Paulina Porizkova, Full-Frontal Emotion
When the writer and model Paulina Porizkova was asked by Aaron Sorkin to join him at the Oscars for what would be their second real date, she hesitated.
The first had gone well. “He’s a great kisser,” Ms. Porizkova, 56, said on a Zoom call from Los Angeles, in which she had zit cream and an irrepressible smile on her face. But she was concerned it was too soon for red-carpet photographs.
“This is going to kind of take me off the market for a little bit,” she told him.
“OK,” he replied.
A few days later, they did the walk-and-talk (and smile) on the step-and-repeat, then curled up on a banquette for the ceremony in Union Station, holding hands, Ms. Porizkova in a metallic Dolce & Gabbana gown from 15 years ago that she’d happened to pack.
“You’re not there to have fun. You’re on display,” she said once back in the New York apartment that has become a familiar setting for her Instagram communiqués. She was wearing a tank top, workout tights and her hair twisted into two tight buns, sipping coffee with oat milk and a vegan smoothie while considering samples of D.I.Y. wallpaper — and an 18-month roller coaster ride of loss and renewal.
It began in September 2019, when her husband of 30 years, Ric Ocasek, frontman of the Cars, died unexpectedly at 75. A few weeks before, he’d cut her out of his will, which included the intellectual property of his vast music catalog. They were living together during what she said was an amicable divorce.
Since then, Ms. Porizkova has let loose online with raw emotion, unvarnished images and long ruminations on aging, grief, anger and anti-depressants. She hasn’t been this exposed since she was a supermodel in the 1980s and 1990s, posing on the covers of glossy print magazines. Last month, she appeared on the cover of the Czech Republic’s edition of Vogue wearing nothing but a sheer body suit.
Her two sons’ reaction, she said: “There’s Mom, naked again.”
Indeed, “none of this is all that new to me and our family,” said the younger son, Oliver Otcasek, 22. (Ric Ocasek dropped a “T” from his surname as a young singer.) “We already knew what her opinions were and she’s really being herself, she’s just reaching a wider audience. And a human body is just a human body.”
Part of Ms. Porizkova’s appeal has been her head-on confrontation of the ravages that aging confers upon that body. “Grief is certainly no beauty maker. My eyelids are starting to droop,” she wrote in one post, worrying that her “jowly bits” made her look not only older, but “somehow bitter.”
But there has been something deeply restorative in scrubbing the gloss from her public image.
“Any truth is less shameful than the secret,” she said.
‘You Cannot Take Time Back’
Ms. Porizkova’ was born in 1965 near Prostejov, Czechoslovakia, to Anna Porizkova and Jiri Porizka (which is the male version of Porizkova), young anti-Soviet dissidents who fled the country when she was 3 years old, leaving her in the care of her maternal grandmother.
Settling in Sweden, they circulated petitions and staged food strikes in front of the Czech embassy in Stockholm, seeking reunion with their child in the freedom of the West. It was catnip for the European press looking for human stories about the toll of communism during the Cold War. Young Paulina had no idea why she was so frequently being posed in prayer bedside for photographers.
“The Swedes were following the tragedy of those two young delightful people who, oops, left their daughter and now they can’t get her back,” Ms. Porizkova recalled.
When Paulina was 7, her mother made a LeCarré-esque attempt to abduct her from the clutches of the communist government, flying back to Czechoslovakia with the intent of sneaking back onto a charter plane. Pregnant and carrying a fake passport, Anna was eventually placed under house arrest with her mother and daughter, and, eventually, an infant son.
In 1973, Anna, Paulina and baby Kym were granted leave from Czechoslovakia. But Jiri had taken up with a new woman. Separated from her grandmother, Paulina was planted into an unfamiliar world in Sweden where she knew no one, didn’t speak the language and was sometimes bullied by schoolchildren hostile to immigrants. Anna worked as an aide and attended nursing school at night. Paulina was often left to care for her brother.
“I made some crucial, crucial parenting mistakes, and he’s now a libertarian,” Paulina said wryly.
Ms. Porizkova said she has spent years in therapy working through feelings of abandonment and rejection by her parents. “Once I had children, I always thought, ‘I can’t believe that they left me. But times were different, things were different,” she said.
Anna Porizkova, a retired midwife in New York who has been volunteering as a Covid vaccinator, said she and her daughter are now closer. “Sometimes you do certain things for survival and you don’t think, you just do it spontaneously, you do what you have to do,” she said. “I did put a lot of responsibility on her because that is what people did with children in the former Czechoslovakia. It was not all the coddling and psychological analyzing.”
