The Complete Evolution Of Tori Spelling

Tori Spelling's career spans decades. She had a string of small TV and film roles in the '80s, but she rose to fame in the '90s, portraying Donna Martin on the hit drama "Beverly Hills, 90210" from 1990 to 2000. While she's never exactly been lauded as an actor — as Variety graciously puts it, Spelling is "not a world-historically great thespian" — she's been a prolific performer, with more than 60 acting credits on her resume.

Even people who never tuned in to see Spelling on "Beverly Hills, 90210" have probably heard her name before. She's made headlines for everything from family feuds to money woes and, at times, the tabloid stories have outweighed her acting work. She's still doing plenty of that, though, notably in made-for-TV movies such as "Family Plan," "Mind Over Murder," and "The Mistle-Tones" She also reprised the role of Donna on "90210" and "BH90210." It's been a long journey for Tori Spelling — here's a closer look at how she's transformed over the years.

Tori Spelling was born to Hollywood royalty

Tori Spelling was born on May 16, 1973, and had quite a privileged upbringing. Her parents, Candy and Aaron Spelling, were famous in their own right; Candy is a former model, while Aaron was one of the most successful TV producers in Hollywood. This made the young Spelling not only Hollywood royalty, but also meant that she grew up in the lap of luxury. Her childhood home, Spelling Manor, spans 56,500 square feet. That's bigger than the White House, notes Work + Money, and large enough to make the mansion the biggest in Los Angeles.

As Spelling recalled to ABC, her childhood was so privileged that her father had snow brought to their yard to give her a White Christmas. "It was, you know, probably 80 degrees out in LA and my dad took me outside and there was snow ... At the time, I thought, 'Well, every kid doesn't have snow in their backyard on Christmas?'" recounted the actor.

Tori Spelling was always a daddy's girl

Tori Spelling had a seemingly charmed childhood, but most of the pampering came from her dad, Aaron Spelling. Aaron indulged his daughter, and the two had a close relationship, but the same couldn't be said for Spelling's relationship with her mother, Candy. As the actor explained to ABC, even as a young girl she felt like something between her and her mother was not quite right.

Spelling revealed that her father was supportive of her, but her mother was not. "Even when I was young, I just knew, I knew from the beginning it was just, it was complicated," she admitted.

In her memoir, "sTORI Telling," Spelling wrote about how her father "doted" on her, and it seems his love for his daughter may have driven something of a wedge between mother and daughter. She wrote about her father telling her he loved her "more than anything in the world," saying, "I love you more than [your] Mommy."

Her dad helped her get her breakout role

Aaron Spelling's love for his daughter was so great that he had no qualms about using his Hollywood connections to turn her into a TV star. As Tori Spelling wrote in "sTORI Telling," as soon as she told her dad she wanted to act, he began giving her guest spots in TV shows he worked on. She started slowly, with one-liners in shows like "Vega$," "Fantasy Island," "T.J. Hooker," and "Love Boat."

Soon she began auditioning, landing meatier roles without the help of her dad. She even had her first kiss on TV, locking lips with Screech on "Saved By the Bell." While Spelling proved that she could land parts on her own, her breakthrough role on "Beverly Hills, 90210," came from her dad.

The role of Donna was a small one to begin with, with Spelling writing that it was a "consolation part" she was given after being turned down for the part of Kelly. "Clearly, my dad had said, 'Just give my daughter some small role,'" she recounted. The role may have been a small one, with just a few lines in the pilot episode, but Spelling was thrilled just to be cast. The character of Donna quickly grew to become one of the show's most popular characters over its 10-year run.

Tori Spelling focused on her acting career instead of going to college

Landing the role of Donna on "Beverly Hills, 90210" was huge for Tori Spelling's acting career, but it wasn't without its sacrifices. Spelling was just 16 years old when she landed the career-making part, writing in "sTORI Telling," "so for better or for worse, I grew up on the show." Focusing on her career also meant forgoing a normal adolescence and young adulthood, something that Spelling has expressed some regrets over. "It kind of sucked that I didn't get to go to college," she admitted in her memoir.

Becoming a TV star also meant that Spelling had to grow up pretty fast. Being on "Beverly Hills, 90210" provided her with a steady income, which resulted in her becoming independent at a young age. "I had a hit TV series, so I didn't really need [my parents] for anything," she told ABC.

