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Rich and Famous
Bruce Newman
February 07, 1989
That's Christie Brinkley after three SI covers and marriage to singer Billy Joel
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February 07, 1989

Rich And Famous

That's Christie Brinkley after three SI covers and marriage to singer Billy Joel

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Oh, hello," says Christie Brinkley, looking up. "We were just talking about our roller coaster ride." This remark seems to puzzle Billy Joel, who has been edging slowly into the room. For a moment he looks as if he might try edging back out again. "Roller coaster?" he says.

"I wish we could have gone on it again," says Brinkley, turning to a visitor, who has been sitting at the other end of the sofa upon which she has curled herself up like a cat. "It was so exciting!"

This is a lie, of course, the kind of thing a wife says in front of her husband to remind him that she is perfectly capable of having adventures without him. The visitor, who took the ride with her, reminds her that when it was over and the safety bar that had held her in the roller coaster stuck for a moment, she began shrieking for someone to let her out. She then stated quite emphatically that she would sooner be found dead in a ditch than spend another second hurtling upside down at 55 mph.

"She's funny about stuff like that," says Joel. And with that he is gone, although not completely forgotten. A piano begins to play somewhere in the enormous duplex apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side where Joel and Brinkley live with their three-year-old daughter, Alexa Ray.

The excursion to the Knott's Berry Farm amusement park in Buena Park, Calif., was conducted for Alexa's benefit while Brinkley was on the West Coast modeling for photographer Bruce Weber. After Brinkley extracted herself from the roller coaster, Alexa wanted to know if her mother had seen her waving from the ground. The matter was of considerable importance to Alexa. Unlike most people, she does not flap her hand up and down when she waves but from side to side, in the manner of someone riding on a parade float. "Alexa has always waved like royalty," says Christie's mother, Marge Brinkley.

The last time Christie had visited Knott's Berry Farm she was the same age her daughter is now. And like Alexa, who refers to her grandmother as grand-m�re, she lapsed into French whenever it suited her. Christie grew up in the exclusive California beach colony of Malibu. Her father, Don Brinkley, is a well-known television producer and writer. He wrote for such notable shows as Perry Mason, Ben Casey, The Fugitive and The FBI , and produced Trapper John, M.D.

Christie spent most of her days playing in one of the world's most expensive sandboxes, the empress of the beach coolly appraising the kingdom she would one day rule. "Even when she was a little girl, she always had a womanly body," says Marge. "And she was always singing French songs, even before she actually, knew the right words. She always loved the idea of France for some reason. She even had a poster of Charles de Gaulle up in her playhouse." Charles de Gaulle?

After spending years in the thrall of those smoldering beagle eyes and basset ears, it was only natural that Brinkley would one day want to live in France and have a dog of her own. "I envisioned myself living in a garret in Paris, wearing a beret and being an artist," says Brinkley. In 1972, at age 18, she left California for France to enroll in art school, and she stayed in that country for 3� years. She ended up getting the garret in Paris and the beret, and as for being an artist, she worked as an illustrator while in Paris. She was also married for seven years to French illustrator Jean-Fran�ois Allaux. "We had to run down the street to the public bath if we wanted a shower," she says. "It was a very bohemian life."

Brinkley might have gone on to a life of painting clowns on black velvet if her dog hadn't died, thereby forcing her to become one of the most celebrated supermodels of the '70s and '80s. She had gone to a post office down the street to make a phone call (the garret didn't have a phone) after learning that her puppy, Lucky, had contracted distemper. "I had just been told by the vet to put my dog to sleep, and I was so sad I was walking with my head down," she says.

An American photographer saw Brinkley and asked her if she had ever done any modeling. She said no and told him to go away, but he persisted, giving her his address and phone number before leaving. "I told myself there was no way I was going to go to some stranger's address and let him take pictures of me," says Brinkley. "It was the farthest thing from my mind. But I had spent all my savings trying to get this dog healthy again, and I needed the cash."

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