Liv on the edge
Scenes from the life of a model born into rock and rising fast
By Alisa Valdes, Globe Staff. Boston Globe, October, 1994.
Liv Tyler - Model and actress. Daughter of Aerosmith's lead singer, Steven
Tyler, and '70s cover girl Bebe Buell.
Bebe Buell - Liv's mother.
Daniel Howell - Hairstylist and makeup artist.
Lara Rossignol - Fashion photographer.
Laura Jean Shannon - Stylist and costume designer.
Cabbie - New Yorkish. Obnoxious. Use your imagination.
Reporter - Heard mostly in voice-over.
REPORTER (voice-over): Liv Tyler's world is one of constant illusion. On
magazine covers - Seventeen, Anna, Hamptons, Company, Rolling Stone, Bikini
and Inside Edge - she has been pouty, sexy, ecstatic, pensive and mature,
even though she began modeling when she was only 14.
She got her start when family friend and megamodel Paulina Porizkova
took snapshots of the full-lipped girl and slipped them to agents. Inside
magazines like Mirabella, Mademoiselle and Italian and German Vogue, Liv
appeared fun and fashionable and impossibly thin. And starring in her
father's "Crazy" music video, she became an instant sex symbol, attracting
an unhealthy following of what her mother calls "psychos."
She's 17 now. In her first movie, "Silent Fall" - to be released this
month - she costars with Richard Dreyfuss; she was 16 when the film was
made. Liv's character in the movie is Sylvie, the older sister of an autistic
boy. She nurtures and cries convincingly, but laughing seems like more work.
This mirrors her life. Liv Tyler is used to illusion - and disillusion.
For 10 years growing up in Portland, Maine, the illusion was that her
real father was musician Todd Rundgren. Then, one day at an Aerosmith concert
at Great Woods, she discovered her dad was actually Steven Tyler, the lippy,
hippy singer for that band.
It was the middle of "Dream On." Liv, who knew her mother had dated
the singer, looked at him, then looked at his other daughter, Mia - who
looked just like her. Then she looked at Buell.
"Mommy, that's my father, isn't it?" she asked.
"Yes," Buell said, finally. "He is."
Looking back on it now, Buell says, "We went and sat on the grass and
talked and cried. Later when I told Steven backstage she knew, he shouted,
'Hallelujah!' You really couldn't have scripted it any better than that."
An apartment in New York's East Village, mid-morning. Bebe Buell is
boiling water in a kettle, on the phone with a reporter.
BEBE: There's a lot of people in show business who have show business
parents. We love Steven, but the guy was a mess. What was I supposed to do?
Bring her around so she'd see him fall flat on his face? He knew about her.
I'd show him pictures, but all he could do was cry.
REPORTER (voice-over): Steven Tyler started paying child support in 1991.
BEBE: I was in an unhappy relationship with Todd Rundgren. He cheated on
me and I was like, if you can go out with her, then I'll go out with Mick
Jagger! I was in love with Steven, and I didn't know about his drug problem.
I was on the road with him in Europe when the pregnancy happened, throwing up
on the roadies.
The first time I saw him have a seizure, I called Todd. He took me back,
pregnant with another man's baby. We made a deal that he'd be Liv's dad.
She was born on July 1, 1978, at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Todd cut the umbilical cord. The first visitor to the hospital was Ron Wood.
The second was Mick Jagger. Then Ric [Ocasek] and Keith Richards and Anita
[Pallenberg]. They made Keith wear a flowered cap so no one would recognize
After a while, when Liv was 3 or 4, we were in denial about who her real
dad was. We wanted it to be true that Todd was her dad. If you want something
to be true that badly you just sort of make it true.
I went to Maine when she was 3 until she was 12 so there'd be no scandal.
I lived in Maine for 10 years. It's not easy. I had an incredibly driving
career. In the summer of 1989 I finally took her to New York and it's been
uphill ever since.
We're good people. We keep our karma straight. I feel like a blessing
fell upon us. Forget how beautiful she is. Liv's an old soul who's mixed with
purity. She's an anchor. I get my reality check from her.
LIV (in background): Get off the phone, man!
BEBE: I know, I know. You have a busy day.
LIV: Come on!
BEBE: Can I call you back?
An East Village street. Liv and Bebe and a reporter are trying to hail
a cab. Liv wears a denim mini skirt, a faded white T-shirt and ratty black
sneakers. Wet ponytail, no makeup, big oval sunglasses. Her legs are skinny
and long, dappled with tiny bruises she will apologize about later when
Rossignol takes her picture in nothing but underwear and a cigarette. Her
face is narrow and petite, with the lips that every writer for the last four
years has compared to her father's. She is smaller in person than she seems
in magazines and movies, tall, but dainty, like a gazelle. Her voice is deep.