She was insecure growing up

Sadly, fame and fortune weren't all they were cracked up to be. Despite starring on a hit TV show and having everything she wanted, Tori Spelling still struggled with her self-esteem. Fans had no idea that, in real life, the actor behind Donna was going through a lot. Spelling opened up about her past issues in a 2019 Instagram post, revealing that she had been "a young really insecure teenager that never thought I was good enough."

While Donna was the "it girl" and teens everywhere looked at her as an inspiration, Spelling said that she couldn't really relate to her. "Off camera I didn't feel at all beautiful or good about myself," she said. Spelling added that her teen years would have been hard enough, but growing up on camera made it that much worse, even though starring on "Beverly Hills, 90210" was "one of the best times of my life."

Her first marriage ended in divorce

Tori Spelling met her first husband, Charlie Shahnaian, a couple of years after "Beverly Hills, 90210" wrapped. Per Heavy, Shahnaian is a writer and actor, and he met his bride when she was starring in a play of his called "Maybe Baby, It's You." The two tied the knot in 2004, but their marriage only lasted for 15 months; Shahnaian filed for divorce after the news broke that Spelling was reportedly having an affair with fellow actor Dean McDermott, but it was Spelling who left him first.

"She picked a fight with me at a party, told me she needed 'time and space,' and was gone before I could comprehend what had happened," Shahnaian told GQ in 2007 (via People). Shahnaian claimed that Spelling's therapist told him she married him for security. Shahnaian recalled being told that Spelling didn't want to have kids with him and that "she'd only married me because I loved her and took care of her; she had purposefully shown me only 10 percent of her true personality."

Tori Spelling married Dean McDermott

In 2006, Tori Spelling married Dean McDermott. As noted by InStyle, the two met on a film set in Canada the year before and knew immediately that they were meant to be together — in spite of the fact that both were married to other people. Per People, the two tied the knot in a private ceremony in Fiji, just weeks after Spelling's divorce from Charlie Shahnaian was finalized.

Spelling had no regrets about the timing of her relationship with McDermott. In a 2008 interview with Redbook, she said, "I had to follow my heart," adding that when she met McDermott, she began to believe in love at first sight (via CBS News). "Ultimately, you have to realize that happiness is out there and not settle for anything else," she said.

Together, McDermott and Spelling became famous as a reality TV couple, starring in several reality shows together including "Tori & Dean: Inn Love," "Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood," and "Tori & Dean: Cabin Fever."

She has five children, but balancing motherhood with work isn't always easy

As noted by Closer Weekly, Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott welcomed their first child, Liam, in 2007 — one year after they got married. Over the years, they've welcomed four other children: Stella, Hattie, Finn, and Beau. Spelling is also stepmom to McDermott's adult son, Jack McDermott.

Being a working mom hasn't always been easy for Spelling, but she's committed to her kids. In an interview with People, she said she struggles with being a mom trying to do everything herself. She said this is due to her own upbringing, as she had a nanny to care for her growing up, which made her determined to "do it all myself" once she had kids of her own. "So I still do it all, but I'm still working on that," she said. "It's okay to ask for help."

It's not surprising, then, that Spelling struggles with mom guilt, saying, "[Parents] put so much pressure and guilt ourselves that I think expectations are too hard."

After 90210, she starred in a show about herself

Despite her 10-year run on "Beverly Hills, 90210," Tori Spelling hasn't always gotten the credit she's due as an actor. After the show wrapped, she landed a few big roles, notably in 2001's "Scary Movie 2," but she didn't quite manage to recapture the highs of her early career. A string of roles on TV shows and made-for-TV movies followed over the next few years, including "A Carol Christmas," "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," "Mind Over Murder," and "Smallville."

Many people have criticized her performances over the years, viewing her as the product of nepotism rather than a skilled actor in her own right. While Spelling could have run away from the criticism, she chose to lean into it instead by starring in "So Notorious," a satirized version of her own life.

The New York Times described the 2006 VH1 series as "a highlight reel of humiliation," showing Spelling as a fictionalized version of herself parading through a series of awkward situations. The TV version of Spelling is a spoiled brat whose fame is due to her dad's influence rather than any latent talent. "I'd rather be making the joke than other people making it. So why not?" the actor said of why she decided to star on the show. "So Notorious" ran for just one 10-episode season. While it didn't last long, Variety notes that it was nominated for the GLAAD Media Award for outstanding comedy series.

