Before actress Denise Richards was a Bond Girl, she was the Midwestern girl-next-door voted best looking in her high school yearbook. But she set her sights on Hollywood shortly after graduation, and it took no time at all for Tinseltown to take notice.
Her big break came with a starring role in The World Is Not Enough, but Denise catapulted to superstardom when she caught the eye of A-lister Charlie Sheen. He had a reputation as a bad-boy womanizer, but that didn't stop the couple from marrying in 2002. They were red carpet regulars and made headlines when their first baby was born in 2004.
But only a year later, when Denise was six months pregnant with their second daughter, she abruptly filed for divorce. It marked the beginning of what has been called the nastiest divorce and custody battle in Hollywood history. From accusations of drugs, prostitutes and pornography, to suggestions that Denise stole her best friend's husband, the battle raged on for more than four years.
Denise says she and Charlie recently called a truce and are in a good place, but it's time for her to publicly speak her piece. "At the time of going through my divorce, I really tried to take the high road," she says. "Now I've distanced myself. Charlie and I are in a great place now, and I think now is a good time to reflect."
When Denise filed for divorce, she claimed she was doing so because she could no longer accept what she called Charlie's abusive and threatening manner. "There was a lot of verbal abuse," Denise says. "He never hit me; it was a lot of verbal. Arguments got heated. That scared me."
There were moments when Denise was so frightened that she says she filed a restraining order. "I was terrified to file because [it] was going to be public, and I was scared of the outcome and the consequences of that," she says.
Charlie has repeatedly denied Denise Richards's allegations, including her accusations of abuse.
Denise says there were no signs when she married Charlie that their relationship would take the turn it did. "He was three years sober, and I admired him for [overcoming that] and working so hard on himself and wanting to be a strong person. That was something that attracted me to him," she says.
Eventually, the relationship took a turn for the worse, but Denise says it was still hard to leave. "I loved him, and I felt guilty. When I did file for divorce, I was six months pregnant. Our oldest daughter was 9 months old," she says. "It's so easy to be on the outside and judge and say, 'I would never be that person if anyone treated me [poorly].' But, truly, until you're in those shoes...I loved him. I wanted it to work. He's got a lot of wonderful qualities about him."
Denise says she ultimately made the decision to leave for her kids. "I did not want this life for them," she says. "When I filed, we got into a very heated argument, and the next day he went to work and I packed a suitcase, took my oldest daughter...went to a hotel and drove straight to an attorney's office and just filed, and I was terrified and relieved that I had the strength to do it."
Much of dealing with divorce has been about what's best for her 4- and 5-year-old daughters, Sammy and Lola. "A lot of people said I was being manipulative and conniving and controlling. That wasn't the case. I think anyone in their right mind as a parent would have done what I did. My whole thing was about the girls and keeping them safe," she says.
Now that she and Charlie have achieved some peace in their relationship, Denise says she does trust him with the girls. "All of this has been a work in progress, and it's up and down."
If Denise and Charlie's marriage made headlines, their breakup was a tabloid bonanza, and Denise took plenty of public hits of her own.When Denise started dating Heaher Locklear's ex, Richie Sambora, the tabloids called her a husband-stealer. Denise says her friendship with Heather Locklear was over before the romance with Richie began. "Richie was single when we got together. I was single," she says. "It started as a friendship, and we both leaned on each other. We were there for each other. ... If Heather and I were friends, I absolutely never would have crossed that line with Richie, ever."
After his divorce from Denise, Charlie also moved on to a new relationship. In May 2008, he married Brooke Mueller, and they had twin boys a year later. Their marriage was in the spotlight again when, on Christmas morning, Brooke called 911 saying that Charlie had threatened her with a knife.
Charlie denies he used a knife to threaten his wife. He is due to appear in court in February. Brooke's attorney, Yale Galanter, said in a statement that "[Charlie and Brooke] want to try and resolve their issues."
Denise says she heard from Charlie on Christmas Day, when he called from jail to wish his daughters a merry Christmas. "I thought it was odd that he was calling collect, and he said: 'Yeah, they won't let me use my cell phone here. I'm in jail,'" Denise says. "He told me that he and Brooke had gotten into a fight and she called the cops."
When Denise first learned that Charlie was remarrying, she says she hoped his new relationship would be different from their marriage. "She was going to be, and is, my daughter's stepmom. So I want that to be a healthy marriage," she says. "That helps everyone."