“If I could do things differently, I would,” the elder Ms. Porizkova added. “But you cannot take time back.”
Lucrative glamour industries, of course, have been built on trying to make people forget this.
When Ms. Porizkova was 15, she had a friend interested in makeup and photography who used her and other friends as subjects. The friend submitted photos of Ms. Porizkova to a modeling agent in hopes of launching her photography career. Instead it launched Ms. Porizkova as a model.
She spent the following summer living with an agent’s family in Paris, shooting bridal and catalog ads, and never returned to school, signing with John Casablancas of Elite Model Management.
When Ms. Porizkova was 18, in 1983, she was booked by a U.S. athletics magazine she had never heard of. Posed on location in Jamaica, in a green and yellow bikini bottom and her arms carefully covering her bare chest, she made her debut in the then-celebrated annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Cheryl Tiegs was on the cover, but it was Ms. Porizkova who made a real splash, a high-cheekboned Eastern European beauty among the (often blond) “girls next door” of the Midwest then popular with casting agents, like Ms. Tiegs and Christie Brinkley. The next year, she was on the cover.
Ms. Porizkova moved to New York and learned to speak English as she had Swedish and French. She was on the cover of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan, among many other magazines. By 1989, she was one of the highest-paid models in the world, with a $6 million annual Estée Lauder contract.
But her most consequential gig had come a few years earlier. In 1984, she was booked to appear in a music video of the Cars’s hit “Drive,” directed by Timothy Hutton. The night before the shoot, Ms. Porizkova went to dinner at the Odeon in TriBeCa with Mr. Hutton and the band. She spent most of the night enraptured by Mr. Ocasek. She was 19 and had a boyfriend. He was 40 (and, initially unbeknown to Ms. Porizkova, married).
“I would have to say it was love at first sight,” she said.
The video depicts the two of them arguing and her crying. “I remember what I was shouting at him when we shot it was, ‘You hurt me! You hurt me!’ though we were of course actually falling in love,” she said. “It’s a little bit heartbreaking to think about now.”
They were married in 1989 and had Jonathan, 27, and then Oliver. (Mr. Ocasek had two other sons from his previous marriage, and two sons from a first.) She began acting, appearing in 16 films, including the 1989 “Her Alibi,” opposite Tom Selleck. She also had a recurring role on “As the World Turns.”
In 2003, Ms. Porizkova enrolled in the New School to take writing classes. “I thought she was very interesting and sad and deep and battling a lot of stuff, but with a good amount of self-awareness which came through in her writing too,” said a classmate, Lorna Graham, the author of “The Ghost of Greenwich Village,” a novel.
Ms. Graham described Ms. Porizkova, still a close friend, as introspective and highly verbal. “If you sit down with her and ask her how she is, she will give you a real answer, bad news first. She’s not a Debbie Downer, not in the slightest,” she said. “But, and I don’t know if part of it is to bridge the gap with people who aren’t that famous, she has a need to absorb the difficulties. To process them out loud.”
Ms. Porizkova’s own novel, “A Model Summer,” a coming-of-age story set in the fashion world, was published in 2007 by Hyperion. More recently, she contributed opinion pieces to publications, including The Times, and started a memoir.
Privately, she had begun to feel isolated in her marriage. “I was depressed as could be,” she said. “I was so lonely. I felt so invisible. I didn’t feel like a woman anymore.” Mr. Ocasek, she said, “wanted something different from marriage than I did. He wanted distant companionship.”
‘Grandma’s Here, Let’s Talk About Sex!’
The couple decided to divorce, but continued living together in their Gramercy townhouse while working with a mediator. Ms. Porizkova said she thought they would buy apartments near each other, so it would be easier for their sons. When the Cars were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 2018, Ms. Porizkova joined Mr. Ocasek for the festivities.
That spring, Ms. Porizkova learned her husband had hired a divorce lawyer with a reputation for aggressive tactics. “You don’t hire a shark to babysit your kids by the pool, so why are you doing that?” she asked him. He told her not to worry.
“I trusted him,” she said.
In the summer of 2019, Mr. Ocasek’s doctors detected early-stage lung cancer and he underwent surgery. He was convalescing at home in September when Ms. Porizkova brought him a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning and found him dead.
