Living Legend: Christie Brinkley

Christie Brinkley continues to be the blond babe with the dream bod—and she’s 65. She’s so timeless that, in 2005, CoverGirl renewed the 25-year contract that Brinkley signed in 1980 to establish the most long-lived modeling contract in existence: She’s modeled with them for almost four decades!

Christie Brinkley at home in Manhattan, 2019.

Christie Lee Hudson was born on February 2, 1954, in Monroe, Michigan, to Marjorie and Herbert Hudson. Christie and her brother, Gregory, acquired new last names when Christie was one year old and Marjorie became remarried to Don Brinkley. The Brinkleys resided in Los Angeles, California (where Don had a career as a TV writer). Christie, who considers Don her father, has praised him (in Dan’s Papers): “He was very respected, well-known, and loved […] He wrote for everything from ‘Ben Casey’ to ‘the Kraft Suspense Theatre’ and, for radio, ‘The Shadow Knows.’ He did a lot of doctor and cowboy shows. He wrote for ‘The Fugitive,’ ‘Ironside,’ ‘Bonanza,’ and many others […] I remember hearing my dad typing away late at night and I’d fall asleep listening to it.” She continued, describing her parents: “People just felt good being around them. They’d light up a room. And they were so madly in love with each other. He was the king; she was the queen. They called one another endearing names like ‘Darling,’ ‘Sweetheart’ and ‘Wild Thing.’ I called them the best parents in the world.”

The blonde excelled in her interests (which included art, French, and surfing) and she studied at Le Lycée Français de Los Angeles. She followed her love of France and French culture to Paris once she had graduated. She has shared (in Dan’s Papers): “I was so happy. I thought, ‘I BELONG here.’ In California, you don’t have old things. Everything is clean and new and shiny. In Paris, I just wanted to rush up and touch the walls of these old buildings and think about who else might have touched them—Matisse! Victor Hugo! Henry Miller!” There, she studied to become an illustrator until she was discovered by a modeling agent in 1973.

Portrait of Christie Brinkley in the British Virgin Islands for Sport Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue, 1980.
(Photo by John G. Zimmerman /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Eileen Ford (of Ford Modeling Agency) heard about Brinkley and flew her back to Los Angeles, California, to meet with one of her agents, Nina Blanchard. In one lunch, Christie booked three campaigns: Max Factor, Noxzema, and Yucca-Dew. She has shared (to Into The Gloss): “When I became a model, the reason I was successful was because I was not skinny like the other girls… I could barely fit into the sample clothes because I was what they called back then ‘athletic.’ This was about 43 years ago—in the late ’70s. That’s when everybody was starting to do the exercise thing. Jane Fonda was coming out with the workout tapes and Olivia Newton-John was singing, ‘Let’s get physical!’ I had that newer look—I was getting booked for things because you couldn’t see my bones through my skin. I was healthy, I was a surfer girl from Malibu. I went skiing and I liked being active and doing things. I just had that California look.”

Brinkley remained in France—where she married her first husband, Jean-François Allaux, in 1973 (the two would divorce in 1981). Her famous break came in 1979, when she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. She was a success, returning to cover the following two years’ swimsuit issues as well. The blond babe’s career has since included 500 covers for publications like Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Glamour, LIFE, Rolling Stone, and Vogue. Brinkley resonated with brands, too: She has inked contracts with the likes of Chanel, Diet Coke, and MasterCard—not to mention CoverGirl.

Cosmopolitan‘s May 1978 cover.

Brinkley’s film debut came in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), which starred Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo. She returned to her character (“The Girl In The Ferrari”) in Vegas Vacation (1997). She has since performed the roles of Gayle Gergich in NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and Roxie Hart in Broadway’s Chicago.

While hosting a party at Studio 54 to promote her 1982 calendar, Brinkley met Chandon de Brailles—a French race car driver and only son of Frederic Chandon de Brailles, making him heir to the Moët & Chandon Champagne fortune. Brinkley and Chandon embarked on an intense affair. The two were said to be deeply in love, but tragically Chandon was killed in a 1983 motor-racing crash. Brinkley’s anguish provided the window for her most famous husband, Billy Joel, to enter the scene. He soon became—and remains—the most influential man in Brinkley’s life.

In the early 1980s, Brinkley and Joel (who was in a relationship with Elle MacPherson at the time) began to date. The rock star and the blond model had met in a bar in St. Bart’s when Brinkley was still with Chandon. Upon hearing the news about her boyfriend, Joel reached out to Brinkley to offer sympathy. Gradually, a romance blossomed. After starring in a number of his music videos, including “Uptown Girl” (1983), Brinkley married the musician and gave birth to her first child, Alexa Ray Joel. Brinkley and Joel divorced in 1994. In 1995, Brinkley married her third husband, Richard Taubman, and had her second child, Jack Paris Brinkley Taubman. Brinkley and Taubman divorced that same year. In 1996, Brinkley married her fourth husband, Peter Cook, and had her third and final child, Sailor Lee Brinkley Cook, in 1998 (Peter Cook adopted Brinkley’s second child, Jack, who now goes by Jack Paris Brinkley Cook). Brinkley and Cook divorced in 2008.

Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, 1985.

During these decades (and with these husbands), Brinkley resided in the Hamptons—where she and her children have become fans of the New York Islanders. Brinkley currently lives in a house in Sag Harbor, where she continues to be one of the smiliest, sunniest—and starriest—celebs on the East End’s social scene

Christie Brinkley (right) with daughter Sailor Brinkley Cook.