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Give former supermodel Janice Dickinson points for a sense of humor. In her new tell-all memoir No Lifeguard On Duty, the enfant terrible of the late-Seventies fashion world writes: "Models are supposed to be dumb, right? But most of us can actually walk and talk and snort coke at the same time."
Much of that same spirit is on display as Dickinson munches on a plate of celery sticks inside the Beach's Loews Hotel, recalling the journey from her Hollywood, Florida teenage days as a "pom-pom girl" to $20,000-a-day bookings in Paris; a string of Voguecovers; ad campaigns for Revlon, Max Factor, Calvin Klein, and Versace; late nights at Studio 54; even later nights bedding down the likes of Mick Jagger, Warren Beatty, and Jack Nicholson; and enough cocaine along the way to deserve a thank-you note from Pablo Escobar.
After three failed marriages and a revolving-door approach to rehab, Dickinson, now 47 (though still striking, looking a good decade younger) and a mother of two, has finally come out the other end and into recovery. No Lifeguard On Duty is her stab at therapy, exorcising a tortured relationship with an abusive father alongside dishy tales from her career.
The mix can be a bit disorienting, whipsawing between hilariously down-and-dirty fashion scenes and Oprah-styled self-help babble, all of it written at a fevered pitch. Odes to believing in oneself follow such helpful advice as "Parents, please note ... don't leave your fucking drugs where your kids can find it"; tender feelings for photographer Guy Bourdin -- "I wanted him so bad my little flower barked" -- are followed by Dickinson's take on the nature of man: "Life is about fucking. Shakespeare is about fucking. Beethoven is about fucking. Name one thing that isn't about fucking."
Indeed, after 300 pages, the pace is downright exhausting -- as is Dickinson in the flesh. "There's about thirteen different people inside of me," she laughs at one point, and it's easy to believe they're all trying to get out at once. Bits of celery go flying as she speaks at a manic pace and begins gesticulating wildly, punctuating herself with a toss of her head; a loud, manic laugh; or simply banging her fist down on the table with the command: "Put thatin your story!" It's not hard to see why the fashion demimonde (not to mention many of Hollywood's bachelors) was equally captivated and terrified by Dickinson in her "Tasmanian Devil on crack" period.
A meditation on trawling South Beach's nightlife during its early-Nineties glory days alongside then-paramour Sylvester Stallone suddenly jumps into Dickinson's recollection of seeing the Doors perform at Coconut Grove's Dinner Key Auditorium back in 1969. "Ah, Jim Morrison," she sighs wistfully. "I still gravitate towards that sloppy, Jewish-looking, weird sexiness."
Jim Morrison was Jewish? Never mind. Kulchur contemplates untucking his shirt and proffering a Rosh Hashanah dinner invite, but Dickinson is already off on a new jag, ripping into Bruce Willis, another ex-flame she bumped into the night before.
Finally, Kulchur breaks in. Janice, all the men, all the drugs, sabotaging your career -- was it worth it?
Without missing a beat, Dickinson leans in close. "Was it all worth it?" she repeats, curling her lips into a wicked smile. "Fuck yeah."
Her only true regret, she says, is not being acknowledged as a fashion pioneer. "I broke the mold," she insists of the modeling milieu in the Seventies. "Fact: The accepted type, bar none, was the All-American apple-pie image of the clean-cut girl next door with blue eyes and very thin lips, porcelain skin, and super-blond hair. Ms. Cheryl Tiegs, Ms. Christie Brinkley -- those were the girls who ruled fashionista pages."
Though she was actually of Polish ancestry, Dickinson's darker Latin look quickly gained favor -- at least for her. "Bookers called me the ethnic-looking girl -- 'We'll hire her as the token black.' That's how I was referred to." Capitalizing on her appeal, she demanded fees that were often four times the industry standard, in the process helping to create the "supermodel" tier. "I opened doors for Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington," she says, chuckling that "those girls owe me a commission."
All this history raises the issue of South Beach's own second act. After all, the heat has passed from the local scene; European catalogue shoots -- once the economic backbone for Beach-based models -- have largely relocated back overseas. Area boosters may still insist on touting the city as the fashion capital of the Americas, but these days that moniker seems more like wishful thinking. So how does South Beach prepare for adulthood?
"People always ask me: How are you handling aging gracefully?"Dickinson says. Her advice? Look to role models such as Mick Jagger. "We may have broken up, but I still have a lot of admiration for him. He hasn't fixed his face, unlike a lot of other people when they hit a certain chronological point." And with that, she's off on another impassioned tear about staying natural, free of drugs and alcohol, and ignoring both Los Angeles's and South Beach's siren song of youth.