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Being declared one of the sexiest women in film history by Empire magazine would be a title which many actresses would find difficult to live up to, but Elizabeth Hurley was unlike most of the models-turned-movie stars that preceded her. Not only blessed with high cheek bones and a curvy physique, she was also blessed with a sharp business sense, innate intelligence, as well as an almost supernatural ability to remain poised in the face of ugly controversies. These scandals would come fast in furious, including the infamous arrest of her then-boyfriend, actor Hugh Grant, for soliciting a prostitute, followed a few years later with an ugly paternity suit against millionaire Stephen Bing over the birth of their child in 2001. Despite these high profile setbacks, Hurley remained a popular model with her years-long contract with Estee Lauder, as well as maintained a modest career as an actress and producer, most notably starring as Vanessa Kensington, the knockout agent paired with Mike Meyers in "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" (1997).Born June 10, 1965, in Hampshire, England, Hurley was one of three children born to her parents, a British Army major and a schoolteacher. She was fascinated...
Being declared one of the sexiest women in film history by Empire magazine would be a title which many actresses would find difficult to live up to, but Elizabeth Hurley was unlike most of the models-turned-movie stars that preceded her. Not only blessed with high cheek bones and a curvy physique, she was also blessed with a sharp business sense, innate intelligence, as well as an almost supernatural ability to remain poised in the face of ugly controversies. These scandals would come fast in furious, including the infamous arrest of her then-boyfriend, actor Hugh Grant, for soliciting a prostitute, followed a few years later with an ugly paternity suit against millionaire Stephen Bing over the birth of their child in 2001. Despite these high profile setbacks, Hurley remained a popular model with her years-long contract with Estee Lauder, as well as maintained a modest career as an actress and producer, most notably starring as Vanessa Kensington, the knockout agent paired with Mike Meyers in "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" (1997).
Born June 10, 1965, in Hampshire, England, Hurley was one of three children born to her parents, a British Army major and a schoolteacher. She was fascinated by dance at an early age, attending a private boarding school that specialized in ballet at the age of 12. As they often do with children, her girlhood dreams fell away soon afterwards after Hurley began finding more excitement with the New Age Travellers, a UK hippie group, and later, in the burgeoning punk movement, whose fashion sense she adopted with glee.
Hurley's first brush with modeling success came in the late eighties when she won a "Face of the Year" competition sponsored by a local newspaper. The prize was a year-long contract with a top agency in London, providing Hurley with an opportunity to make the rounds in print modeling. She also made her film debut in 1987 with "Aria," an anthology film in which famous directors created short scenarios based on classical and operatic music pieces. Her segment, inspired by "Die tote Stadt," was directed by Bruce Beresford. She followed this with roles in several popular English television productions, most notably "Christabel" (1988), with a script by Dennis Potter. She also appeared in a number of Continental productions, including a Spanish drama called "Remando al viento" (1988), which was top-billed by her future boyfriend, Hugh Grant.
Despite her popularity as a print model, Hurley had a difficult time making the transition to full-time actress. Even a turn as a villainous terrorist in the Wesley Snipes action picture "Passenger 57" (1992) failed to elevate her beyond the "occasional actress" standard. What did push her to "It Girl" status was not a film role or a model layout, but a dress - specifically, a slinky black number by Versace that was held together by gold safety pins and gravity - that she wore to the premiere of Grant's film "Four Weddings and a Funeral" (1994). The image of Hurley in "that dress," as it was referred to in the media, was reproduced around the world, and made her an overnight hot commodity.
The legendary cosmetics firm Estee Lauder certainly thought so, signing her to become their spokesmodel in 1995. Hurley's face graced more pages and billboards than ever before, and her perfume line, "Pleasures," was a best seller. She also became involved with the company's breast cancer charity, citing her grandmother's death from the disease as the impetus for her involvement. Lauder's faith in their official face never faltered. In 2007, the company not only renewed the then 41-year-old Hurley's contract, but also extended it for several more years.
But success as an actress continued to dog Hurley; she appeared in several television productions, most notably "Sharpe's Enemy" (1994), which was part of the immensely popular historical drama series based on the novels of Bernard Cornwell. She also played the Biblical temptress Delilah in the TNT movie "Samson and Delilah" (1996). But again, it was a media event that brought her to the forefront of the news - this time, the arrest of her then-boyfriend Hugh Grant for solicitation in Los Angeles. Writers, pundits, and the public at larger were baffled by her decision to remain with Grant after the incident, even after his celebrated and humorous mea culpa on "The Tonight Show" almost immediately after the arrest. In fact, the pair's relationship grew stronger in the coming years - presumably, because Grant knew how close he had come to losing a good thing over his careless tryst with Divine Brown (whom herself enjoyed a certain notoriety as the Hollywood hooker he picked up). The reunited couple formed a production company, Simian Films, in 1996, which yielded two starring vehicles for Grant - "Extreme Measures" (1996) and "Mickey Blue Eyes" (1999) - and one for Hurley, "Method" (2004), in which she played a serial killer.
