At 5 months pregnant, Nicole Richie went to jail. What happened next changed her life.

At 41, Nicole Richie has lived two very different lifetimes – before children, and after children. Before she fell pregnant unexpectedly in 2007, had lived a hedonistic life as a reality star on The Simple Life, before ending up hooked on heroin and getting arrested multiple times.

“I acknowledge that I was young, had a lot of freedom, and made some ‘bad decisions’,” Richie wrote in a personal essay on her past in 2016. “But how bad are they if it’s part of a journey to understanding who I am and what I stand for?”

When she became a mother to her daughter Harlow Winter on Jan 8, 2008, Richie entered phase two of her life: sober, devoted to parenthood, in a committed relationship with musician Joel Madden, and focused on building a successful career for herself. And rather than seeing her tumultuous past as something to be ashamed of, Richie has tried to use it as a pillar for her personal growth, not a lesson in regret.

“Moments of congratulation and celebrating who I am do not come without strangers pointing out how dark my life once was,” she wrote in 2016. “I am owning my past… but not trying to hide from it, not trying to change it, just allowing it to help propel me forward.”

Richie has built a solid family life with husband Joel Madden and their kids, Sparrow and Harlow. Image: Instagram

Growing up with pop star Lionel Richie for a father, and with all the temptations of Hollywood excess at her fingertips, Richie inevitably fell victim to the usual cocktail of disaster: drugs, alcohol and no real boundaries or rules set in place.


With her famous father often away on tour, she started dabbling in drugs as a young teenager, and is the first to admit that she actively sought out trouble.

"I got so much so fast that nothing really excited me anymore," Richie admitted in 2007 about her privileged Beverly Hills upbringing. “I kind of took matters into my own hands and was creating drama in a very dangerous way. I think I was just bored, and I had seen everything.”

But 'dabbling' gradually turned into addiction, and by the age of 14 or 15, Richie started doing cocaine. Another four years later, she was addicted to heroin. “I was pretty out of control,” she later admitted. “And considering the fact that I probably don’t remember half of what happened to me, I can only imagine how out of control I was.”


Watch: Some of Our Favourite Celebrities on Parenting. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

In February 2003, months before she soared to mega-fame alongside heiress sidekick Paris Hilton on The Simple Life, a struggling Richie was found with heroin in her Mercedes-Benz, and ordered to rehab to kick the habit. Her dad Lionel checked in with her as a support system for the then 21-year-old, later admitting that it was “a great wake-up call for her”.

He told NBC News, “I know this might sound terrible, but I was glad it happened. Because I could no longer buffer her anymore… For Nicole, she left out of that courtroom, and I could see in her face there was going to be a change.”

Her intuitive father was right, but Richie hadn’t beaten all her demons just yet. In December 2006, she was arrested again, this time for driving under the influence in California. The following year in a very candid chat with veteran journalist Diane Sawyer, Richie admitted that she had smoked marijuana and taken the painkiller Vicodin earlier that day, but believed she was okay to drive.

Richie and The Simple Life co-star Paris Hilton were party girls in the early 2000s. Image: Getty.

“I’m so lucky that I didn’t hurt anyone else,” she said of that fateful night.

Richie confessed to being in denial about the seriousness of her behaviour, saying, "It's been a pattern in my life. When I get in trouble, I try to get out of it. That's what I've been doing, from the time I was little, and I really wasn't learning anything from that. I saw myself start to go down that road again with this particular situation."


It was during this Good Morning America interview that Richie also revealed another major turning point in her life – she was pregnant with her first child, to Good Charlotte rocker Madden.

“I owe the baby my life,” she admitted. “I owe this baby everything and I have a responsibility now. I’m now responsible for someone else. I need to set the right example.”

Despite only dating for a few months before they fell pregnant, it seems the timing was right for Richie and Madden to make some major changes. Having been through his own battles with drugs and alcohol, the musician wasn’t about to enable someone else’s toxic behaviour. “It would be no question, because I don’t have time for that, you know, at this stage in my life,” Madden said in 2007, adding that he chose to stick by Richie because he saw she was “a great woman”.

She expressed her desire to change and be a role model for her future child, saying, “I want my child to look up to me and be proud of me. I want to be the best parent I can be.”

At five months pregnant, Richie was jailed for her DUI charge. And while she only served 82 minutes of the four-day sentence, that short stint was enough to dramatically change the course of her life.

When her daughter Harlow arrived the following January, Richie said goodbye to her party days for good. She reinvented herself as a devoted mother, and focused on creating a new career as a fashion and jewellery designer with her Winter Kate collection and accessories range, House of Harlow 1960.


“I feel truly blessed to do what I do for a living,” Richie says. “I had no formal training, but designing was something I always gravitated to.”

But for all her professional success, Richie’s true calling has been motherhood. Less than two years after Harlow was born, Richie and Madden expanded their family with their son, Sparrow, who is now 13.

“It teaches you a lot about yourself and about patience and about coming from a place of love and constant compassion,” Richie says of motherhood. “Having kids gives you the opportunity to be the real you. I love being a mother.”

Richie with her lookalike daughter Harlow and little sister, Sofia. Image: Instagram

In a sign of just how much her priorities had shifted over the years, in 2019 Richie skipped New York Fashion Week to get her kids ready for school! “I’ve got first-week-of-school [stuff] to attend to,” she told People. “I volunteer there. I’m all in.”


Both products of divorce, Richie and husband Madden have been determined to give their kids stability and normality, away from the spotlight. She insists, “It's extremely important to us for our kids to be kids, to have a full-blown childhood. And that is the life we've created for [them].”

But she has given glimpses into their family life over the years, including how her daughter Harlow has inherited her love of clothes.

“My daughter loves fashion, but she has her own style,” Richie told People in 2021. “She takes my clothes all the time. I have just started writing an N with a Sharpie on all of my stuff.”

As for son Sparrow, he’s taken on his dad’s passion for music. “It’s a very cool experience, especially for the kids,” Richie said of touring with Madden. “My son likes to dress like his dad.”

Feature Image: Getty.

Love watching TV and movies? Take our survey now to go in the running to win a $100 gift voucher.