Cybill Shepherd entered Hollywood’s spotlight in 1971 for her outstanding performance in The Last Picture Show. From there on, her lovely looks and tremendous talent helped Shepherd gain roles in some of the decade’s most influential films. However, the model turned actress is more famous for her many high-profile love affairs with costars and directors alike.
Not only that but the beauty queen dated the King of rock and roll, Elvis Presley. What caused Cybill to fall, and how did she rise again? We’re delving deep into the details of her tumultuous career and her feuds, flings, fortune, and fame.
Born in Memphis on February 18th, 1950, Cybill Lynne Shepherd’s first name is a combination of her grandfather Cy and her dad Bill’s names. Growing up as an only child to Patty and Bill, Cybill dreamed of one day being an author. Instead, the young beauty was propelled into a career in modeling after winning Miss Teenage Memphis at age sixteen.
The same year, Cybill represented Memphis in the Miss Teen America pageant and was queened Miss Congeniality. After competing for Model of the Year in 1968, Shepherd spent her final year of school busy with fashion assignments.
Cybill became a fresh and famous face in the world of fashion throughout the sixties and was featured on the front of many magazines. One such cover is what kicked off her acting career. When renowned director Peter Bogdanovich spotted her face on the cover of Glamour magazine, he was waiting in line at the supermarket.
Awestruck by her beauty and riveting gaze, Peter proclaimed to his wife and production designer, Polly Platt, “That’s Jacy!” referring to the female lead in his new film. Accordingly, Bogdanovich and Platt sought out Cybill to have her audition for the role.
Cybill was cast as Jacy in The Last Picture show, scoring her first role in a motion picture. Bogdanovich became enamored with her cold fearlessness and powerful sexuality when she auditioned for him while sitting on his hotel room floor, fiddling nonchalantly with a rose.
Shepherd seemed unbothered about whether she would be cast or not. In the end, it was that carelessness that won Cybill the part, according to Bogdanovich. As the movie’s producer remembered, “There was something in her eyes, a kind of collectedness. It was as if she was looking at you through sunglasses.”
When they first met, Shepherd was twenty, and Bogdanovich was thirty-one and married. His wife, Polly, was pregnant with their second child. Despite his wife and kids, the director began to fall for his star. Meanwhile, Cybill was excited to be in her first film and had a few set romances.
She and her costar Jeff Bridges began to “keep company after hours,” which Cybill later regretted. In 2008, she shared, “It’s not a good idea to date your leading men, but sometimes it’s hard not to; I got that out of the way with my first film.”
Despite her affair with Jeff and his marriage to Polly, who were both working on set with them, Peter and Cybill couldn’t help falling in love. Their romance started while filming The Last Picture Show and continued for years.
Peter later shared that Bridges “left town to do a week of his military service and by the time he got back,” Cybill was with Peter instead. Bogdanovich didn’t keep his love affair with Cybill secret; he left his wife for his leading lady midway through the film’s production.
Cybill and Peter’s relationship was always rocky and full of drama and had many ups and downs. Cybill shared that she’d always “avoided several people in [Hollywood], Jack [Nicholson] being one of them,” but once agreed to go on a date with him to make Peter jealous.
Shepherd continued, “I kinda broke a date with him, and I haven’t worked with him since.” Apparently, Bogdanovich won her back before she managed to meet Nicholson, which was probably for the best, considering Jack’s reputation with the ladies.
Nicholson wasn’t the only man who asked Cybill out while she was with Peter. A friend told Cybill that Elvis Presley wanted to take her out, and Shepherd said Elvis should call her himself. So, he did, and they went out.
They then proceeded to have a brief love affair. The starlet claimed that “Elvis Presley, as a lover, was … indescribable, it was 1972, and all the guys wore cheap cologne, apart from him. He smelled soapy and sweet, like sugar and sweat. I felt a lot for him.”
However, Shepherd’s romance with Presley didn’t last long. The rockstar reportedly tried to convince Cybill to take drugs with him, and she declined and eventually broke things off with him, choosing to pursue her affair with Bogdanovich instead.
Cybill and Peter’s affair filled the gossip columns. The fact that the director had left his wife Polly Platt after nine years of marriage just after she’d given birth to their second daughter was scandalous. But Cybill wouldn’t take responsibility for the accusations against her. She said, “one person never ends a marriage.”
