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Nicole Richie, Famous for Her Fame, and Now for a Book

The television personality Nicole Richie sat at a table in Times Square’s Virgin Megastore last week with a pen in her hand, a smile on her face and butterflies in her stomach. Seeing as this was Ms. Richie’s first book signing — her debut novel, “The Truth About Diamonds,” hit stores last Monday — she said she was a tad nervous.

But in a matter of minutes it would become clear that she had little to worry about. That night she was among friends, friends who were more than willing to shell out for a book (list: $23.95). “She’s the most amazing person I’ve ever seen on TV in my life,” gushed one teenage girl, who was near tears. “I live for her. I’d do anything to talk to her.”

She wasn’t the only one living for Ms. Richie that evening. A teenage boy, wearing lip gloss and a hint of mascara, walked away from the table hyperventilating as he clutched an autographed copy of “Diamonds” close to his chest. “Oh my God,” he said between deep breaths. “Nicole just said I was cool! Nicole just said I was cool!” And so it went for nearly two hours, Ms. Richie scribbling her signature and sprinkling happy dust while unabashedly giddy fans fawned all over her.

“It was really great, but I was a little intimidated,” she said the following afternoon over tea and French onion soup at the Four Seasons. “I almost felt like I didn’t deserve it.”

Some would argue that she doesn’t. Ms. Richie is the adopted daughter of the R&B crooner Lionel Richie, who reigned in the 1980’s, and her stardom thus far has had less to do with her professional accomplishments than with her prominent surname, her impeccable style and her ever-shrinking waistline.

But now it appears that she is working hard to change that, to be famous for something other than being famous. In addition to her new novel, which, she says, is based on her high-octane life, Ms. Richie, 24, is recording a pop/funk album. She said that she also has a few television deals in the works and that “The Simple Life,” the fish-out-of-water reality series that put her on the map, will definitely return to television. (Fox dropped “Simple” after she and her co-star, Paris Hilton, had a public falling out.) “I don’t know what network yet,” she said, but she was sure she and Ms. Hilton would not be filming scenes together.

Ms. Richie said that in the past she had been approached to write an advice book and an autobiography, but that she chose fiction because a novel allowed her the freedom to both edit and embellish her personal tale. “The Truth About Diamonds” (Regan Books) tells the story of a popular Hollywood socialite named Chloe Parker, who is the adopted daughter of a music star and his glamorous wife. Parker takes drugs, runs with a posse of wealthy brats and parties hard at all of the hottest nightclubs. She also stars in a reality series with a friend, who quickly turns into an enemy.

In this thinly veiled roman à clef, which Ms. Richie said she wrote herself, more than a few characters bear a startling resemblance to people in her real life. Parker, she admitted, is based on her before her stint in rehab for a heroin addiction, and DJ Ray on her fiancé, Adam Goldberg (known professionally as DJ AM), right down to the gastric bypass surgery. There is even a character called Nicole Richie. (Step aside, Jonathan Safran Foer.)

Ms. Richie, however, rejected any suggestion that Ms. Hilton was the inspiration for the character of Simone Westlake, a vapid opportunist who invites Parker to be her co-host on the reality series. “Simone was leggy and tall,” she writes, “though no one knows exactly how tall because she’d never been seen out of pumps since puberty not even in her night-vision skin flicks, filmed strictly for private use, of course.”

“It’s not her,” Ms. Richie insisted. “I’ve come across many people in my life that are like that.”

Wrapped in a vintage Azzedine Alaia dress and perched atop Christian Louboutin stilettos at her book signing, Ms. Richie looked skinnier than a pair of chopsticks. To call her tiny would be an understatement. But few in the line of nearly 200 had a problem with Ms. Richie’s size, or lack thereof.

“Her body is perfect, her hair is perfect, her outfit is perfect, her makeup is perfect,” said one teenage boy with flat-ironed hair. “I love everything about her.” Judith Regan of Regan Books was equally enchanted. “She’s like a little beam of light,” Ms. Regan said. “I really regret that she’s not available for my son.”

Once regarded as Ms. Hilton’s chunky sidekick, she’s not only dropped pounds, but also traded the colored hair extensions and tacky minis and midriff-baring tops she once favored for a more polished and sophisticated look. As a result, she is now regarded as one of the most chic young women in the public eye.

“She is somebody that our readers really look up to as a fashion icon in the making,” said Nicole Vecchiarelli, entertainment director at Teen Vogue.

Mr. Richie, who is lovingly called “L-train” by his daughter, arrived shortly after the signing began. “Lionel! Nicole! Look this way,” the paparazzi howled as they feverishly snapped away. “All Night Long,” Mr. Richie’s party classic, played over the speaker system.

“She’s my little girl,” he said, beaming. “I’m having a pride attack right now. Two years ago she was trying to get her life together, and now she’s so clear.” Mr. Richie’s pride attack was interrupted by one of his daughter’s more vocal fans. “Lionel!” the girl screamed, “can you adopt me, too?”

Ms. Richie’s biological mother — a character in the book based on her is described as a groupie — gave her up for adoption when she was a child. Her biological father, she said, was not a member of the Commodores with Mr. Richie, as has been rumored in the past. Growing up in Los Angeles, she attended private schools, was surrounded by some of the biggest names in entertainment (Michael Jackson is her godfather) and was immersed in music and dance lessons (she plays cello, violin and piano and is a skilled ice skater).

Things would take a turn for the worse, however, when she began experimenting with drugs in high school, she said, first marijuana and cocaine before she became addicted to heroin. “Heroin makes you not care about anything,” she said. “It makes you very oblivious, and you’re down all the time, and that worked for me. I look back at pictures and my skin was gray, my nails had gunk in them, and I didn’t even notice.”

She has been sober for several years, she said, but tabloids are now wondering if Ms. Richie is grappling with another issue: an eating disorder. Absolutely not, she said. “I have a very strong group of people around me, and if I had problem, that many wouldn’t be quiet about it,” she said. “We would take care of it.”

She claims not to know her current weight or how many pounds she has shed. “I’ve never owned a scale,” she said. “But I think people forget that I was on this earth 21 years before ‘Simple Life’ and I’ve always been very thin. I just went through a heavier stage.”

Before heading to her book signing, Ms. Richie had her driver stop to pick up a McDonald’s cheeseburger and some McNuggets, which she inhaled. Was it an elaborate production for this reporter’s benefit? “No,” she said. “Spend a day with me and you’ll see how anorexic I am. I eat like there’s no tomorrow.”

As Carolyn Lluberes, an assistantat Wilhelmina Models, left the Virgin store, she called Ms. Richie a survivor. “She sends the message that, ‘Yes, I’ve fallen, but I can get up with dignity,’ ” she said. Staring at a Polaroid of herself and the first-time author, Ms. Lluberes grew misty. “I never get star-struck,” she said, “but to see her is really inspiring.”

Nov 15, 2005 – New York Times – Written by Lola Oguinnaike