Bebe has a hot pink dye in her hair, and is wearing a long, sheer black dress
with tight Lycra workout gear underneath.
CABBIE: Good to see such very beautiful women in New York City!
LIV (laughing politely): Can you take us to [undisclosed address]?
CABBIE: Yes, of course.
He drives like a maniac.
BEBE: Hey, we'd like to get there alive.
CABBIE: Oh, alive? Yes. Very well. Yes. OK. Alive! Ha ha!
LIV: For a week I was working every day, and getting five hours of sleep
a night. On a normal basis going to sleep before 1 in the morning is very
hard for me. This is so far the busiest I've been.
REPORTER: Where are we meeting them, at an apartment?
LIV: We're meeting the location van. We're shooting outside.
BEBE: Yeah, they want the lights of Times Square and the whole bit.
LIV: Oh, we're doing that?
BEBE: Mmm hmm. That's why you're working till real late, that's why we
started so late in the afternoon.
LIV: Ah ha.
The cab passes Radio City Music Hall.
LIV: God, here we are!
BEBE: Home of the MTV Music Video Awards.
REPORTER: Your dad cleaned up.
REPORTER: What all have you done this week?
LIV: Well, it's like, I mean ...
BEBE: Here, I'll help you with that.
LIV: Well, do we need to like ...
BEBE: She did Rolling Stone magazine ...
LIV: The cover with my father, and then I shot the inside ...
LIV: ... the other day.
BEBE: With Albert Watson. And she did, uhmm, the cover of Bikini magazine
with Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, which is like, her favorite band.
Thurston was ...
LIV: I did, uh ...
BEBE: ... interviewing her. She did a cover for Inside Edge, which is a
new Times Warner men's magazine.
LIV: I shot it ...
BEBE: You're looking at it right here. She shot a German Vogue cover with
Albert Watson. And today she is shooting the major part of her Bikini piece.
So that's it. And today's Thursday. And tomorrow she is taping the Jon
LIV: But yesterday I had to do the German Vogue cover in the morning, I
had to leave there at 12:30, go to do the thing with Thurston Moore for
Bikini, and at the same time as we did that, "Entertainment Tonight" came
to interview me and film me while I did the Bikini, and then I had to leave
there and go back to Albert and shoot 10 pages for the inside.
BEBE: But you know, this is a very abnormal week.
BEBE: I mean, I would never allow for Liv, and neither would she allow
for herself, for her to have a workload like this. It's just that she's
leaving on Monday to start her new movie and we had to get it all in before
REPORTER (voice-over): The time it takes for Liv Tyler to transform
from a kid enrolled in a Manhattan prep school - who likes to go out to eat
with her friends - into a star will take exactly three Marlboro Light
cigarettes. Liv has smoked since she was 15, but doesn't want it in print
because she thinks her dad doesn't know. If he did know, she says, he'd throw
her in a 12- step program. But in reality, Steven Tyler knows about his
daughter's habit, according to Buell. It's just that Buell hasn't told Liv
that Steven knows. That's why Liv hasn't talked to Steven about it. But Buell
has. When Liv is asked why she smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, even though
she knows it will kill her, she says quite simply, "It's the only thing I
have that's my own."
In the van en route to a shoot in Times Square, Liv shares the front seat
with a reporter. She's dressed in the underwear she was wearing in the last
shoot. She faces forward, hugging her knees. It's drizzling out.
REPORTER: I read somewhere that you said you can only rely on yourself in
this life. I thought, this is such a young person to be saying something like
LIV: You always have the people you love. In life it's important that you
don't rely on anyone. Because when you rely on people and when you expect
things from people, you always get let down.
REPORTER: You think so?
LIV: I definitely think so. In a relationship, in anything.
REPORTER. When I read that quote I also thought this is a really lonely
person. Are you lonely?
LIV (softly): Yeah.
REPORTER: You are?
LIV: Yeah. (Very sadly) I've always felt like that for some reason. Even
when I'm surrounded by a lot of love I have a lot of loneliness inside of
myself, and I don't know where it comes from. It's really good for my work. I
learn how to deal with it. I write a lot. I have journals. And I listen to
music and I deal with it.
REPORTER (voice-over): Liv likes "angry girl bands" and old rock like
Led Zeppelin, which she says is in her genes.
LIV: But, yeah, I'm always kind of searching for things.
REPORTER: Would you like that to be gone?
LIV: Yeah, but I don't think it ever really will. I think that if I have
it already then it's not really going to go away. And I think that the more
famous you get and the more that you get involved with this business, the
lonelier you get.