In 1997, Hurley found the starring vehicle she was hoping for in "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery." A broad and ribald spoof of '60s spy films, Hurley was a surprising match for Mike Myers' comic skills - to say nothing of looking terrific in her Emma Peel-style zip-up leather jumpsuit. She returned briefly to the franchise in 1999 for "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" (she filmed a cameo for 2002's "Austin Powers in Goldmember," but the scene was cut from the theatrical release).
For the next few years, Hurley appeared regularly in major Hollywood films, including Ron Howard's "EdTV" (1999), "My Favorite Martian" (1999), and "Permanent Midnight" (1998). Most of the roles were limited in scope - Hurley played several variations on the predatory vamp - but several were successful, solidifying her status as a full-time, viable actress.
But the bloom began to leave the rose in 2000, starting with the end of her 13-year-relationship with Grant - though they remained cordial afterwards and continued their business partnership through Simian Films until 2006. Hurley then fell afoul of film unions in the United States when she broke an actor's strike to film an Estee Lauder commercial. She would later release a public comment that she was not aware of the strikes, but this did little to quell the anger from working actors without her clout. Finally, her relationship with producer Stephen Bing came to an ugly end when they became embroiled in a paternity suit after a son, Damien Charles Hurley, was born in 2002. Bing was later revealed to be the father, following a DNA test. The often brutal British press universally stood behind their girl, calling Bing a "cad" and "deadbeat dad" - much like they had stood behind Hurley when her boyfriend Grant had publicly embarrassed her years before with Divine Brown.
Despite the spate of dreadful luck, Hurley continued to appear in feature films. She made a fetching Devil in Harold Ramis' woebegone remake of "Bedazzled" (2000) - complete with red underwear and a python wrapped around her neck. She also impressed critics with her turns in several intriguing independent features, including "The Weight of Water" (2000) with Sean Penn, and Tom DiCillo's "Double Whammy" (2001) co-starring Dennis Leary. However, Hurley stopped making features in the United States after the failure of her comedy "Serving Sara" (2002), turning her focus back to UK productions and her modeling career.
In 2005, Hurley launched her own swimwear line, Elizabeth Hurley Beachwear, in selected department stores around the world and on her web site. The following year, she served as an executive producer and occasional host of "Project Catwalk" (Sky One, 2006- ), a UK version of the popular American reality series "Project Runway" (Bravo, 2004- ). On a personal note, Hurley had begun dating a wealthy Indian businessman and software magnate, Arun Nayar, who offered her and her son Damien a stable figure in their high-profile lives. Instantly smitten, the couple would date happily for several years.
In 2007, Hurley married Nayar in two ceremonies - one in England; the other in Mumbai. The resulting weddings - which cost an estimated 2 million pounds - earned worldwide press, thanks to a deal Hurley struck with British tabloid Hello! and the fact that it was a star-laden affair, with Elton John giving away the bride and much "will he or won't he show?" speculation of whether old flame Grant would show up to support his ex-turned-best-friend's nuptials. The fact that Grant had broken off a long-term relationship with Jemima Khan only days before the wedding fueled speculation within the ever imaginative British tabloid press, that he had broken it off so that he could attend Hurley's wedding. Khan, it was said, was not a fan of Grant's affection for his ex.
The ceremony also took a decidedly darker turn when, not long after the happy nuptials, the couple attracted strong criticism from the deeply religious Hindu community of India, which filed criminal charges against Hurley and Nayar for violating wedding customs in their ceremony (such as kissing and not removing their shoes). Nayar's parents also made a public display of disowning their son for his transgressions. Never one to back down, Hurley's critical reaction to her new in-laws' behavior led to more international coverage. Further unpleasantries were cast upon the union when violence broke out between security guards and paparazzi that tried to block the couple's car from entering the wedding reception at a military fort in Jodphur. Despite the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the affair, all in attendance said Hurley made a beautiful bride and that the couple were destined to make it last. Nonetheless, they divorced in June 2011.
Hurley continued to lay low on the screen for several more years, finally returning in the indie comedy "Made in Romania," in which she played a fictionalized version of herself. Hurley next appeared in a supporting role as Diana Payne on the American TV drama "Gossip Girl" (CW 2007-2012) She co-starred opposite Gérard Depardieu in Philippe Martinez's thriller "Viktor" (2014) before returning to television as the star of "The Royals" (E! 2015- ), a campy soap opera focused on the scandals of a fictionalized British royal family.
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