Actress. Born Laura Jean Reese Witherspoon on March 22, 1976, in Nashville, Tennessee. The daughter of a physician and a nurse, Witherspoon grew up in Nashville, where she was a debutante and attended Harpeth Hall, a private all-girls high school.
On a whim in 1991, Witherspoon answered a call for extras in her hometown newspaper. She wound up with the lead in her first feature film The Man in the Moon. She was 14 years old.
Her first year out of high school, Witherspoon considered abandoning acting all together to follow her parents into medicine. But in 1996, her performance in Freeway earned her the Catalonian International Film Festival award for best actress.
She deferred college for a year after high school, then studied English literature at Stanford University briefly before deciding to return to work. Since then, she’s established herself as a talented actress in films such as Pleasantville, Election and Cruel Intentions.
In 2001, she starred in the box-office hit Legally Blonde, where she played Elle Woods, a tow-headed sorority girl who follows her ex to Harvard Law School. Witherspoon also starred in and produced the sequel, Red, White and Blonde (earning $15 million, 15 times what she was paid for the original) two years later.
In 2005, she appeared as country singer June Carter to Joaquin Phoenix’s Johnny Cash in the biopic Walk the Line to much critical acclaim. She won an Academy Award, Golden Globe and a BAFTA to name just a few.
In 1999, she married actor Ryan Phillippe, whom she met at her 21st birthday party and subsequently worked together in Cruel Intentions (1999). They have two children, daughter Ava Elizabeth (born 1999) and son Deacon (born 2003).
The couple announced their separation in October 2006 and divorced in October 2007. Phillippe said that he was so distraught by the break-up he wanted to die. “After the divorce, I was a physical wreck. I wanted to die,” Phillippe told the British magazine Man About Town in November 2007. “I was ready to kill myself. I was not taking care of myself at all. I would wake up and cry and vomit.”
While experiencing difficulties in her personal life, Witherspoon has thrived professionally. According to the Hollywood Reporter’s 2007 list, she is one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses. Even though her film Rendition was a flop, Winterspoon commands $15-$20 million a movie. It was on the set of Rendition that she met Jake Gyllenhaal. The two later started dating and have become one of the Hollywood couples that attracts a lot of media attention.
In 2008, Witherspoon co-starred in the fantastical comedy Penelope with Christina Ricci. She also served as a producer on the project. Later this same year, Witherspoon starred with Vince Vaughn in the family holiday comedy Four Christmases.