Despite their great love, Cybill wasn’t faithful to Peter; she continued to fall into set romances left and right. While filming The Heartbreak Kid in 1972, Shepherd had a short fling with Charles Grodin’s costar.
She claimed their “one-night stand never went beyond the morning after.” Cybill preferred Bogdanovich to all the men in her life and said, “[Peter] was the first man who ever treated me as an equal intellectually… I had a huge wedge of myself that was empty, which was confidence. And he helped fill that.”
Throughout the years they were together, Cybill acted in many of Peter’s films. She was his muse, and he wrote roles for her. In 1974, Cybill was cast as the title role in Bogdanovich’s film Daisy Miller. The director claimed, “there was a tremendous similarity between Daisy and Cybill.”
Peter continued, “Cybill, like Daisy, was often misunderstood. But there was an innocence behind Daisy and Cybill… Daisy Miller is about a whole society that doesn’t understand her.” Society also didn’t understand his vision, and the film was a box-office failure.
After Daisy Miller bombed, Cybill would “walk in a room and feel a concentrated hatred.” That was when Peter encouraged her to try and make it as a singer. Cybill had studied opera for a few years, and in 1974 Bogdanovich produced her debut album, Cybill Does It… to Cole Porter.
But not everyone liked her singing. Rumor has it that Peter took the record to Frank Sinatra, hoping he would vouch for Cybill. Instead, Sinatra’s response was, “Some guys will do anything to ball a broad.”
According to Cybill, while recording her album, she met Stan Getz, the famous jazz musician. During one session, Getz came on to Cybill, and she turned him down. Apparently, Stan couldn’t take the embarrassment and hasn’t spoken to her since.
The album didn’t do very well and was criticized. However, one critic admitted that “her voice is surprisingly pleasant” before tearing her down by giving the record a grade of D-. Nevertheless, Peter still believed Cybill could sing and wrote her a part in his next film, a musical.
Peter Bogdanovich’s musical comedy, At Long Last Love, came out in 1975, and Cybill was cast as the female lead, opposite Burt Reynolds. The media hated the movie and criticized Cybill in particular, with Gene Shalit even saying, “Cybill Shepherd cannot sing, dance or act.”
However, some fans stood up for the actress, claiming, “As it happens, Cybill can sing pretty well — but Burt Reynolds? Come on!” Either way, it was Peter’s second box office failure in a row, and things weren’t looking good for the happy couple.
After their failed musical, Peter’s producer, David Begelman, refused to fund the director’s next film, Nickelodeon, if he cast Cybill in it. Bogdanovich was devastated: “It was a movie I wrote for her.” He couldn’t think of anyone else who could play the role like his lover.
“Most of it was Cybill as she really is, at her most vulnerable, together with her dangerous, sexy part, which she doesn’t have to work at — it’s just there,” said Peter. Instead of Shepherd, the female lead was given to Tatum O’Neal.
Cybill and Peter couldn’t understand why they were so despised as a couple by Hollywood and the press. As they saw it, people love lovers. So why not their love? Bogdanovich thought it was because they “were too happy” and flaunted their feelings publicly.
Unfortunately, Cybill and Peter’s careers were hurt by their affair, especially hers. The media treated Peter Bogdanovich like an artist who’d made a mistake while treating Cybill Shepherd like a floozy or a fallen woman. She’d gained a reputation as “the most clobbered actress in Hollywood.”
As it happened, David Begelman, the same producer who had refused to let Bogdanovich cast Cybill in his film, helped her secure a part in Taxi Driver. Apparently, when Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese wrote the character of Betsy, they wanted a “Cybill Shepherd–type actress.”
Scorsese explained, “It was Paul Schrader’s and my idea of what an ideal woman would be — an amalgam, a type.” They searched for the right actress for months but couldn’t find anyone. So, when they finally auditioned the real Cybill Shepherd, “she was perfect.”
In Taxi Driver, Cybill starred opposite Robert De Niro. In the film, Robert’s character, Travis Bickle, becomes enamored with Cybill’s character, Betsy. It seems that, like his character, the real-life De Niro wasn’t immune to Shepherd’s charms. Cybill shared that during filming, De Niro asked her out.
When she rejected him, her costar could barely speak to her for the rest of the production, except while in character. The 1976 film gained great reviews and was hailed by critics. Years later, Shepherd expressed regret at turning down De Niro.
