The stunning transformation of Nicole Richie

Nicole Richie initially gained notoriety when she appeared on the reality show The Simple Life opposite fellow socialite and then-BFF Paris Hilton. Richie appealed to viewers thanks to her droll wit and funny one-liners, which played well off Hilton's deadpan Valley Girl delivery.

Although she is the daughter of legendary singer Lionel Richie, she had, up until that point in her life, made most of her mistakes away from the glare of paparazzi cameras. The Simple Life changed all that, making Richie a tabloid target for many years to come.

In the latter stages of her career, she retreated from the limelight. In interviews, including many of those referenced below, she presents as friendly and accommodating, though guarded. It seems Richie learned some tough lessons from her time as a mega celeb — a period she'd rather not revisit any time soon. While it may have taken her some time to become the strong, confident woman she was always meant to be, we think it's safe to say she's never going back. Here's a look at the star's stunning transformation over the years.

Nicole Richie grew up not knowing her childhood was unusual

As a celebrity kid, Nicole Richie's childhood was far from typical — but she didn't know any differently, she told The Telegraph. "My childhood was my childhood," she told the publication. "I don't have another one to compare it to." Fair enough.

Initially fostered by Lionel Richie and his wife Brenda Harvey, Nicole Richie was formally adopted by the couple at age nine. Her biological parents worked with the singer but were "unable to support her," according to the publication. Although her adoption was no doubt a happy occasion, it took place right around the time her father's marriage to Harvey was collapsing. 

Richie's father toured a lot when she was young, which meant he was gone much of the time, but even though the "Hello" hitmaker expresses guilt over being an absent father, she doesn't blame him. "Looking back, I think I had a wonderful childhood," she opined. As for those early red carpet exposures, for which the little girl would often be dressed identically to her mother, Nicole Richie cringes at the memories, embarrassed that the photos will live on forever.

Nicole Richie chased inspiration rather than fame

Although she was brought up in a celebrity family and eventually went on to star on TV, Nicole Richie told Vanity Fair back in 2006, "I never wanted to be on television; I always wanted to be a singer. I always wanted to do Broadway." The youngster's other ambitions were even less fame-adjacent, with family friend Quincy Jones revealing to People that same year that "when she was younger she worked eight hours a day for eight years to become an Olympic figure skater."

Indeed, Lionel Richie's song "Ballerina Girl" is about his daughter. Reflecting on the hit track in 2004 with NBC News, the soul singer admitted it might be difficult for the public to understand, then only familiar with his daughter from her time on The Simple Life and the ensuing paparazzi drama. But, when his daughter was a little girl, he recalled, "I would go to her little ballet classes ... I would go and I came home and just writing that song was just her song."

Nicole Richie was "pretty out of control" as a teenager

Nicole Richie grew up with most everything at her fingertips which, in her eyes, meant nothing was off limits. The reality star admitted to People in 2007 that she started doing drugs as a teenager. "I kind of took matters into my own hands and was creating drama in a very dangerous way," Richie revealed. "I think I was just bored, and I had seen everything — especially when you're young, you just want more."

Richie elaborated in an interview with ABC News the following year, revealing how her addiction began gradually, with a bit of marijuana here and some drinking there, but by 14 or 15 she "started getting into cocaine." And, at just 19, Richie was hooked on heroin. Looking back, she realizes, "I was pretty out of control." She continued, saying, "And considering the fact that I probably don't remember half of what happened to me, I can only imagine how out of control I was."

Nicole Richie forced herself to face her demons

Upon entering her 20s, already dependent on hard drugs to survive, Nicole Richie realized something needed to change drastically. She told People it was a simple realization of knowing "this isn't the life ... this was heroin." The star was caught with the drug in her car and charged with possession, something Richie's father told NBC News was exactly the kind of wake-up call required to set her straight.

In an extraordinary move of solidarity, when Richie admitted to her parents she needed help, they agreed to all check in to rehab together. "I wanted her to understand that this is not her problem alone. This is a family problem," her father explained simply.

Richie admitted to Vanity Fair that, as a teen, she didn't feel bad about all the hurt she'd caused her parents. Instead, she thought they "were just being really strict." However, the rehab stint put everything into perspective. In fact, their time in treatment together changed the entire family dynamic. Her parents hadn't spoken for a long time leading up to that point, but since then, all three parties have been able to communicate effectively. Richie credits that time with bridging the gap between them.

