Actress. Born Melanie Griffith on August 9, 1957, in New York City. Her father, Peter Griffith, was a former actor turned advertising executive, and her mother, Tippi Hedren, was an actress best known for her roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and Marnie. Griffith’s parents divorced when she was 4 years old, and she moved to Los Angeles where she was raised by her mother and her mother’s second husband, television producer Noel Marshall. In 1963, Griffith’s mother began working with Alfred Hitchcock, and although the legendary director fell in love with her, she rejected his advances. Months later, on her sixth birthday, Melanie Griffith received a typically eerie gift from Hitchcock—a small wooden coffin containing a wax replica of her mother wearing her costume from The Birds.
Griffith began modeling and appearing in television commercials as an infant, but quickly abandoned her career as a child model due to her extreme shyness. She attended the Hollywood Professional School, where she excelled at academics, skipping a grade and graduating at the age of 16. At age 14, Griffith began dating the then-22-year-old actor Don Johnson, moving in with him later that same year. Griffith recalls explaining her decision to move in with Johnson to her parents: “I said to them, ‘If I can do all of this stuff at home, if I can already drive a car, if I can get to school by myself, then why do I have to live at home?’ And it made good logical sense, but it didn’t make emotional sense.” While living with Johnson, Griffith also began modeling again, “just to make money, though,” she says, “not because I liked it.”
In 1974 Griffith attended what she thought was a modeling audition but turned out to be an audition for a small role in Arthur Penn’s 1975 film Night Moves. Griffith received the role; despite initially struggling with nerves, she soon took to life as an actress. “After I started filming, I loved it,” she says. “Mostly, because I was playing a real person, not like in a commercial or something stupid like that. It was fun—like I was playing, pretending.” Griffith received positive reviews, and with casting directors impressed by her beauty, mesmerizing childlike voice and haunting onscreen vulnerability, she quickly landed roles as a young seductress in another pair of 1975 films, The Drowning Pool and Smile.
In 1975, when Griffith was 18 years old, she and Johnson married. Their union quickly erupted in turmoil, however, and the couple struggled with addiction to alcohol and cocaine. As Griffith’s acting career began outshining Johnson’s, the couple also confronted jealousy issues. Griffith and Johnson divorced in 1976 after only one year of marriage. Griffith recalls the struggles of that time in her life: “When you get a lot of attention in the media and you go to a lot of stupid parties and you’re 18, 19, 20, 21, you know, and you’re cute and sexy or whatever, you get a lot of attention, and it’s just not that healthy unless you really know who you are. And it’s kinda impossible to know who you are at that age.”
Griffith regained control of her life when she began dating actor Steven Bauer—whom she met on the set of the 1981 TV movie She’s in the Army Now—and they moved to New York together. Living with Bauer in New York, Griffith sobered up and began taking acting classes under Stella Adler. Griffith and Bauer married in 1982, and Griffith gave birth to their son, Alexander, in 1985. Shortly thereafter, Griffith’s acting career took flight once again. Her breakthrough role came as the female lead in the 1986 romantic thriller Something Wild. Then, in 1988, Griffith gave her most acclaimed performance to date as ambitious secretary Tess McGill in Mike Nichols’ film Working Girl. Griffith’s performance won her the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
However, just as Griffith reached the apex of her success, personal problems once again derailed her career. Griffith and Bauer divorced in 1987, and she returned to a life of alcoholism and drug addiction. In 1988, shortly after the completion of Working Girl, Griffith checked into the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesota. She says about her decision to enter rehab, “I just needed to. I had to. I couldn’t do it by myself. It had me bad—I don’t mean in quantity. It just had me where I couldn’t stop. And I wanted to. Really badly.” After leaving rehab, Griffith reunited with ex-husband Don Johnson. They remarried in 1989, and in October of that year Griffith gave birth to their daughter, Dakota. However, after Johnson indulged in several well-publicized bouts of drunkenness and infidelity, the couple divorced again in 1996. Almost immediately after she split from Johnson, Griffith married Antonio Banderas, her co-star in the 1995 romantic comedy Two Much. The two had a daughter, Stella, born in 1996, and in 2002 the couple received the Adler Angel award for their extensive charity work.
In 2003, Griffith ventured onto the Broadway stage for a career-reviving performance in the musical Chicago. When it was announced that Griffith would play the leading role as the homicidal Roxie Hart, most critics dismissed the move as a publicity stunt and a terrible casting choice (Griffith had never sang, danced or appeared on stage professionally). Nevertheless, Griffith shocked the critics by delivering a stellar and widely acclaimed performance. A New York Times reviewer raved that Griffith was “a sensational Roxie, possibly the most convincing I have seen.” Since then, Griffith has starred on the WB sitcom Twins (2005-2006) and appeared on the popular FX drama Nip/Tuck (2010).
After several tumultuous marriages and repeated struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction, Griffith is finally in a happy, stable marriage, living a healthy lifestyle, and once again enjoying consistent acting work. And she hopes her story of addiction and recovery can serve as an inspiration to others. “The change for anyone who’s been addicted to any mind-altering substances like alcohol or drugs is so great,” she says. “And it’s so great being straight. Now it’s like … it gets better all the time. [Recovery] was really a wonderful experience for me. It changed my life. It’s hard. But I encourage everybody who has a problem to do it.”