Following Taxi Driver, every film Shepherd was cast in failed. Not long after starring in the Alfred Hitchcock remake The Lady Vanishes, Cybill herself vanished from the silver screen. She tried to reboot her music career and began playing at a local hospital before going to New York to play at jazz clubs.
However, her singing never took off, and the former model went back to acting. She began sitting in on Stella Adler’s acting classes, where opportunity came knocking. The actress was offered a theater job in Norfolk, Virginia.
When she was offered a job on the stage, Cybill asked her friend, actor Orson Welles, for advice. According to Shepherd, Welles told her that she should go and get experience on the stage and try acting in front of a live audience.
But he was adamant that she do so far away from L.A. or N.Y, where the critics are harsh and unforgiving. When Cybill called her mother crying and confused, Patty Shepherd said, “Why don’t you just come home?” So, she went back home to Memphis, Tennessee.
Going back to her hometown, far from the spotlight, was quite a change for the notorious star. She later shared, “You know, I had enormous fame, and then I went to Memphis…. I’d go to the grocery store, and no one would even ask me if I was someone.”
After the critical eye of the press and the tabloids, tearing apart her reputation because of her affair with Bogdanovich, being anonymous in Memphis was a relief. Cybill needed a break from the harshness of Hollywood and welcomed the change.
Cybill met her future husband, David M. Ford, at the bar of a club called Blues Alley. He was a barman and a parts manager in a Mercedes-Benz car dealership, nothing like the guys she usually dated. “My brother invited him over for a drink,” shared Cybill.
When Cybill saw David, she thought, “maybe I can find happiness in Memphis with a regular guy.” They hit it off, and Cybill soon became pregnant. In 1978, the same year she called it quits with Peter Bogdanovich, Cybill Shepherd married David Ford.
In 1979, Cybill gave birth to her first daughter, Clementine Ford. But motherhood wouldn’t stop her career, and just weeks after Clementine was born, Ford quit his job at the car dealership to become her manager. The new family then hit the road, and Cybill tried her luck on the stage.
Whether in the regional theater of Memphis, Tennessee or at Granny’s Dinner Theatre in Dallas, Texas, Cybill gained some much-needed thespian experience. Meanwhile, back in Bel Air, Peter was jealous and referred to David as “that garage mechanic.”
In 1982, Cybill Shepherd was cast in the play Lunch Hour, by Jean Kerr, opposite James MacArthur. She moved to New York to work on the play and then set out on a theater tour. That same year, her marriage to David Ford fell apart, and they divorced.
In 1983, Cybill picked up and moved back to L.A. with Clementine. Shepherd felt that she had improved as an actress and was ready for a comeback. Five years had passed since she’d fled, and Cybill hoped the industry would be forgiving.
She soon landed the role of Colleen Champion in a TV series called The Yellow Rose. Cybill starred alongside Sam Elliott in the 1983 night-time Western soap, which gained excellent reviews but was canceled after one season.
The series’ producer Michael Zinberg later shared that the studio greeted his idea to cast Cybill with “pretty tough resistance.” Luckily, she was patient and agreed to read “not once, but many times, at the network and the studio. She was a real trouper,” according to Zinberg. Shepherd eventually won them over.
Zinberg thought Cybill was brave, saying, “It’s terribly courageous just to say, ‘Hey — I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to look in the mirror and find out who I am… It’s like ‘Wow, there’s a woman who came back from just everybody in Hollywood dumping on her.'”
In The Yellow Rose, Cybill played a sexy rancher who was straightforward and tough, unlike the cool, aloof characters she had been cast in before she left Hollywood. She was finally given a role and an opportunity outside of her type-cast.
When Glenn Gordon Caron created the series Moonlighting, he realized just 50 pages in that he was writing the role of Maddie Hayes for Cybill Shepherd without even having met her. Caron didn’t remember how much she’d been shunned in the ’70s.
He just thought, “Cybill has always been an underappreciated and, I think, slightly miscast actress.” So, Caron sent her the script, and to his surprise, she asked to meet the next day. He recalled, “I saw her — and my chin hit the table, and my tongue hit the floor.”
Caron explained that Shepherd understood the series, “She understood that America thought of her as a slightly spoiled, bratty, uppity, cold bitch goddess and that the script sort of took that and pricked it. She seemed very much to relish the idea of playing to that.”
