Hers is one of the most famous names and faces and bodies in the world. And that hasn’t changed because she’s making movies less and painting more. It’s just that she’s finally grasped what had been eluding her for so long: boundaries, control, peace. But she’s still Sharon Fucking Stone.
The police knocked on Sharon Stone’s door while O.J. Simpson—accused of a double murder—was hurtling down the 405. It was June 1994 and the LAPD was in the middle of the best-known car chase in American history. Still, it had dispatched a squad to find Stone at home and tell her she had 10 minutes to pack a suitcase. She was being moved to a hotel for her own protection.
The cops had come before. Stone became white-hot famous in 1992 after her femme-fatale turn in Basic Instinct launched a thousand Halloween costumes and spurred a fierce debate about sex and undergarments. (Google it.)
Stone had been ill-prepared for instant stardom. She’d been working as an actor for more than a decade; Basic Instinct was her 18th movie. When the film came out, she was still driving a little car that fans took to mounting. She would go out to eat and crowds would pound on the restaurant windows. A fellow traveler on a flight once got so aggressive that the pilot had to turn the plane around. Stone had earned $500,000 on Basic Instinct, which made more than $350 million at the global box office. (Her co-star Michael Douglas made a reported $14 million.) She didn’t have the kind of cash that hiring a private security detail requires. Nor did she live in some remote locale. Her house on a public-access street had necessitated a consistent police presence.
So when Simpson took off in his white Bronco, the police wanted Stone locked down. “He’s dangerous,” Stone remembers an officer telling her. “And we don’t know how dangerous, and we don’t know what this is.” You—a non-famous person—would perhaps wonder what could compel officers to draw a connection between a manhunt and an unrelated celebrity. Stone didn’t question it. Her life had spun so wildly out of her own control. They said she needed to go. She went.
At the hotel, one officer stood near reception and another kept watch at Stone’s door “while O.J. was driving up and down the fucking freeway,” Stone says. Returning to her old place was out of the question. “[The police] were like, ‘Find a secure house behind a gate.’” So she did. It was an unrenovated shell, and the lone home on the market she could afford.
“It’s very expensive to be famous,” Stone tells me now. The house she closed on from the nondescript hotel, the staff she hired to keep her safe, the publicists, the makeup artists, the managers—it added up. “You go out to dinner, and there’s 15 people at the table, and who gets the check? You get the $3,000 dinner check every single time.”
We’re meeting via Zoom, where I find Stone at home. She’s been in her studio all afternoon—the retreat in which she’s spent countless hours since picking up a paintbrush at the start of the pandemic. Acting was her medium before, but painting doesn’t demand that she leave her house or get dressed up or face the masses that still materialize for her. She can draw in cat-themed pink pajamas dotted for some reason with Christmas trees, which is what she is wearing when the camera flickers on. Find Stone a role that lets her do that.
At the moment, Stone is preparing for a show that opens on February 17 at the Galerie Deschler in Berlin. Until now, gallerists have come to her studio to pick their favorites from her finished pieces; this time, she’s been able to create new work with this particular show in mind. The week of our interview, C. Parker Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut, announces it will extend her exhibition “Sharon Stone: Welcome to My Garden.” Tiffany Benincasa, its owner and curator, first noticed Stone’s paintings online, then trekked west to see them in person. “She has such a range,” Benincasa says, noting the varied influence of artists like Wassily Kandinsky, Claude Monet, and Joan Miró. But, she adds, Stone’s works “hold their own with the bold energy and gravitas of a serious painter.” Several of them have sold, which gratifies Stone.
There are artists and actors who claim to know nothing of the financial side of their business. Stone is not one of them. She is forever conscious of her bottom line. After Basic Instinct, she could tell that people thought she was “arrogant and dismissive” when she put conditions on appearances or threatened to walk if she didn’t get paid what she knew she deserved. But she was focused on keeping her head above water, not on being sweet. “I was living in a house that didn’t have floors,” Stone says. People wanted her to be grateful. She wanted to be smart. When critics ravaged her, “it was like, ‘Oh, welcome to fame,’” Stone recalls. “‘I’m pulling the pin on the grenade. Run, motherfucker.’’”
She ran. Stone worked all the time. She earned an Oscar nomination and got married and adopted her son, Roan. Then in 2001, Stone suffered a stroke so extreme she bled into her brain for more than a week. She was given a one percent chance of survival. The grenade exploded. Her world went dark.
