The tragic real-life story of the Olsen twins
Somewhere, deep in the minds of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen is a distant memory of what it’s like to not be famous — and by distant, we mean really distant. The 30-something fraternal twins got their big break at just nine months old when they inadvertently landed the role of Michelle Tanner on Full House. Only a few short years later, they became two of the youngest executive producers in Hollywood history, eventually amassing a combined estimated net worth of $500 million. This was, in no small part, due to their 47 direct-to-video films, 16 albums, fashion lines, and a veritable metric ton of merchandise. Beyond that, they really gave ’90s girls hope that family vacations could be a romantic adventure rather than a perpetual argument with your dad over a $2.50 Coca-Cola at Bubba Gump Shrimp.
These days, the pair have shunned child star fame and focused on running the billion dollar company Dualstar Entertainment Group, which houses the luxury fashion labels The Row and Elizabeth and James. After a lifetime being chased by paparazzi, can you really blame them? During the early aughts, the Olsen twins were obvious tabloid darlings. But for every headline that focused on how to get their coveted red carpet pout by silently uttering the word “prune,” there was some not-so-great stuff. We’re focusing on the unfortunate dark reality of the latter. As it turns out, being two of the most famous twins on the planet is really, really hard.
Their career happened on a whim – and they hated it
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s fame was sort of an accident. It wasn’t planned by any means, even if they grew up in the Valley, which houses Hollywood’s upper echelons. According to Rolling Stone, the pair’s mother, Jarnette, sent a photo of the twins to a casting agency that was represented by a friend “for the hell of it.” Since infants can only legally work about 20 minutes at a time, the twins were a deal, an astoundingly charming, 40-minute workhorse. They got the job, but that doesn’t mean they liked it.
John Stamos is the first to admit that the Olsens became a tough sell, and he even tried to get them fired. He told Entertainment Weekly that they cried a lot, which made it “difficult to get the shot.” At one point, they were recast, but it “didn’t work” for whatever reason, so the Olsens were re-hired. Even then, The Washington Post reported that Mary-Kate filmed most of Season 1 because Ashley was “very much afraid to come on the set.”
In truth, neither of the twins particularly enjoyed their acting careers — at least not in retrospect. In a 2010 interview with Marie Claire, Mary-Kate revealed that the pair felt like “little monkey performers.” “I look at old photos of me, and I don’t feel connected to them at all,” she told the outlet, adding, “I would never wish my upbringing on anyone.”
Spencer Pratt sold the Olsen twins out to the tabloids
Leave it to The Hills’ self-cast villain, Spencer Pratt, and his flesh-colored beard to rat out the Olsens and break the sacred trust of mutual fame. What do you expect from a guy who orchestrated the greatest reality TV feud of all time (looking at you, Heidi Montag and Lauren Conrad). Turns out, Mary-Kate Olsen has the same bone to pick.
In a 2007 Details profile of Pratt’s former best friend Brody Jenner (via People), Montag’s future husband claimed to have “made $50,000 by selling a photograph” of Mary-Kate “drinking at a party.” At the time, it was said they went to the same high school. Yes, the Olsen twins went to a normal — albeit “small, private” — high school, which was later discovered to not actually be Pratt’s high school anyway, but we digress. By the looks of the picture, MK was either trashed or startled by a camera being flashed in her face.
Pratt’s photo launched an all-out war that got him eviscerated on the Late Show with David Letterman by Mary-Kate’s passive aggressive jabs. He went direct-to-tabloids with his nasty retaliation, dubbing her “a famous troll” and “the less cute twin” in Us Weekly (via Gawker). He later sort of apologized, telling Us Weekly (via Just Jared) that he’s “secretly jealous of her” and wanted his “face on a lunchbox, too!” All we know is that $50,000 doesn’t actually buy a lot of crystals, so it doesn’t seem worth it.
The final countdown
If it wasn’t bad enough that the Olsen twins were thrust into a fame they never asked for, the pair had to endure a creepy onslaught of headlines counting down to their 18th birthday, the day in which they could legally consent to intimate relations. E! News eerily rejoiced “Jailbait No More,” and according to Salon, some guy even created a website called Twin Tracker that “cross-reference[d] the age of the Olsen twins with the age of legal consent” in all 50 states. He subsequently received a cease and desist from their lawyer, but probably should’ve known to knock it off well before then.
Though the twins told E! News that the creep-factor just comes “with the territory … of just being a girl” — a quote which was ironically included under the aforementioned creepy headline — that doesn’t mean it’s not upsetting. In a 2003 interview with Rolling Stone, Ashley Olsen admitted she “got really angry and defensive” when journalist Connie Chung asked the pair about their virginity before they were even of age. “I was like, ‘That’s personal. Why would you be asking a sixteen-year-old that question in the first place?'” she said. Beyond that, the star found herself “crying hysterically” when photos of the sisters wearing bikinis on a Hawaiian vacation hit the tabloids. Ashley called it her “worst nightmare.”
