Sharon Stone isn’t like other people. This she reminds us several times throughout her new memoir, The Beauty of Living Twice. “Yes, I was odd, but not on purpose,” she writes of her youth as an exceptionally bright child in rural Pennsylvania (or as she calls it on practically every reference, “Penna”). “I still am...a bit socially awkward,” she confesses at another point. While hospitalized in 2001 for a brain hemorrhage that resulted in strokes and a long, difficult recovery, she was “this weird famous person” who was a little too hands-on with her treatment suggestions for her health care providers’ liking. She recalls crying and pacing around her room one day and her bodyguard asking, “What are you looking for?” “My sanity,” replied Stone.
“Grow up with nuts, be a nut. I find myself counting house numbers, adding, while I’m having a conversation in the car. Doesn’t mean I know where I am,” is a revelation she drifts into while recalling her mother teaching her to count cards in the larger context of her “kitchen-sink Irish” upbringing.
All of this tracks. As an icon of Hollywood glamour and clear subversion of the dumb-blonde myth as soon as she opens her mouth, Stone’s existence is baldfaced in its rarefaction. But even without the fame that is her memoir’s primary selling point, enough has happened to Stone to fill a book much longer than the 246-pager that she turned in. An abuse survivor, Stone writes that she was struck by lightning, trained as a pickpocket (“Oh, I could put the entire dinner service in your bag while talking to you”), and would have been a potential heir to an oil fortune, were it not for her grandmother’s inability to inherit her grandfather’s wealth when he died. At one point, she was a prolific sleepwalker. Her dead grandmother visited her when she was in the hospital after her hemorrhage and delivered life-saving advice. Her uncle died by suicide; her prom date was killed in a drunk driving accident. She is “lifelong” friends with Grace Jones and once ended up sitting on Count Basie’s piano bench listening to him play, during a concert that she attended. When she received reconstructive surgery on her breasts after tumors necessitated a double mastectomy, her plastic surgeon gave her a full cup size bigger than she had before as those would “go better with your hip size.” Nonetheless, Stone refers to what she has now as her “original breasts.” “What I mean is that I have my skin, my nipples, and my health,” she explains.
Sure! While Stone’s writing frequently suggests that she is aware and in complete mastery of her eccentricities, her book is nonetheless something of a disappointment. As an unconventional persona, she has arranged her memoir to have an unconventional structure that prioritizes theme over linearity. This is not a book about how Sharon from Penna became a global icon, but how Stone’s brain hemorrhage transformed her life and perception of the world. Given Stone’s assertiveness and intensity, it could have just as accurately been titled Both Sides NOW!
But sometimes Beauty seems to hew a little too close to the experience of losing one’s mind as literally as Stone did during her neurological health crisis. Narrative chaos abounds. Stone betrays her no-bullshit persona repeatedly with circuitous storytelling, leaving glaring holes in her recounting. Reading the book at times has the effect of experiencing a migraine with aura—the kind that gives you blank spots in your vision that your brain simply will not fill in. At their most glaring, Stone’s omissions seem to be made out of convenience and not artistry while emphasizing the pretense of the latter.
As such, Beauty is best appreciated as a string of anecdotes and humorous observations from someone who already has our attention. You can practically hear Stone’s “Ha!” that punctuates the score-settling in a recollection like this:
I’m kind of a fast typist—I would like to take a brief moment to brag about that. Mostly because the typing teacher, Mr. Fletcher, was also the accounting teacher, who called me “Stone, you mental midget” in every single class in front of everyone. He said it was “only a joke.” Okay. So as an adult, I hired an accountant, who I email, quickly.
At times, her memories have a...not quite cinematic, but let’s say televisual sense of comic timing:
Still standing, ass out of my gown on the gurney, not giving up any ground, I turned to the doctor and said, “You’re fired.” He said, “What? You can’t fire me!” and the nurse said, “Doctor, I’m afraid she just did,” and directed the orderly to take me back to my room.
She writes, seemingly straight-faced, that when she met Woody Allen (whom she has credited as responsible for her big break and recently, apropos of little, praised) at her Stardust Memories audition, “I was reading a children’s book about infinity; explaining infinity to a child is an interesting concept to me.” I mean, why not?
Stone’s prose can be vivid (“my life still felt like ragged pieces of dirty Kleenex”), even when taking on the needless task of defining slush to her presumably adult audience (“a brown and wet mess of ice, dirt, snow, and misery”). She is unabashedly woo woo, discussing taking Marianne Williamson’s A Course in Miracles and casually dropping at one point: “As His Holiness the Dalai Lama said to me once, ‘A tiger does not apologize.’” Well, neither does Sharon Stone! Her kookiness is sometimes endearing, but just as often her logic seems impressionistic at best. Of Madonna, she writes: “She is so tiny that you cannot believe the force of her tiny self. And though I am twice her size, I cannot sing a note.” But just imagine the arias she could take on if only she were three times Madonna’s size!