Nicole Richie really lived The Simple Life

The Simple Life was the prototypical reality show, setting the stage for our most beloved trash TV watches from Keeping up with the Kardashians (remember when Kim Kardashian worked as Paris Hilton's closet organizer?) to Vanderpump Rules. Nicole Richie's father told NBC News what audiences saw on TV was 100 percent real, advising, "The joke is that they actually put a show around their everyday living. ...We survive their antics on a daily basis."

Looking back, Richie told Entertainment Weekly in 2020, "We were 20 or 21 when we did [the show]. It was like backpacking through Europe: something you do in your twenties." She continued, telling the publication, "If I could say something to my younger self, I'd be like, 'Do it, because when else are you going to be able to go and do that?' That's what your twenties are for!"

In a 2014 interview with Marie Claire Mexico (via E! News), Richie opined that the show opened up her world in a way because, up until that point, she'd never experienced any of the real America. Richie also told Oprah Winfrey in an interview that she has no regrets about doing the show because it helped mold her into a stronger person.

Nicole Richie changed for the sake of her child

At nearly 26 years old, Nicole Richie had been arrested four times, gone to rehab multiple times, and was awaiting minimal jail time by the time she sat down for an interview with ABC News and acknowledged the time for change was now or never. Less than a year into her relationship with soon-to-be husband Joel Madden, and with her first child on the way, Richie was on the precipice of her whole life being forever altered whether she liked it or not — but she embraced it. "Change is all about making a decision to change, and you have to start somewhere. ... I've made the decision to not let myself go ... and I'm working toward that."

Richie was focused on her unborn child. More than anything else, she wanted to set a good example. As the expectant mother admitted, "It's been a pattern in my life — when I get in trouble, I try to get out of it. And the difference is, is that I'm a mother now and I'm not only thinking about myself."

Nicole Richie refused to be a role model

Though Nicole Richie overcame her addiction, becoming a role model or a spokesperson for sobriety and clean living was never on her to-do list. As she explained to Vanity Fair, speaking out would put a lot of pressure on her and Richie still considered herself a work in progress. "For me to tell other people what to do in their lives is something I'm not really fit to do. ... I'm not 'there' yet," she explained. "I don't know whether I'll ever be 'there.'"

Thankfully, her outlook changed over time and, as she told ABC News, being a parent drove her to try harder. She admitted that, previously, "I did not want to be a role model. And because I didn't want to be, I really fought it. And whenever I made mistakes, at times I didn't even really feel bad for them." As she prepared to be a mother, however, Richie understood the necessity of putting her best foot forward for the sake of her child and herself.

Nicole Richie took issue with her tabloid diagnosis

There was a time when the tabloid press obsessed over Nicole Richie's weight, diagnosing her with an eating disorder purely based on speculation. As a 2010 profile in Marie Claire explained, Richie had actually been diagnosed as hypoglycemic, meaning that it was much harder for her to gain weight. The scrutiny over her weight was so intense that the starlet conducted a Vanity Fair interview along with her doctor back in 2006 to reassure the media she was getting treatment for whatever perceived weight issues she had. Unfortunately for Richie, the doctor didn't dismiss claims that she was suffering from anorexia, so that likely did not help matters.

Richie was rightfully frustrated with the tabloids at the time. "I definitely felt it was a little unfair to say someone has an eating disorder when they don't. It's extremely insulting and irresponsible," Richie told Marie Claire succinctly. "An eating disorder is serious and it's a disease, and I don't think you can lightly say that someone has a disease unless they're openly telling you that they do." The star argued that because she was so open about her struggles, the press should have trusted that if she was really anorexic she would've talked about that too.

Nicole Richie finally found her voice

Following years of intense media scrutiny, Nicole Richie rebranded herself as a fashion designer. In 2010, she told UK's The Independent that her parents, especially her mother, are her biggest inspiration, noting, "My mum has been a big influence. ... I'd watch her get dressed and think her fashion sense was so cool. That made the biggest imprint on me — I would just look up at her and want to be pretty, wear make-up and get dressed up."

A couple years later, by then the proprietor of casual-chic brand Winter Kate and its accessories offshoot House of Harlow 1960 (named for her daughter), she told The Telegraph her ethos is simple: "I just love to see everyday people wearing my designs."