She almost declared bankruptcy

Tori Spelling's money troubles have become the stuff of Hollywood legend. While she had a privileged upbringing and became financially independent as a teenager, she's often struggled financially — in large part because of her difficulties with managing her money. She wrote about her extravagant spending habits in "sTORI Telling," detailing a youth spent living the high life. Her mother, Candy Spelling, once told The New York Times that the actor could easily "drop $50,000 to $60,000" on a shopping spree.

After "Beverly Hills, 90210" wrapped, she found herself in deep credit card debt, to the point that she almost had to declare bankruptcy, too proud to ask her wealthy family for help. "Bad shopping habits die hard," she told ABC in 2008. "In all honesty, I grew up a certain way. I never had to worry about money ... that was my reality."

Three years later, she was forced to sell her home at a loss. Her reality show, "Tori and Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood," was canceled not long after, leaving the family in a difficult financial situation. Spelling had to confront her spending habits once and for all. "I look back at that girl who shopped at Gucci in my 20s, and I can't even relate," she wrote in her book "Spelling It Like It Is" (via USA Today). "I can't believe I thought it was important."

The death of her father hit her hard

Tori Spelling's father, Aaron, died from a stroke in 2006. Spelling was heartbroken by the loss, and her grief was compounded by her mother's allegations that it was her fault Aaron had died. Spelling had been estranged from the family for some time. "That's what killed my husband, actually," Candy told radio station 94.7 WMAS (via Today). "He just didn't want to live after that."

Fans were stunned to learn that Spelling received less than a million dollars from her wealthy father — just a fraction of his fortune. As Spelling told ABC, though, she and her father had discussed his will before he died. "I think part of me, in the back of my head, maybe hoped it would be different?" she admitted. "But I hated myself for hoping it would be different, because I didn't want to take advantage, I didn't want to be that girl who needed, or wanted, my dad's money."

At the end of the day, though, Spelling was more devastated by the loss of her father than not inheriting his vast fortune. "I was such a Daddy's girl and just adored this man beyond words," she wrote in an Instagram tribute to her father, adding that he was "the kindest most gentle soul in the world."

Things have improved between Tori Spelling and her mother

Tori Spelling's distant relationship with her mother didn't get much better in adulthood. The rift became highly publicized after Aaron Spelling's death, and it seemed like Spelling and her mom would remain permanently cold. While things with her mother were strained for some time, Spelling and Candy are now on much better terms. In 2008, Spelling told ABC that the two love each other, adding, "We don't have an easy relationship. I don't think we ever will, but I'd rather have a complicated, misunderstood relationship than have no relationship at all."

More than a decade later, in 2019, Spelling confirmed that things between her and her mother were still going well. "It's good, really good right now," she said on an episode of "Watch What Happens Live" (via People).

Candy also has a solid relationship with her grandchildren, telling People she even set up trust funds for them while she and her daughter were still estranged, proving that, in spite of their differences, the love between the two women runs deep. 

Tori Spelling is still on TV

While Tori Spelling has yet to land an acting gig as big as the one that made her famous, she's still doing pretty well for herself on the small screen. She's done some voice acting, notably voicing Pirate Princess on the show "Captain Jake and the Never Land Pirates," but is best known for her reality stardom on her shows with husband Dean McDermott, as well as the 2014 series "True Tori."

In 2019, she played herself on "BH90210," a short-lived series about actors rebooting a TV show that made them famous. If that sounds a little meta, that's because it is. The show blended the line between reality TV and a drama, with the original "Beverly Hills, 90210" actors playing a version of themselves. Spelling had a blast on the show, but said to Hollywood Life that "the real characters, the real actors playing themselves, it gets a little confusing."

Dean McDermott announced the end of his marriage to Tori Spelling

In June 2023, Dean McDermott announced that he and Tori Spelling were ending their 18-year relationship. "We will continue to work together as loving parents and guide and love our children through this difficult time," he wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post (via People). "We ask that you all respect our privacy as we take this time to surround our family with love and work our way through this."

While the removal of the post may have made fans hopeful for a reunion between the couple, the announcement came after years of divorce rumors, and a source confirmed to People that the relationship is kaput, saying, "He took down the post because Tori didn't want him to keep it up. But he's packing his bags and is 100% serious about it." Another source, however, told US Weekly that the two will work out their issues, claiming, "They love each other and are not going to split."

Spelling kept quiet following the bombshell announcement and the ensuing drama, but The Daily Mail reported a few days after the post was made that she had been spotted pulling up to a friend's house with her kids, suitcases in tow.