REPORTER: Do you feel prepared for that?
LIV: I am, but I'm scared. Very scared. People don't seem to realize that
when you get to a certain point when you're young and people think you're
attractive and whatever they think of you, everybody wants a part of you and
everybody wants to be around you.
REPORTER: Describe your mother to me.
LIV: My mom's great. She's got the biggest heart in the world. She's
really genuine and really loving and really caring and she protects me so
much, sometimes too much. She gave up everything she ever had when she was a
little older than me, to take care of me, and that's why I think she enjoys
being such a big part of my career, because she's getting to kind of do it
all over again.
REPORTER: Do you feel she's living through you in that way?
Liv covers tape player with her hand.
REPORTER: Does that make you uncomfortable?
LIV: Well, sometimes, yeah, but you know. I just love her and I want to
take care of her and I feel like I owe so much to her.
REPORTER: You seem very composed, almost too adult.
LIV (laughing, embarrassed): Well, thank you.
REPORTER: I just say that as someone who had to do the same thing.
LIV: Wow. Do you relate to me? Do you understand?
REPORTER: In a way.
Liv leans her head on reporter's shoulder.
LIV: I don't know what this lonely thing is with me. I'm always lonely
and searching for a certain love. Maybe it's a love for myself.
REPORTER: It seems like you had to be an adult very early.
LIV: Well, I've had to be. It's really weird because I'm the one that's
like really grounded and I'm the one that's really sensible and I'm the one
that's really normal and...
DANIEL (from back of the van): Are you comparing yourself to me again,
Liv laughs, then turns to reporter.
LIV: I just learned a lot from the insanity. I had this childhood - my
mother was this rock 'n' roll chick, she had a band and all her boyfriends.
It was just this crazy lifestyle. And then my Aunt Annie, I wouldn't be the
person I am if it weren't for her. I love her so much. She's definitely the
one person I like really look up to.
REPORTER: Tell me about her.
LIV: Well, she's just this amazing woman who lives in Maine in this
beautiful white house and is so happy with her husband and her kids. She's
the most amazing human being in the world. Both of my parents are really
high- strung and kind of hyperactive. I've become this really mellow person.
I've gotten that from Annie. Whenever I'm sad all I can think about is an
REPORTER: What's that like?
LIV (dreamy and childlike): She's sort of big and round and she has the
most amazing hugs! And her voice! The sound of her voice!
DANIEL: Don't take your lipstick off.
Liv points to a billboard in Times Square as the van pulls in.
LIV: Look at the smoke coming out of the giant coffee cup! Isn't that
great? Yep. (In a raspy rock voice something like her dad's) We're in the
thick of it now.
Liv wears a large black overcoat, like James Dean in a similar famous
picture. A cigarette hangs off her bottom lip. Her makeup is minimal. Her
long hair is twisted up to look short. She's walking against the traffic on
Broadway, beneath the newly illuminated lights of Times Square. The air
smells like sausages from a nearby cart. She stares into the camera as she
walks, tough and confident and gritty.
REPORTER (voice-over): The photographer calls out yes, that this is good,
that's the way, very good. Liv grins a little with one side of her mouth, in
the thick of it. Mom's not here. Dad's not here. No rock 'n' roll backstage,
nothing. Just her. And the legacy of another star, young like her, with his
whole career ahead of him. Tonight this is what is written in the lights of
Cars. Cabs. Buses. They all whiz by, a merry-go-round. The photographer
stands on safe ground, on the median, but Liv is in the street. A yellow cab
comes very close and clips the edge of her coat. She screams and jumps onto
the curb of the median where she grips the iron fence. My God, she says.
The photographer, the stylist, the hairdresser, none of them notice. They
see only that the beautiful young star is not in focus anymore, and her hair
is coming down. They fix it, and tell her to get in the street and try it
again. With feeling.
GILLIS;10/12 CAWLEY;10/13,18:59 TYLERO13
CAPTION: 1. Right: Liv Tyler in the upcoming movie "Silent Fall."
.PHOTO/GENE KIRKLAND 2. Her father is Aerosmith's Steven Tyler (top); she was
raised by her mother, former model Bebe Buell (below, left). / PHOTO/DAVID
CROLAND 3. Liv Tyler with Richard Dreyfuss (right) in the upcoming "Silent
Fall." 4. Tyler at 16: "an old soul who's mixed with purity." 5. Liv Tyler
has followed in her mother Bebe Buell's footsteps as a model: "That's why I
think she enjoys being such a big part of my career, because she's getting to
kind of do it all over again." 6. Cover girl Liv Tyler, whose career began
at age 14.