Brooke Shields

So what if she stars in her own sitcom and has been famous for every single one of her 33 years. Brooke Shields felt as insecure as the next guy when Madonna invited her to a party last winter. Anxious about rubbing elbows with the likes of Jack Nicholson and Gwyneth Paltrow, Shields had her hair and makeup professionally done, borrowed an outfit and took two friends along for support. “Madonna came up to me, and I made a comment about how beautiful she looked, and I said something self-deprecating,” says Shields. “But Madonna wouldn’t accept that. She got very angry and said, ‘Brooke, you have no reason to make apologies for yourself.’ So I stayed till 5 in the morning and danced until my feet were swollen over the tops of my purple stilettos.”

Shields has spent much of her life apologizing for herself and the rest of the time sorry for being sorry. The product of a broken home (her parents divorced when she was 5 months old), she was an icon almost before she was a person. Guided by her domineering mother, Teri, she posed as the Ivory Snow baby at 11 months and blossomed into a teen fashion model who in 1981 alone graced the covers of some 30 magazines. “There are interesting looks,” says former Vogue editor Grace Mirabella. “But these are great looks.”

And they were easily exploited. At 12, Brooke made headlines for playing nude scenes as a child prostitute in Pretty Baby; at 15 she raised eyebrows when nothing came between her and her Calvins in one of the most famous advertising campaigns of the ’80s; and she damaged her career with some stupefyingly bad movies like 1981’s Endless Love. On the flip side, Shields hung onto her well-publicized virginity and studied hard at Princeton University (graduating with honors, class of ’87), where she wrote a booklet for her fellow coeds about how and why to remain pure until marriage. “Growing up, I was much more concerned with being right and not being disliked,” she says. “That was the filter I put on everything.”

She credits a chain of experiences for her rekindled career and a personal rebirth. Praised for years as a beauty, she learned, at Princeton, that she had a brain. “I wouldn’t trade those college years for anything,” she says. Her passion for acting was stoked by playing Rizzo in the Broadway production of Grease! in 1995. “I gained some personal confidence there,” she says. She declared more freedom in 1995 when she discharged her mother as her manager.

“We could say, ‘My mother did this, my father did that, look how messed up I am,’ ” she says. “But there’s no point to it. My parents did the best they could with the resources they had.” Brooke has grown closer to her father, Frank, a former Revlon exec. Her mother has battled alcoholism. “When you’ve done everything you possibly can and it doesn’t work,” Shields told Self magazine last year, “that’s the most helpless feeling. I miss her every day.” According to close friend Stephanie Venditto, an actress, “Brooke has done a lot of scaling away of old skin. She’s running her own life now, and I think that’s hard for Teri and anyone else who is part of her past, who had a lot of liberties at the control panel.”

The biggest self-esteem boost came from tennis star Andre Agassi, 28, whom Shields wed in 1997 and who encouraged her to fulfill her dreams. “He gave me a platform to stand on,” she says. “And later he informed me that it was my platform, that he hadn’t given me anything.”

Having her own TV show is an image builder too. Suddenly Susan is cooking along in its third season, and Shields has just wrapped Black and White with Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr. “I feel like I’ve grown up a great deal in the past few years,” she says. “I feel as though I’m really looking toward the future.”

J.D. Reed

Meg Grant in Los Angeles

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