Stone suffered through a bitter divorce and a drawn-out custody battle. She recused herself from Hollywood, which couldn’t quite decide what to do with her. She adopted two more children and sometimes put school tuition on credit cards. In 2021, she wrote about all of it in her memoir, The Beauty of Living Twice. It became a New York Times bestseller. The book is frank and nuanced, written just like she talks. In the two hours we spend together, she is contemplative, wry, and enthusiastically foul-mouthed. She is candid when conversation turns to the warped expectations people had for her decades ago.
“At least now [people] understand that Jennifer Lawrence can’t just skip onto an airplane,” she says, pushing her black frame glasses up over a mop of still-platinum hair. “Nicole Kidman can’t jump onto Delta. Sharon Stone can’t do it either, whether or not she’s doing a lot of movies. [People] think, ‘What have you been in?’ And it’s like, Dude, they know me in the Amazon rainforest. It’s tampons, Q-tips, and Sharon Stone.”
Stone was born in Pennsylvania, closer to Cleveland than Philadelphia. Her mother planted their vegetables. At dinner, the center of the plate was whatever her father had hunted. School was a haven. At 15, she was admitted to a local college. The acceptance letter was a vote of confidence, except she was itching to get out. Stone had done a few pageants, and modeling offered an escape hatch. She quit school and traveled to New York, marched into Ford Models, and signed soon after with Eileen Ford herself. She didn’t get her first onscreen part until she turned 20. She was over 30 when she landed Basic Instinct, despite studio skepticism that she was suited to the part. Twelve other actresses had turned it down.
At the premiere, the actor Faye Dunaway came as her date. After the screening, the room was silent. Then people started to whoop and cheer. “Now what?” Stone said. “Now you are a big star and they can all kiss your ass,” Dunaway replied.
A generation later, it is hard to paint a true picture of just how massive and controversial Basic Instinct was. There were protests over the lurid sex scenes and violence. The National Organization for Women issued a statement, calling it one of the “most misogynistic films in recent memory.” And still, it was an undeniable hit. Stone became lusted after and reviled—less star, more planet with her own centrifugal force. “I think that I lived is more than many of my predecessors did, and that really pissed off a lot of people,” she says now. She means that insta-icons have not always fared so well (not just the likes of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, but Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland), and the public and the media have never been particularly sympathetic to their struggles. “We’re supposed to go crazy or we’re supposed to be drug addicts, but surprise, motherfuckers.”
Paris Libby, who met Stone when she was on the press circuit for Basic Instinct and now serves as her creative director, credits her stable sense of self to her work ethic. She is “always on time, ready to work,” he says. The last time the two were at the Cannes Film Festival together, the traffic was horrendous. “We weren’t that far from where we needed to be,” Libby remembers, but the car wasn’t budging. Stone insisted they walk. “Just in that bit of a walk, I was like, ‘Oh no, no, no, we won’t be doing this again.’ I think she kind of sometimes forgets, ‘If I get out of the car here, it’s going to be mayhem.’” It was mayhem. Stone was on time.
After Basic Instinct, Stone told her agents she wanted $2 million for her next movie, a thriller called Sliver. She got it after a protracted negotiation. For the western The Quick and the Dead, which premiered in 1995, Stone scored $3 million to star opposite Gene Hackman. For the part of Hackman’s character’s son, she watched auditions and saw just one she liked: a fresh-faced actor named Leonardo DiCaprio. It was clear to Stone “he was a superstar”—a fact of which she was so convinced that when the studio objected to his casting, she offered to cover his fee.
“I wanted to be in a great movie, not a stupid movie,” she says, “so I got the best people to surround me that I possibly could.” Later, she defended her decision to a bewildered producer. “I get this isn’t man-think,” she told him, “but concentric thinking is how women think.”
She paid DiCaprio $1 million—a full third of her own check. Before she made that fact public in her book, she suspects he had no idea. “Leo was a kid,” Stone says. He would sit in her trailer and do impersonations of her. Her sister was with her on set in Arizona when DiCaprio turned 18. “We took him go-karting [to celebrate].”
A few months before I interview Stone, I happen to watch Casino at home. It’s a Martin Scorsese movie, starring Robert De Niro as a Jewish gambler and mafioso and Stone as his girlfriend, a con artist and showgirl named Ginger. You have perhaps seen stills from the mid-90s film over the past few weeks. The “mob wife aesthetic” now trending on TikTok is plastered with photos of Ginger’s opulent fur stoles and sequined dresses. Stone was rewarded with a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination for her performance. The movie is still a romp, and I tell her so.