“I’m like, ‘OK, this is what I’m facing now. Now I have to go and tell our children.’ In my mind, I walked down stairs and said, ‘Guys, I have terrible news.’ I’m calm, I’m motherly, I’m making sure everyone is OK,” she said. “Instead, my legs gave out, literally gave out. I crawled down two flights of stairs on my elbows. It was the damnedest thing. I was just sobbing. I didn’t even say anything. I just crawled down on all fours and my son saw me and screamed and just ran upstairs.”
The next day, she learned from Mr. Ocasek’s business manager that she had been recently excised from the will, with Mr. Ocasek’s sons from his first marriage not acknowledged. Her sons and two other stepsons were the main beneficiaries. He wrote that Ms. Porizkova was not entitled to her legal marital portion of the estate, “because she has abandoned me.”
To Ms. Porizkova, who had worked over the decades of her marriage to keep all the sons connected, this was an exceptionally cruel blow. “He left things in a mess with the will thing,” she said, eyes welling up. “That was such a mean thing to do to us as a family because we’re a fairly close-knit family and that’s not his doing, Nobody came away happy from this. Not the ones who were slighted and not the ones that supposedly won the lottery either. It just puts everybody into really awkward situations we’re still trying to figure out.”
She is currently in litigation with Mr. Ocasek’s estate, Ms. Porizkova said.
Oliver said that he believes his father’s intention was to entrust his music to the sons he had educated about the music business, but wishes that his father had better explained his thinking. “We are relatively powerless in the process right now,” he said, “but being powerless in the process means we don’t have to worry about our impact of inadvertently doing something that would hurt our mother.”
Last fall, Ms. Porizkova sold the townhouse for $9 million, receiving the proceeds after taxes and the mortgage were paid.
She recorded and shared online the process of cleaning out and leaving her home of three decades, and is now getting settled in her new place: a rented two-bedroom duplex in Chelsea with a garden and master bedroom suite, including a piano she plays frequently. The room has a romantic, turn-of-the-20th-century style, including a full-length painted portrait of Ms. Porizkova, her face in profile and naked body partially obscured by a draped scarf.
“My sex lair,” she called it while giving a house tour.
Once vaccinations began, Ms. Porizkova started to think about dating. She was interviewed by Ashleigh Banfield about her newfound role as a spokeswoman of sorts for middle-aged women who are embracing their wrinkles and sex appeal. Off-camera, Ms. Banfield asked Ms. Porizkova if she wanted to be introduced to a single man. Sure, Ms. Porizkova said. But “no rock stars.”
Ms. Banfield introduced Ms. Porizkova and Mr. Sorkin, 59, by text message, and they began corresponding. A month later, she flew to Los Angeles to go on a date. (Reached by email, Mr. Sorkin said that he prefers not to comment about people unless he is working with them, “but if Paulina’s ever a cinematographer on something I write I’ll give you a thousand words.”)
While on the West Coast, Ms. Porizkova also spent time with relatives, including Colleen Otcasek, 57, the wife of Ric’s oldest son, Chris, and Olivia Otcasek, 22, Colleen and Chris’s daughter.
Colleen, herself a model and a daughter of the 1950s screen legend Don Murray, said that after decades of expecting to be beautiful and silent, Paulina wishes to be reconsidered. “I know this is something she struggled with in the ’80s and ’90s,” Colleen said. “I think she wanted to be known as very intelligent. She was a supermodel at 17 years old and she’s doing all these interviews with people asking big questions about her perspective on life. The media fails to acknowledge that they are looking for wise words from a teenager.”
Even for Olivia, a product of the always-be-sharing Insta-generation, Paulina has an ability to break through reserve. “She pulls out this openness in us when we’re together,” Olivia said. “My mom and I are super, super-close, and we think we talk about every subject. But when Paulina’s around, it’s like, ‘Grandma’s here, let’s talk about sex!’”
Back in her apartment, Ms. Porizkova was unpacking, sorting through mail and peeling and posting samples of temporary wallpaper for Oliver’s bedroom.
The apartment, she realized the day she decided to rent it, is directly next door to the very first one where she lived in New York, back in the 1980s. “Talk about full circle,” she said, a little sadly. “Being 17 you feel like, everything is about to happen. Here I am, 40 years later, it’s happened. I’m like, ‘Is this it or is this the end of one circle and the beginning of another?’
“The hope from the past is tempered with reality of what it takes to go places, how hard things can be, and how everything is not magical. At the same time, you gain self-knowledge and, perhaps, acceptance of yourself that makes you so much more interesting as a person. It’s not that I’m stronger now. It’s that I’m aware of my strength.”
Source: Read Full Article