one in the thigh) in a freak accident on a balance board, Brooke Shields found herself in a hospital bed for one month, recovering and fearing death for maybe the first time in her life. 

“I was afraid of dying, and I had never really been afraid of dying before,” Shields told Vanity Fair over the phone recently. “When my daughter asked me if I was going to die, I thought, Oh, God, I have to reassure her, you know? I thought, Well, uh, I’m not calm about it, but I can’t let myself spiral out of control with fear. I need that energy to rehab! I can’t go down that black hole, because I have nowhere to go from there.”

But Shields did have somewhere to go; she just had to figure out where. “Now what?” she thought, and so her new podcast got its name. (Actually, more accurately, her thought was, “Oh, fuck, now what?” but that wasn’t going to work. “I don’t think they would let me do that,” Shields said, laughing. “I was like, ‘What about an asterisk, an exclamation point, a question mark, and a dash?’”)

Now What? With Brooke Shields, distributed by iHeartPodcasts, is available on October 11, and will feature the likes of novelist Celeste Ng, and actors Kal Penn, Patton Oswalt, and Julianna Margulies, who is the first episode’s guest. Shields, herself an actor and a model, makes for a winning narrator as well as interviewer. Her well-placed, well-timed sense of humor and storytelling, which has been on full view throughout her life in the spotlight, is a huge asset on tape. “And now,” she says on that first episode, “I’m joining a long line of celebrities fighting for space inside your headphones. I’m starting a podcast.”

“It was a completely new muscle,” Shields said. “There’s so much research involved. So that’s helped me because I’m a homework person. I love homework. It enabled me to really sort of go in and try to get scholastic about it and try to move away from anything that’s tabloid.”

Her guests are uniformly successful people. Despite their challenges—which could be as varied as this list Shields rattles off to me: “‘I got fired from that job.‘ ‘I didn’t get into college.’ ‘I was accused of #MeToo.’ ‘There’s a sudden death.’”—the fact that they’re talking to Brooke Shields for an iHeart podcast means they’ve risen above their “Now What?” moment. They’ve  managed to continue to accomplish despite or because of the complicated feelings that remain around a pivotal moment in their life. Resilience is what they all have in common. “Resilience is the thing that gets you through everything,” she said. “Because it allows you to keep moving forward while processing.” 

At 57, Shields has moved-through-while-processing much more than the femur break. She mentions in the first episode the suicide of her best friend, leaving her first marriage, and turning down a huge job that she decided wasn’t right. It’s why she sees the podcast as something apart from the company she launched recently, Beginning Is Now. The company is for that underserved demographic of women who’ve historically been referred to as “middle age,” but you can reach your “Now What?” moment at any age. In fact, a life may comprise those kinds of moments and what one does next.

Take her daughters, for example, one who just went to college and the other who is now the only teenager in the Shields-Henchy household. I wondered if the making of this podcast has helped her relate to the challenges they bring her. “I mean, I don’t relate at all to the [challenges] they bring me,” Shields said. “They’re too challenging. And it makes me stressed.”

It was ironic, she added, to watch her daughter go off to college while Shields started her new company and her other daughter stayed back. “I had no idea what it took to be a CEO or to be in these rooms talking about financials and cap tables and all these things that just are a new language for me. She was learning a new language as well [at college], and her sister’s learning a new language, living in this home kind of as a single child and not having her sister and not having the same safety net. And it’s sort of this commonality of not having a safety net and still having to make a move.”

“That’s the point,” she continued. “Let’s look at our commonalities rather than just our differences, and learn from each other and support each other. I mean, it sounds like I should be singing a song at this point, but you know what I mean.” 

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