“You wanna know why?” Stone asks, devilishly. “Marty Scorsese is a fucking genius. Robert De Niro is one of the greatest actors who has ever lived. And guess who is a really good actress?”
She loved working. When Stone got banged up on set or off of it, she gritted her teeth and hit her mark—a literal commitment to her art that once resulted in a root canal. The stroke that led to the placement of 23 platinum coils in Stone’s neck to keep blood flowing to her brain is just the most dramatic event in an extensive list of medical maladies. There were stitches, broken bones, and one pinned shoulder. That body was the source of so much of her power, and it sometimes failed her.
Not long before the stroke, Stone had reconstructive surgery. Doctors had found benign, but large tumors in both breasts and removed them. When she was reasonably healed, she went to see a plastics guru. She woke up from the surgery to find entirely unfamiliar boobs attached to her chest. Her doctor had wanted to make her more proportional—bigger breasts to match her hips. “We decided that it would fit better,” he told her.
“I was standing there deciding if my fist would look good in his teeth,” Stone remembers. “I had rage for him.” She takes a deep breath. “I’m glad he’s dead.”
She was still recovering from that ordeal when her brain started bleeding. The stroke coincided with the deterioration of Stone’s marriage. She had child support to pay and a family to care for. She went back to work before she was ready and was a basket case on set. “I sometimes was forgetting lines, and I would just say that I was in menopause,” Stone says. “I didn’t say, ‘My brain is still healing.’ I never wanted anyone to think I had any kind of disability. All I did was sleep and work.” The menopause line killed, by the way. Everybody laughed.
Now in her sixties, Stone has found herself in an ongoing conversation with the supermodel Elle Macpherson, who was known at the height of her career as The Body. The women understand each other. “We sit and we talk because we’re growing into older ladies together,” Stone says. “I talk to her about, ‘How do you stay fit? What are you doing with yourself? How do you deal with people’s reactions to you?’”
People still react to Stone—and to her body. She tells me about a recent offer she got to do a kind of action rom-com. “It would be me and one of these young, hot guys having an illicit affair,” she says. He would reveal intimate details of their liaison in public, and then she would seek her revenge. “She just takes him out,” Stone says. “She loses it. But I was thinking, God, they want me to do another nude sex movie? Am I ever not going to be ‘The Body’?”
In the acknowledgments at the back of The Beauty of Living Twice, Stone thanks her ex-husband and his new wife. I wonder about a reconciliation, but Stone clarifies. “You don’t only learn from the good things, do you?” she says. “You don’t only learn from people being nice to you.”
After the divorce, Stone resolved to move on. It was torture. “I made an altar, and I sat at that altar, and I worked with many people to teach me forgiveness,” she says. “You can’t bite into the seed of bitterness. Once you bite it, you can’t spit it out anymore.”
In the book, in our conversation, she doesn’t pull punches. But Stone isn’t interested in gossip either. She has her private list of the people who have wronged her—manipulated her, humiliated her, underestimated her. Several of their misdeeds appear in the book without their identities attached. I ask whether she’s received apologies since it was released.
“One of the people came and sat down next to me and said, ‘If I’ve done something, please let me know,’” Stone recalls. “I said, ‘It’s time for you to stand up or I’m going to start explaining out loud to everybody here what it is that you did. Those are your two choices.” You can guess which he picked. Another unnamed man came to a screening where Stone was already seated. “He came in late, and the only seat left in the theater was next to me,” she says. “He sat on the stairs at the end of the row.” She was pleased. “If you can’t control yourself enough to sit next to me and say, ‘I’m not going to behave the way I did before, and I apologize,’ then don’t fucking sit next to me.”
She has set down her boundaries. “I found limits,” she says. “There’s a limit to me. For so long, everybody wanted me to be all things to all people because I was the limitless Sharon Stone. Fuck that bullshit.” So what if it’s earned her a reputation for a certain spikiness? It has made her honest.
After the book came out, several of her relationships fractured. “When you’re the person who breaks the chain, it’s very hard,” she says. Her memoir records abuse and neglect. “It was destabilizing for everyone” is how she puts it now. She and her sister grew distant, although the two have since tentatively resumed a texting relationship. Stone’s mother is 91. Despite all they have been through, they have reached a kind of resolution. Stone took her to lunch the week we meet.
Which is not to say Stone has found some perfect peace. She’s despondent about the state of our politics. When she described in her book an abortion she had as a teenager, Roe was the law of the land. Now it isn’t. “Not to have bodily autonomy is just primitive,” Stone says. “It’s caveman time, and I just find it laughable. It’s a lot of chest pounding over things that don’t belong to people pounding their chests.”