He shared that “there was some concern her coldness would be a problem on television,” but ABC still agreed to hire her. Wanting Cybill to have good chemistry with her costar, the producers had her help pick Bruce Willis, who would become a star.
Willis and Shepherd worked opposite each other on the show Moonlighting for four years, and they fought constantly throughout. However, according to Cybill, they had some sexual tension too, and one day she said, “Are we going to do something about this or what?”
Bruce came over that night with a bottle of wine, and they kissed for hours. But in the end, the costars decided to remain professional. They never slept together, and Cybill wrote, “Maybe Bruce likes the chase better than the catch.”
Moonlighting is a show about a battle of the sexes. The constant drama between David and Maddie was what brought audiences in, and it’s also how Bruce and Cybill acted behind the camera. When Willis started the show, he was far from famous and acted laid-back and funny.
However, Bruce’s fame grew after starring in Die Hard, and as the actor became less friendly, his relationship with Cybill became difficult. By the time they finished the show’s fifth season, the costars hated each other’s guts.
The cast and crew of Moonlighting shared that Willis and Shepherd’s rivalry got much worse, even to the point that crew members would “measure the distance between their two trailer doors to the stage entrance, so one actor wouldn’t have to walk even a foot farther than the other.”
Apparently, some scenes were even shot with body doubles so that the two divas wouldn’t have to be in each other’s presence. One fight scene actually turned into a real-life fight between them: “It escalated rapidly, ending with Cybill flinging a briefcase against the door.”
In 1987, the actress became pregnant with twins by her chiropractor boyfriend, Bruce Oppenheim. The two got married, and Shepherd had twins while filming Season 4 of Moonlighting. Her advanced pregnancy made scheduling difficult and filming a challenge.
The inconvenience made Bruce Willis angry since he had to work uncomfortable hours because of Cybill, and he became resentful. By the show’s finale, they couldn’t even look at each other, and the editor used slow motion “to give the impression that they were looking into each other’s eyes.”
Despite their highly publicized hatred for each other, Moonlighting brought Willis and Shepherd acclaim and fame. Cybill won two Golden Globes for her efforts, while Bruce scored one Emmy and one Golden Globe. Since the series ended in 1989, they have barely spoken.
However, even now, they are still asked about their notorious feud. In 2018, Cybill roasted Bruce on Comedy Central, saying, “Our characters on Moonlighting weren’t much of a stretch. I played a former model, which I was, and he played an a**hole, which he is.”
Back in Hollywood, it seemed that Cybill was back to her old tricks. While filming Moonlighting, the actress also appeared in the TV movie, The Long Hot Summer alongside Don Johnson. Cybill recalled, “Don Johnson and I were aware of an intense attraction the minute we met.”
The actress elaborated on their affair: “We lasted a nanosecond on the porch and rapidly progressed to my bed. It was like wolfing down a candy bar when you’re starving–fast, furious, and intense, and it was all over in five minutes.”
In 1987, Cybill gave birth to Cyrus Zachariah and Molly Ariel and decided to give marriage a chance with their father, Bruce Oppenheim. But when Moonlighting ended in 1989, Shepherd returned to the silver screen and started getting cast in some impressive roles.
Paradoxically, by 1990, her career was back on track, but her marriage had fallen to the wayside, culminating in divorce. That same year Cybill would be reunited on set with an old flame- her long-time lover, Peter Bogdanovich, in the sequel to their first film together.
In 1990, Bogdanovich reunited the original cast of The Last Picture Show to star in Texasville. The book’s author had “been influenced in the writing of Texasville by the [previous] movie” and even dedicated the book to Cybill Shepherd.
But the studio didn’t want Peter to direct the film and only agreed to keep him on when Cybill threatened to quit otherwise. Furthermore, actor Timothy Bottoms initially refused to reprise his role, upset about the cast and crew’s scandalous behavior on the first movie’s set.
Texasville didn’t do well at the box office and gained mixed reviews. However, its failure didn’t hinder Shepherd’s career, and she was cast to appear in the Woody Allen film Alice, alongside Mia Farrow and Alec Baldwin. The set of Alice was full of drama, but not because of Cybill.
Farrow and Allen were in a relationship while filming Alice, and Farrow was raising her young children. The shooting was so stressful for them that Woody was having a breakdown by the end, and he checked himself into the hospital.
