Paulina Porizkova, one of the great supermodels of the 1980s, has regained fame as “the crying lady on Instagram.” It began with the death and betrayal of her husband of 30 years.
Sun Nov 27, 2022 08.00 GMT
Moving across a room like a teenage supermodel when she first arrived in New York, mouths dropped, drinks appeared, eyes bulged like a cartoon cat’s. In a chat show appearance I watched on YouTube in 1994, radio personality Howard Stern spontaneously stripped in front of her. Pants, shirt, everything.
But at 57, the experience is quite different for Paulina Porizkova. One night earlier this year, he was at a party in Manhattan. As she made her way through the crowd, she felt out of place, invisible, and old. Then a young woman sitting at the bar grabbed her arm. “Aren’t you…?” the woman yelled over the music. “Yes,” Porizkova said quickly.
It was not uncommon for them to recognize her. She had been famous since she was four years old, first as a political pawn, when her parents left her in her native Czechoslovakia to escape the Soviets, but they were not allowed to return. They went on a hunger strike outside the Czech embassy in Stockholm, their new home, to win her back, which was all over the news in Sweden: for five years, the Swedish press camped out in front of Porizkova’s grandmother’s house in Czechoslovakia, where she lived until he was nine years old and finally reunited with his parents. Soon after, at the age of 15, she was taken to Paris to become a supermodel. At the height of her fame, she was signed to the highest-paid modeling contract in the world. And then, at 19, she became the wife of a rock star when she met Cars’ Ric Ocasek, who was more than 20 years her senior.
No,” the woman said at the party. “No! You’re the crying lady on Instagram.”
Over Zoom from her rented apartment in New York, Porizkova greets me in her bathrobe and wet hair, crying three times over the course of the interview. Delicately but naturally, as if sneezing: they are tears of pain, but also a new kind of joy. When her husband, Ocasek, died in 2019 after 30 years together, her life exploded in a series of grim fireworks. There was the shock of finding his body and having to tell his two children, the pain of losing him, and then a final shock, which felt like a betrayal.
Shortly before her death, when the two were amicably separating, he and his lawyers had secretly removed her from his will, citing “abandonment.” It floored her: she believed they were still “best friends” who had gradually drifted apart, but had continued to live together, dining together. But the will left her with virtually no money: All of her income (including her $6 million contract with Estée Lauder) had gone into the family account. When the pandemic hit, she suddenly felt very, very alone.
“One day when I was crying horribly, sobbing in bed, I recorded it. I suppose it was performative to a degree, but I had been crying so much that it was the hundredth time that week. So I wanted to see what it was like. And then, in a really brave or really stupid move, I posted it online.” And so began her fourth fame, as an influencer of sorts, speaking out about pain, anxiety and aging, often naked or in a bikini, and still, yes, sometimes crying.