She compares the rancor in national discourse to the tantrums that her sons sometimes have. “I have to sometimes sit while they prance around in their outrage,” she says. “And we’ve gotten to such a level of understanding about it [that when] one of them is doing it, the three of us that aren’t just stand there patiently, and then we all say, ‘Thank you.’ It’s like a fart and they have to get it out, but the rest of us really don’t have to participate.” She has developed a personal policy of spiritual disengagement when it comes to people who abuse positions of power. “There are two to three hundred of them, and there’s millions of us,” she says. She takes an expansive view. Ultimately, she believes the majority will win out.
In the meantime, Stone has remained committed to her advocacy work. She continues to raise awareness—and money—for HIV and AIDS research. Her own medical odyssey drove her to get involved with neurological research institutions. With Dr. Jay Grossman, she helped start Homeless Not Toothless, a charity organization that provides free, quality dental services to the unhoused. Bravo viewers know it from its frequent mentions on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (cast member Dorit Kemsley is involved with the nonprofit). Stone has never seen an episode, but she is aware of its ties to the show. “I wanted to call it something else,” she says, with a sigh, “but Jay insisted that it be called Homeless Not Toothless.” Dr. Grossman handles the day-to-day.
Today, Stone is both selective about the parts she takes and suspects that her age has led to fewer being offered. She has popped up on TV shows like The Flight Attendant and Murderville for short character arcs. She had a role in Beauty, a film that Lena Waithe co-wrote and co-produced. The actor Niecy Nash-Betts met Stone on the set, and the two became friends. Nash-Betts hadn’t known what to expect, but Stone impressed her. She “never phoned in a take,” Nash-Betts says. “She was just so transparent and real, not what you might think of a Hollywood icon.” When Nash-Betts was nominated for an Emmy, Stone offered to throw her a party to celebrate her achievement before the ceremony. “I know you’re going to win,” Stone reasoned. Nash-Betts did.
In 2023, Stone made an appearance in a recent Rita Ora music video, which delighted her. The two travel in a similar circle. She met Taika Waititi, who is married to Ora, through mutual friends. “We’re a very blue collar group,” Stone says. “We work.” She would like to act more, in theory. But she isn’t desperate to be on camera for the sake of it. She’s happy in her studio, where she can watch the industry muddle through from a distance.
Decades ago, Stone tried to get her own version of Barbie made. Her vision wasn’t entirely different from what Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie released this summer, complete with a scene of Barbie arriving at Mattel headquarters and a dolt-ish Ken. She planned to cast herself in the titular role. Who better to subvert the trope of a blonde with an impossibly coveted physique?
The pitch did not go over well. This was “back in the white hot days, back when Jesus lived,” she says, grinning. “They took us out of the studio like we were on fire.”
She was thrilled to see Gerwig and Robbie—whom she lovingly calls her “movie daughter”—triumph where she had been thwarted. “It makes me want to cry, actually,” Stone says, “because I think of all the times I sat at my kitchen table, thinking, This is fucking torture. I was banging my head against this supposedly glass ceiling, but it felt like it was made of fucking concrete.”
“It sounds like it was a fight,” I tell her.
“It’s still a fight right now,” she counters.
Stone has stopped running. No more hiding out in hotels. No more serving The Body at the expense of her actual body. In the studio, she has been experimenting with massive canvases. She scales walls to reach the corners, stretching herself. The Body feels useful there. In the leadup to the show in Berlin, Stone painted a meditation on war and a tongue-in-cheek rendering of a series of exes. No producer had to approve. She is not appraised or beheld. She’s in control. It’s been an exercise in refining her own authenticity, as she puts it. If she returns to acting in earnest, she knows she’ll be a better performer because of it.
She’s been thinking about what success in the art world might mean for her or at least how she might define it. “Will I make enough money to stay living where I’m living? Probably not,” she says. “But the kids will leave home and go to college, and I’ll sell my big, fancy house, and I’ll go live like a normal person.”
When Stone fled to New York as a teenager, she had $50 and a suitcase. She spun that into a whole life—art, intrigue, magic, mistakes, relationships, children, value. “I will continue to make a life,” she says. “I do have something to say.”
First image in front of yellow, orange, and blue painting: Ferragamo dress and heels.
Eric Michael Roy
Gui Schoedler for Exclusive Artists using Living Proof and T3 Tools
Amy Jo Diaz
Talent Connect Group
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