After starring in a series of films, including Chances Are with Robert Downey Jr. and Eugene Levy’s Once Upon a Crime, Shepherd was cast in her own TV show in 1995. The series was a sitcom called Cybill, about a character named Cybill Sheridan, who is loosely based on Cybill Shepherd.
Sheridan is a twice-divorced, 40-something-year-old actress struggling in Hollywood and only cast in failing films and corny soap operas. The show ran until 1998, and in 1996, Shepherd received a Golden Globe for her performance.
Two years after her TV show wrapped, Cybill released her autobiography, “Cybill Disobedience: How I Survived Beauty Pageants, Elvis, Sex, Bruce Willis, Lies, Marriage, Motherhood, Hollywood, and the Irrepressible Urge to Say What I Think.” She co-wrote the book with Aimee Lee Ball.
In her book, Cybill revealed the details of her many Hollywood affairs and didn’t hold back. Her honesty was rewarded, and the autobiography became a best-seller, despite mixed reviews. One unimpressed critic wrote, “the storyline of ‘Cybill Disobedience’ wanders almost as much as the actress’ affections.”
Cybill was diagnosed with melanoma in 2002, after spotting a scaly patch on her back. A friend shared that “when Cybill was first told she had melanoma, she was hysterical.” She thought “that she was going to suffer a horrible, painful death and her children would lose their mother. She hardly slept and cried constantly.”
Luckily, her doctors were able to remove the cancer with surgery, and Shepherd didn’t need to undergo chemotherapy. However, the removal left a scar, and the actress got plastic surgery to eliminate the scarring.
After guest-starring in the TV show 8 Simple Rules in 2003, Shepherd was chosen to play Martha Stewart in the film Martha, Inc.: The Story of Martha Stewart. Her performance was so compelling that two years later, she was again cast to play Martha in another film, Martha: Behind Bars.
In 2007, Cybill was cast as Phyllis Kroll in The L Word, a role she played for the show’s three final seasons. In 2010, Shepherd starred alongside Jennifer Love Hewitt in the TV movie and series The Client List.
While she battled cancer, Cybill’s long-time partner, musician Robert Martin stood by her side. The couple had met during the production of Cybill, and Martin had composed music for the show. Ten years after breaking things off with Martin, Cybill became engaged to Andrei Nikolajevic.
She and the psychologist planned to tie the knot in 2012; however, their engagement was short-lived. After the breakup, Cybill shared, “I think I had a bit of a broken heart, and there was a part of it that wasn’t going to heal.”
Aside from being an actress, a model, a singer, and an author, Cybill Shepherd is also a philanthropist. She donated money to help open the National Civil Rights Museum in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, and is an outspoken advocate for many causes.
The actress has fought for many issues, including gay rights, same-sex marriage, and pro-choice rights. In 2009, the Human Rights Campaign honored her with a National Ally for Equality Award for her activism and for using her platform to promote equal rights.
In 2018, Shepherd revealed that her show Cybill had been canceled because she’d refused to sleep with CBS executive Les Moonves. Moonves came on to her during a dinner meeting, and when Shepherd rejected him, she began getting notes from the production company, restricting what she could do on her show.
Shepherd believed that if Les hadn’t killed it, Cybill “would have run another five years.” In 2018, Les was accused by other actresses too and fired from the network, ensuring that he wouldn’t hurt any other women.
Cybill’s daughter Clementine Ford grew up to be an actress as well, and she and her mother starred side by side in The L Word. Ford played supporting roles in teen films before that, such as American Pie, Bring it On, and Cherry Falls.
Clementine’s most notable role thus far was in 2009, as Mackenzie Browning in The Young and the Restless. She’s since transitioned to the theater and, in 2012, acted in the play Phantoms Go Down, written by her sister Ariel Shepherd-Oppenheim. Clementine is married to actor Cyrus Wilcox.
Looking back, Cybill Shepherd is famous for more than her scandalous Hollywood beginnings. Shepherd has since risen from the ashes and bounced back stronger than ever. Cybill proved that she is more than just a pretty face; she is both a talented actress and hilarious comedian.
Cybill has been an inspiration to many young Hollywood starlets who were scorned or bashed by the media and worked to fight back and get a second chance. As the years go by, Shepherd continues to age beautifully and appear in the occasional film.