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updated: 8/30/2011 5:40 AM

Denise Richards: Suburban upbringing kept me grounded

Downers Grove native talks about her new book

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  • Denise Richards' First Communion photo.

      Denise Richards' First Communion photo.
    Photo courtesy of Denise Richards

  • By the time she attended her senior prom, Denise Richards, left, had already left Downers Grove for California.

      By the time she attended her senior prom, Denise Richards, left, had already left Downers Grove for California.
    Photo courtesy of Denise Richards

  • Dressed in their Brownie uniforms, Denise Richards gives her sister, Michelle, a kiss on the doorstep of their Mokena home.

      Dressed in their Brownie uniforms, Denise Richards gives her sister, Michelle, a kiss on the doorstep of their Mokena home.
    Photo courtesy of Denise Richards

  • After living in a tiny house in Mokena, Denise Richards' parents upgraded to this fixer-upper in Downers Grove. "Over time, it became a beautiful home," she wrote in her new book, "The Real Girl Next Door."

      After living in a tiny house in Mokena, Denise Richards' parents upgraded to this fixer-upper in Downers Grove. "Over time, it became a beautiful home," she wrote in her new book, "The Real Girl Next Door."
    Photo courtesy of Denise Richards

  • This 900-square foot, two-bedroom house in Mokena is where Denise Richards spent her early years.

      This 900-square foot, two-bedroom house in Mokena is where Denise Richards spent her early years.
    Photo courtesy of Denise Richards

  • Denise Richards, her sister Michelle, and her parents Irv and Joni, pose for a photo in the living room of their tiny house in Mokena.

      Denise Richards, her sister Michelle, and her parents Irv and Joni, pose for a photo in the living room of their tiny house in Mokena.
    Photo courtesy of Denise Richards

  • Denise Richards' high-profile marriage to Charlie Sheen ended in divorce and a bitter custody battle over their two daughters.

      Denise Richards' high-profile marriage to Charlie Sheen ended in divorce and a bitter custody battle over their two daughters.
    Associated Press file photo

  • Denise Richards talks about growing up in Downers Grove as well as her life in Hollywood in a new book.

      Denise Richards talks about growing up in Downers Grove as well as her life in Hollywood in a new book.

  • Video: Richards interview on book

 
 

First, there was the divorce from Charlie Sheen and the nasty custody battle for their young daughters.

Then came the husband-stealing accusations when she started dating Richie Sambora, right after the rocker's split from her good friend, actress Heather Locklear.

What helped Denise Richards through it all, she said, was staying true to the core Midwestern values she was raised with growing up in Mokena and Downers Grove.

During the tabloid-fueled, chaotic years, Richards said those values kept her grounded and focused on what matters most to her: her family.

"When I first had my daughters, my mom would tell me, 'Your life is very different, but you can make it what you want it.' Once she put it in that perspective, it was easier for me," Richards said.

In her new book "The Real Girl Next Door" (Gallery Books, $26), Richards, 40, writes about an idyllic suburban childhood where her world centered around her parents, her younger sister Michelle ("Nellie") and the family dogs.

Denise was in Girl Scouts, took family camping trips, regularly hung out at the Downers Grove library and spent summer nights riding her bike with friends and catching lightning bugs.

After living in a 900-square-foot, two-bedroom house in Mokena, the family moved to a large, 100-year-old fixer-upper in Downers Grove.

In a chapter called "Home is Where the Heart Is," Richards wrote:

"Downers Grove was a charming little town with cobblestone streets and cute mom-and-pop stores. There was one movie theater, where I saw 'E.T.' and 'Star Wars.' On summer nights, we walked to Bogg's ice cream, which to this day is the best homemade ice cream I've ever eaten. My parents took my sister and me to church on Sundays, and both of us attended CCD classes one day a week after school. We made our Communion and Confirmation. Though we had our own rooms, Michelle and I did everything together, from gymnastics to pom-poms in junior high. Both of us had a crush on Rob Lowe, we had a poster of him in our room, and we never missed an episode of 'The Facts of Life.'"

"I have incredibly fond memories," Richards said, during a recent phone interview from Montreal, where she's filming the next season of SPIKE TV's college football comedy, "Blue Mountain State."

"Everyone in Downers Grove and in Mokena, in the Chicago and the Midwestern area, is very grounded and genuine. It's about family. My parents didn't have a lot of money, so we found ways to entertain ourselves. My mom made dinner every night."

Richards' typical suburban life might have stayed typical had her father, Irv, been more tolerant of Chicago winters.

In the mid 1980s, Irv Richards -- an Illinois Bell employee who climbed up utility poles and repaired phone lines -- decided he'd had enough of the cold weather and moved the family to sunny Oceanside, Calif.

A freshman at Downers Grove North High School at the time, Richards recalls crying over the news of their move, but quickly adjusted to her new California life.

After high school, she began modeling and acting, landing her sexy, breakthrough role in the 1998 movie "Wild Things."

The following year, she was tapped to be the "Bond girl" in the James Bond movie, "The World is Not Enough."

Soon, the paparazzi and tabloids were regular fixtures, especially after she married actor Charlie Sheen in 2002. The couple had two daughters, and divorced in 2006.

Richards' post-Sheen years were the subject of an E! reality TV series, "It's Complicated," which co-starred her daughters, dad and sister. (Her mother, Joni, died of cancer in 2007.)

In one episode in 2009, the Richards family returned to Downers Grove and visited the house they used to live in.

Being a suburban girl in Hollywood has its challenges, Richards said.

"You can take someone who was raised in the Midwest, and all of a sudden they get the best job in the world ... and you're in a position where you make an enormous amount of money, and you have access to almost anything, and people give you whatever you want ... it's very tempting to get caught up in it," she said. "I'm truly blessed to have some wonderful opportunities. But it's important to stay grounded."

In "The Real Girl Next Door," Richards doesn't bash Charlie Sheen or give any juicy details of their high-profile divorce. When asked about her current relationship with the controversial actor, Richards doesn't say much beyond, "We're good."

"That's not why I wrote (the book)," she said. "I wrote it because a lot of people asked how I got through it. It doesn't matter what the details are. It's how you get through it and how people can relate to it."

Sheen's partying and crazy behavior has made headlines all year, even getting him axed from his starring role on the hit CBS show, "Two and a Half Men." However, Richards insists Sheen's upbringing in a "Hollywood family" has nothing to do with his current problems.

"From the outside looking in, it's easy to stereotype," she said. "But (the Sheens) are wonderful people. I adore my ex-father-in-law (Martin Sheen). He's very down-to-earth and a Christian and his family is very important to him."

Moving forward as a single mom, Richards decided earlier this year to adopt a newborn girl, named Eloise Joni, after Richards' late mother.

Richards said her 6- and 7-year-old daughters, Sami and Lola, helped pick out the name for the now 3-month-old baby.

"When we first adopted Eloise, we kept her private because of the paparazzi. It was nice not having anyone know about her. It was just our private family secret we kept," Richards said. "When people would come over to the house, my older daughters would run with her bassinet and hide her. They're very protective of her and they're very sweet to her."

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know of someone, send a note to dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com

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