In 2013, Richie sat down with the publication again and gushed about how lucky she felt to be working in the fashion industry. Richie revealed that "designing was something I always gravitated to" — right down to creating her own figure skating costumes as a kid. Richie further explained that she's a hands-on boss, saying, "I have a very good team that I work with now, but I design everything myself. This is not something that I just put my name to."

Nicole Richie settled down with a punk rocker

They seemed an unlikely pairing but Nicole Richie and Good Charlotte frontman Joel Madden actually come from very similar backgrounds, particularly regarding their family circumstances. As Richie explained to The Telegraph, they're both focused on creating a stable environment for their kids because they "grew up in what other people would call an unstable home." She continued, saying, "We both come from divorced parents and did a lot of moving around."

Richie and Madden dated for five years before they felt the time "was right" to get married. In 2010, after welcoming two children — daughter Harlow and son Sparrow, who were born in 2008 and 2009, respectively — the couple wed. In 2014, Richie spoke to Oprah Winfrey for a Where Are They Now? special and described her and Madden as "partners from day one." As they were both children of divorce, she felt she and Madden didn't have a great example of a healthy home life but, in recognizing that, they were able to work through it together. "That's the easiest and hardest part" of being married to Madden, she revealed.

Nicole Richie recognizes the importance of having a real childhood

Both Nicole Richie and Joel Madden were adamant about having their kids grow up in a healthy, stable environment. In conversation with family friend Rashida Jones in 2017, Richie told Refinery29, "It's extremely important to us for our kids to be kids, to have a full-blown childhood. And that is the life we've created for [them]." Richie pointed to the importance of family time, even though she has no issue with kids traveling the world with their parents.

"What we both do is just try and pour our interest into what the kids are interested in. We ask them what they want to do. And if it's going to a movie, we just try to keep it enjoyable," Richie explained, admitting she loves nothing more than chilling out with her children at the mall. Likewise, she told Us Weekly in 2019 that when it comes to being a good parent, "I think we just have to encourage kids to be themselves and to stand up for what they believe in and to stand up for something."

Nicole Richie returned to her comedy roots

As a calling card for its stars, The Simple Life wasn't exactly the best showcase, but it did highlight Nicole Richie's indisputable comedic timing. Her snarky delivery elevated the show from horrifying train wreck to hilarious must-watch train wreck. Friend Rashida Jones described Richie as "naturally funny" in her interview with Refinery29, arguing that Richie's role on the sitcom Great News felt like a natural transition for her. Richie described the role as making her feel like "a true adult" and it was a responsibility she took very seriously.

According to a 2017 profile in Elle, it actually wasn't so much Richie's role in The Simple Life but in Candidly Nicole, her short-lived scripted reality series for VH1 in which she plays a heightened variation of her public persona to hilarious effect, that garnered her attention. The show led to being contacted by 30 Rock producers Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, and Tracey Wigfield and scouted for the role of Portia — a millennial nightmare of a co-anchor — in Great News. Speaking to Elle, Fey heralded Richie's natural comedic instincts.

Nicole Richie's perspective has changed

Nicole Richie made a remarkable transition from her Simple Life breakout over the subsequent decade. Looking back at her impressive trajectory with Vice in late 2017, she explained that having kids meant taking a step back from being in the public eye. It was a necessity for Richie, who wanted to protect her children first and foremost and provide a stable environment for them out of the media glare.

When she considers the kind of scrutiny she was under starting at such a young age, Richie realizes it wasn't acceptable or normal. "My perspective at the time was that it was all kind of put upon me — that I was reacting to this attention that was put upon me. I know now that that's not necessarily true," she acknowledged, noting the potential to change things was in her hands all along. "It takes effort to sit in your own power and decide for yourself that you're actually going to guide your life and not just merely exist," she opined.

Nicole Richie is leaving The Simple Life behind

Rumors will probably always abound that The Simple Life is returning, but, aside from being reticent to even discuss it anymore, Nicole Richie reckons there's no way it could happen again anyway. "That concept alone wouldn't fly now, which is so crazy because it doesn't seem like that long ago," she told Vice of how isolated she and Hilton were while on the show.

They weren't even allowed to use their phones during the first season, she admitted. As Richie explained, "I was cut off from the world. I don't think the show could exist now for that reason, but that was the whole point. The concept of just leaving your life just isn't a thing. It was just a whole different time."

Furthermore, in early 2020, she told Entertainment Weekly that it wouldn't be feasible as the two stars have also gotten older. "I can't imagine leaving my kids. We've got real jobs now," she argued.