You basically need a background in Sharon Stone to read Sharon Stone’s story of Sharon Stone—a consultation of her Wikipedia is recommended to help keep things straight. Sometimes her timeline-hopping is evocative—she weaves the story of her grandfather’s abusiveness in with her experience on the set of Basic Instinct, assembling an arresting collage of the various ways her consent has been violated (she has long claimed she didn’t know Instinct director Paul Verhoeven shot up her skirt until she saw the finished product) and her need for a rage outlet. Sometimes her all-over-the-place storytelling is just puzzling,
like when she vaults from discussing getting bullied in high school by the popular girls to making Total Recall. (Fun fact: Stone’s Recall co-star, Arnold Schwarzenegger is “such a stinker.”)
Because the book serves as a sort of before-and-after portrait of Stone, much of it is interpretation and thus more told than shown. That is not a problem here, per se, but because her narrative hinges on her failing brain, the very notions of telling and showing are garbled. The disorientation is at times so well-rendered it’s enthralling:
I slept all day and was up all night. I felt like I was communing with the stars, the universe. I had an incomplete sense of what was going on around me. One morning the gardener came in the house and I recoiled in terror from this stranger in my kitchen. I thought he was a burglar. I was panic-stricken until I absorbed the incredible compassion on his face as he explained who he was. Then the dime dropped. I had lost my short-term memory.
And her existential meditations make for poetic elliptical glimpses into a shaky self-perception:
I can write again; that took only a year or so. I was able to control the pen and keep it on the paper, though writing my own name was always the hardest. I often wondered if that was because I was now a different person. Was I no longer Sharon Stone, or simply no longer the Sharon Stone I had been before?
But too often I found myself reading and reading pages, trying to figure out what she was talking about or why she was talking around things to such a degree as to render her storytelling futile. This is particularly notable when she paints an opaque picture of her grandfather’s molestation, finally making clear that it was her sister who was molested directly in an incident she describes. (“I was the witness, not the victim. The little eight-year-old witness of my five-year-old sister being robbed of her innocence.”) She has some theory about celluloid making her a star (as opposed to the digital projections they beam in movie theaters today—or did, before the pandemic) that I’ve read half a dozen times and still don’t understand. Her MeToo chapter doesn’t name names (and some of it was recently printed by Vanity Fair in the excerpt of the part of her book that focuses on Basic Instinct—it’s telling that a third party felt the need to do some rearranging of Stone’s unwieldy writing). She writes around losing custody of her first adopted child, Roan, seeming to promise some sort of revelation that never materializes:
I’d tell you what, but I signed a confidentiality agreement and I can’t. And I respect my child, and I won’t. But I’ll tell you this: I was punished for changing the rules of how we see women, and I understand that by writing this book I could be punished again. But this time I’m not afraid.
Most galling, coming for someone who is invested in self-improvement and reckoning who she is now with who she once was, is her insistence on doubling down regarding her 2008 comment suggesting a devastating earthquake in China was bad karma for the country’s treatment of Tibet. Stone said at the time, “And then all this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and I thought, is that karma—when you’re not nice that the bad things happen to you?” Now she explains:
When I said I was thinking, “Is that karma?” I was. I was thinking about that. It was not meant to be an accusation, but a thought. “What is karma?” In my own country we had the disaster with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, where we also were completely unprepared—we were not at all prepared to take care of our own people.
She blames the controversy on “being ill prepared for an unvetted, ill-intentioned man with a video camera to jump out and ambush me and twist my off-the-cuff thoughts regarding the Chinese earthquake into something bad or disrespectful,” saying the journalist wanted to make an example out of her. If reporters had the power to will their stories into virality, celebrity journalism would look a lot different from the publicist-guided puff and fluff that it’s become. Stone’s comment went viral because she said it and it was ridiculous, not because of the guy who happened to be holding the camera.
In The Beauty of Living Twice, we’re offered basically nothing about her second husband Phil Bronstein, who won custody of Roan. Very few anecdotes about her movies are included (I would have especially loved to hear what it’s like to flop, or why on earth she thought Basic Instinct 2 was a good idea). She mentions losing her money but not how. She all but glosses over the experience of being a sex symbol of iconic proportions (for a lot of insight on this, check out Kathleen Turner’s Send Yourself Roses). In refusing convention, Stone admirably sidesteps pandering to relatability, but her gait is so pronounced as to be often inscrutable.
In her acknowledgments, Stone writes, “There are real names and aliases in this book, not because I love some people more or less, but simply out of respect for their privacy; some asked for this, some didn’t. Some people were left out, not because I don’t think of you but because this piece of my life wasn’t about us. Next time perhaps.” Perhaps!