Mary-Kate Olsen's intervention
As the creepy clocks counting down to the Olsens’ 18th birthday ran out, Mary-Kate Olsen was struggling with something serious behind-the-scenes. Untrue rumors floated around about a cocaine addiction, noting the star’s stark thinness and the habitual rumors of hard-partying that surrounded her. Even the Olsens themselves poked fun at Mary-Kate’s weight, playing paparazzi in an episode of Saturday Night Live and shouting, “You’re so skinny. Eat a sandwich!” In truth, the child star was suffering from anorexia, and she didn’t get treatment until she was faced with an intervention.
According to People, Mary-Kate’s therapist and father “committed her to a treatment facility” in Sundance, Utah right after she graduated from high school and before she started classes at NYU. There wasn’t a single incident that caused it, like the tired cliche of a child star DUI. Instead, the situation was just slowly getting worse, and it had been for a long time. People reports that the Olsen family first tried to “motivate” the star “to eat” following “a minor car accident about a year and a half “prior. They reportedly confiscated her Range Rover, telling her she needed to “[gain] some weight” to get it back. Another source told the magazine that they “hired someone to monitor [her] eating.”
At the time of the intervention, MK was 17, which meant she had little say. Her parents were still her legal guardians, though she chose to continue out-patient treatment during her first semester at NYU.
Asking for help wasn't easy for Mary-Kate Olsen
Mary-Kate Olsen managed to hide her eating disorder for a great while, particularly from her co-workers on New York Minute. Director Dennie Gordon told People that he “had a lot of meals with her, and it didn’t seem there was anything wrong.” She even fooled Dr. Drew Pinsky, of Celebrity Rehab fame, who starred as the twins’ dad. He told People, “She was the sweetest of the two. But I didn’t notice anything. She hid it well.” This is common among eating disorder patients, but following her treatment, MK seems to have reckoned with the truth.
In a 2008 ELLE profile, the star publicly addressed her anorexia for the first time, while somehow still not confirming if she actually had the disorder as was widely reported. “Look, I think it’s important that what anybody goes through — and I’m not saying that it’s true or not true — you realize it’s part of growing up. Everybody is going to go through hard times. It’s a part of life,” she said.
The former actor further elaborated, telling Elle that “asking for help” and “being honest with yourself” is “the hardest part.” “I do not want to go through my life with my eyes shut,” she said, adding, “And I don’t want to go through it with a closed mind. I want to be aware of things. And I’d rather know than not know.”
Why didn't the Olsen twins feel safe at NYU?
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen had high hopes for higher education, but their matriculation was cut short after a reported invasion of privacy. According to People, the twins graduated from high school and shipped off to NYU in September 2004. They bought a $7.3 million West Village penthouse, which “they never moved into” (though they clearly didn’t rough it in the human hamster cage that is college dorms) and began their short-lived studies.
Then came the reports that the twins were — in the words of the Daily News — “sooo over it.” MK was caught allegedly skipping classes. People reported that she was toying around with the idea of doing some sort of “independent study program” that would allow her to bounce back and forth between NYC and LA. Eventually she took a leave of absence, which led to speculation that she was entering a second round of eating disorder treatment. This was false as MK reportedly already had access to a recovery army during her first semester, including “two teams of therapists, nutritionists, and eating coaches.”
Ashley soon followed her sister. According to ELLE, the twins ultimately dropped out because they “no longer felt safe” at school. Their fellow students allegedly took a page out of the Pratt Daddy guidebook and started selling stories to the tabloids. Plus, they kind of had a majorly lucrative business to run.
The Olsen twins have a bad habit
There was a time when the Olsen twins didn’t smoke — or at least, they claimed they didn’t partake in the habit that kills more than 480,000 Americans every year. In 2003, the sisters told Rolling Stone they didn’t “smoke or drink.” The tables swiftly turned when the duo discovered the art of the couture-clad cigarette break.
It’s not clear why the mainstream press seems so obsessed with the twins’ bad habit. Maybe it’s because somewhere along the line it started to feel like the glue holding their sisterly bond together, the fleeting moments they whisper about business in the unadulterated privacy of the front of an office building. Perhaps it’s because they’ve largely retreated from the public eye and give us little more than the flick of a butt in effortlessly cool sunglasses. Either way, there’s an army of headlines about the mystifying phenomenon. Vulture writer Rachel Handler pondered, “Why am I so soothed by photos of the Olsen twins smoking?” Life & Style did its own deep-dive, going so far as to attribute the ladies’ “haggard” looks to the cigs. Page Six even divulged that Mary-Kate’s wedding had “bowls and bowls filled with cigarettes, and everyone smoked the whole night.”
The Olsen twins’ addiction is obviously quite fierce, and they’re even willing to risk a smidge of their professionalism to keep up the habit. According to the Daily News, MK was scolded twice at an NYC Fashion Week party in 2010 for smoking indoors.
