PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK SELIGER
NEW YORK, N.Y.—Nicole Richie tells Vanity Fair contributing editor Leslie Bennetts that her current weight upsets her and she's doing something about it. "I know I'm too thin right now, so I wouldn't want any young girl looking at me and saying, 'That's what I want to look like.' I do know that they will, which is another reason I really do need to do something about it. I'm not happy with the way I look right now." (The June issue of Vanity Fair hits newsstands in New York and Los Angeles on May 3 and nationally on May 9.)
Dr. Jeffery Wilkins, vice-chair of the department of psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who treats Richie, was reluctant to talk with Bennetts due to client-doctor privilege, but did so at Richie's insistence. Wilkins tells Bennetts: "Our evaluation is an ongoing one. We're working on a systematic plan to get more calories in, and we're going to watch it and see if it succeeds. We're all concerned, and she's concerned, but it's either going to improve or it won't. If it's not anorexia, she should be able to gain the weight. If it ends up being anorexia, we'll help her with that. I think she's willing to look this in the eye."
Richie explains that stress causes her to lose her appetite, and one of the factors over the past year was her broken engagement with DJ AM. "I had a bad breakup, and it eats me up inside when I'm upset about something," she explains. "I get really stressed out, and I do lose my appetite, but I do force myself to eat. I tried to put the weight on my way, eating burritos, but that wasn't working, so I started seeing a nutritionist and a doctor. I was scared that it could be something more serious, because it wasn't making any sense to me; I really was trying.… Yes, I'm too thin, but that's just a result of what's really going on with me; the bigger picture is how I deal with problems," she says.
Richie tells Bennetts that she thinks "girls who look like hourglasses," like Jennifer Lopez and Joy Bryant, are sexy, and claims that her diet is not one that would contribute to thinness. "I eat the worst foods—salty cheese-and-grease kind of stuff.… I have gained weight since I was at my thinnest," she says, but she doesn't know how much she weighs. "I get weighed once a week with my nutritionist, but I don't ask. Numbers aren't going to mean anything to me."
Richie says that, contrary to some reports, she never screened ex-friend Paris Hilton's sex tape. "That was completely made up," she says. "A, I don't watch porn, and, B, I don't want to see someone I've known forever having sex. I mean, that's gross!"
Her separation from Hilton was the result of divergent values, Richie tells Bennetts. "We never had a fight," she says. "I just decided I didn't want to be her friend anymore. We're just two completely different people; we don't have that much in common. I really don't have anything horrible to say about her," she says. "When I got out of rehab, I had to figure out what path to go down, and part of that included taking certain people out of my life.… When Paris made her little announcement that 'Nicole knows what she did,' I didn't really understand what that was about, because we hadn't been friends in such a long time. I can only guess that she had House of Wax coming out."
Richie tells Bennetts that once she tried China White heroin she immediately found herself hooked. "To me it was the epitome of caring about absolutely nothing," Richie says. "There were points when my mom would come home and scream at me about something, and I literally didn't care about anything. It was like watching a really dramatic movie with the volume turned down. I thought I was getting away with everything, when the reality was that I was arrested three times and had five car accidents. Two were totals."
Richie says she didn't feel bad about the angst she caused her adoptive parents growing up. "I thought they didn't understand and were just being really strict. I didn't feel bad at all." But she finally faced up to her heroin addiction. "I went to my parents and said, 'It's time for me to get help,'" she recalls. "I had to sit in a room with my parents, and they were crying. I kind of put down my shield, and I wasn't as defensive—and then I felt really bad. We all had to change the way we dealt with each other. My parents didn't speak for 10 years, until we went into rehab and they both had to figure out what to do about me." Now, says Richie, "I have a really good relationship with both my parents. I know they both love me."
"Part of the reason I don't really talk about being sober is that I don't want to feel the pressure of being a role model," Richie says. "I am learning so much about myself that for me to tell other people what to do in their lives is something I'm not really fit to do. I'm a work in progress. I'm not 'there' yet. I don't know whether I'll ever be 'there.'"
Despite her success on The Simple Life, Richie tells Bennetts, "I never wanted to be on television; I always wanted to be a singer. I always wanted to do Broadway."