Mary-Kate Olsen's tragic link to Heath Ledger's death
Mary-Kate Olsen has a relatively low-key dating history, including artist Nate Lowman; Henry Winkler’s son, Max Winker; soon-to-be ex-husband Olivier Sarkozy; and definitely, definitely not Spencer Pratt. Though she keeps her heart close to her couture vest, it’s rumored that her most famous flame may have also been the most tragic. According to People, Heath Ledger and Olsen had been “casually dating for three months” at the time of his 2008. Neither of them “were particularly interested in making it exclusive,” but they were “hooking up” and “both smoked Marlboro Reds” (which means it was basically millennial true love).
Tabloids touted the never-confirmed romance following a New York Times report that revealed Diana Wolozin, the masseuse who found Ledger unresponsive in his apartment, “made two phone calls” to the Full House star before calling 911. She reportedly used “speed-dial” on Ledger’s phone to call MK, who was in California, but allegedly said she’d “call private security people she knew in New York” to handle it. Wolozin made the second call when “she feared Mr. Ledger might be dead,” because she was unable to rouse him. After the MK calls, Wolozin dialed 911 and unsuccessfully tried to revive the star.
Ledger’s death was ruled an “accidental overdose of prescription medications” (per CNN), and there were rumors that Mary-Kate was involved in a federal inquiry “into whether the painkillers found in Ledger’s system were obtained illegally (per Today).” Ultimately, the case was dropped after feds determined there was no “viable target” for the investigation.
The Olsen twins have completely retreated from fame
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen might have made a fortune from their fame, but they largely retreated from the public eye since MK last appeared on-screen for a minor role in 2011’s widely despisded Beastly. Today, the pair is a Hollywood enigma, cloaked in oversized couture and long, tousled tresses, heads pinned together in the odd red carpet photo at meticulously chosen events (think: the Met Gala or Fashion Week, where they promote their fashion labels). The most we generally get out of them is a carefully curated interview or the odd smoke break paparazzi shot, and they’ve been so busy running their billion dollar empire that their old lives as Hollywood starlets seem completely foreign.
“We’re used to being on the other side of the camera and managing the process, so it’s hard for us to do photoshoots now,” Mary-Kate told Net-A-Porter‘s The Edit in March 2017. You won’t catch them as influencers, either. Unlike the leagues of fellow A-listers who give fans immediate access to their lives through social media, Ashley told The Edit that they “don’t dive into that world” and have “stayed quite sheltered.” They only posted their first public selfie (above right) — a momentous occasion that garnered numerous headlines — when they took over Sephora’s Instagram account to promote Elizabeth and James in 2016. It was, as expected, effortlessly chic, but don’t expect a repeat. The pair have fully shunned their roots, even ditching out on the Fuller House reboot.
A luxury label sued by its lowest-paid workers
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s luxury labels are largely praised across the fashion industry, at least among those who can pay almost $6,500 for a dress. It may be unattainable for the average person, but the price point is not dissimilar from competitors like Bottega Veneta and Lanvin. According to The Wall Street Journal, even a $39,000 alligator backpack The Row sold in 2011 managed to sell out (and likely spark some outrage among animal rights activists in the process).
In 2015, the Olsens were attacked by some of their own. Interns from The Row filed a class-action lawsuit against Dualstar Entertainment Group, accusing the Olsen’s management company of wage theft. According to Page Six, former design intern Shahista Lalani, a Parsons School of Design graduate, led the lawsuit, claiming she endured grueling 50-hour work weeks where she did “the work of three interns.” At one point, she was even allegedly hospitalized for dehydration after carrying “like 50 pounds worth of trench coats” in 100 degree weather. “You’re like an employee, except you’re not getting paid,” she told Page Six. “They’re kind of mean to you. Other interns have cried. I’d see a lot of kids crying doing coffee runs, photocopying stuff.”
The suit claimed The Row’s interns should have been paid minimum wage and overtime because they were doing the same work as regular staff. Reps for the brand reportedly called the lawsuit “meritless” but settled out of court, agreeing to split $140,000 among 185 interns, according to The Fashion Law.
Mary-Kate's bitter divorce from Olivier Sarkozy
Mary-Kate Olsen’s odd marriage to middle-aged French banker Olivier Sarkozy has typically been punctuated by uncomfortable PDA, but things have reportedly been getting ugly behind the closed doors of whatever massive, luxury NYC apartment the pair reside in.
TMZ reported that MK initially signed divorce papers in April 2020, but NYC had put a temporary pause on divorce filings because of COVID-19. The following month, she requested an emergency order claiming Sarkozy “terminated their lease” behind her back and was trying to “force her out” of the apartment. He allegedly gave her a May 18th deadline to remove her belongings, which was reportedly impossible because of the city’s quarantine guidelines, then conveniently ghosted when she asked for an extension.
Basically the So Little Time star has too little time to move her stuff before Sarkozy throws it to the curb and the divorce filing may be the only way she can protect said stuff. Although evictions in NYC were temporarily suspended during all of this, it’s not clear if that extends to bitter lovers. According to E! News, MK has been staying “with Ashley and group of friends outside the city” during this time, and is “done with constant drama.” At least she has a prenup!
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