Tragic Details About Paulina Porizkova

Trigger Warning: The following article contains mentions of mental health issues, sexual assault, and suicide that some may find disturbing.

Paulina Porizkova hit the scene in 1984, posing for the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. A few years later, her $6 million contract with Estée Lauder made her the highest-paid and most popular model of 1988. Then came her marriage to The Cars frontman Ric Ocasek, as well as her film and television career. It seemed the young model had it all, but few knew her devastating backstory and the difficulties her future would bring.

Still, Porizkova managed to turn many of her tragedies into anecdotes that many have resonated with. She has built a successful social media presence, having garnered over 1 million followers on Instagram, and shifted her focus toward meaningful causes. During a November 2022 interview with The Guardian, Porizkova commented on her newfound social media fame. "For the first time in my life I was being heard, so I could use this voice to say things, to talk about things, that were important to me, such as the invisibility of aging, and how f***ed up that is. Being heard is so much better than being seen. It makes you real," she remarked.

It's clear the model is speaking from a lot of life experience. From her unfortunate childhood in the former Czechoslovakia to her mental health struggles and heartbreak, here are the tragic details of Paulina Porizkova's life.

Her parents left her behind as a child to flee the Warsaw Pact invasion

Paulina Porizkova was born on April 9, 1965, in what was formerly known as Czechoslovakia. Sadly, even her early life was marred by tragedy, as her anti-Soviet parents Anna and Jiri fled to Sweden during the Warsaw Pact invasion, leaving their 3-year-old daughter behind. Porizkova was left in the care of her maternal grandmother while her parents striked and petitioned for her freedom, which caught the attention of the Swedish press.

Anna and Jiri fought for years until, as Porizkova told Al Jazeera in October 2010, they were given an ultimatum. "When I was 6, my parents got a letter from the Czechoslovakian authorities saying that unless they come to claim me, I will be adopted to a suitable family for communistic upbringing, etc. So, their choice was to go back and be put in jail and not see me or not go back and never see me," she recalled.

They formulated a plot to get Porizkova back, so the Swedish press helped fund Anna's return to the former Czechoslovakia. She had a fake passport, wore a disguise, and with the help of a couple of pilots, planned to pick Porizkova up from her school and take her straight back to Sweden. Unfortunately, Anna was stopped for speeding on the way to pick up her daughter, the ruse was up, and she spent the next three years under house arrest with her mother and Porizkova.

Paulina Porizkova became estranged from her father

Thankfully, Paulina Porizkova and her mother Anna were allowed to travel to Sweden, with the backing of then-Prime Minister Olof Palme. Leaving home and reuniting with her father was a huge adjustment for the 9-year-old, and her mother later spoke with The New York Times in May 2021 about the impact this had on her daughter. "Sometimes you do certain things for survival and you don't think, you just ... do what you have to do. I did put a lot of responsibility on her because that is what people did with children in the former Czechoslovakia. ... If I could do things differently, I would. But you cannot take time back," she explained.

Sadly, by the time Porizkova, along with her mother and new baby brother, arrived in Sweden, her father Jiri had become involved with another woman. The model explained to Al Jazeera during her 2010 interview that she didn't really know her father at that point, saying, "I just had very vague memories of him." Her parents divorced shortly after they arrived in Sweden, which resulted in a time of tribulation for Porizkova. She continued, "The hardship that my mother had to face sort of showed itself by her having sort of nervous breakdowns and taking it out on me because I was the only person available. Not the greatest parenting skill." Porizkova never made amends with her father and remains estranged from him today.

She was bullied as a kid

Today, Paulina Porizkova is a beloved celebrity who has stood up to bullies online. But sadly, before she was famous, she was the victim of bullying by her fellow classmates. As soon as Porizkova enrolled in a Swedish school at 9 years old, she faced xenophobia, which she wrote about for The New York Times in June 2017. "Freshly arrived from Czechoslovakia, I was bullied by a boy for being an immigrant. My one friend, a tiny little girl, punched him in the face," she said.

Porizkova detailed the experience further while speaking on "The Skinny Confidential Him & Her" podcast in January 2023. "I was sort of mercilessly bullied in school because I was from a communist country, so of course you know you have that ... dirty communist label printed on your forehead," she explained. While Porizkova had three friends in school, she still faced further violence during these years and even had her head shoved into the toilet.

Despite being so obviously stunning, the torment and frequent name calling led the young Porizkova to believe she was "ugly." This mentality stuck with her, even after she had been recruited to model in Paris. Porizkova explained her thought process on the podcast, saying, "I thought they had made a tremendous mistake, [that] somebody needed a new pair of glasses."

Paulina Porizkova suffers from a panic disorder

Like roughly 3% of the American population, Paulina Porizkova deals with panic attacks and has done so for nearly 50 years. In her memoir, "No Filter: The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful," Porizkova detailed her very first panic attack, which she experienced at just 10 years old. "The air had suddenly become too thick for me to breathe. It was like trying to suck in oxygen through a straw. ... My heart kept punching my ribs so hard it was as though it were trying to escape," she wrote. Porizkova believed she was dying.

Her panic disorder wasn't diagnosed until more than a decade later, but she still had a difficult time managing her symptoms, and in her 40s, the panic attacks began controlling her life. "There were times in my life where it would actively prevent me from living, from experiencing things, because I was so bogged down with anxiety that I didn't dare leave the house or I didn't dare to get on public transportation. This is an anxiety that sits on your shoulder at all times and it weighs you down," she told "Today" in a November 2022 interview.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

She was sexually assaulted at 15 years old

Paulina Porizkova was tragically one of many models who fell victim to the fashion industry's rape culture, getting sexually assaulted for the first time while working in Paris at just 15 years old. She told The New York Daily News about the incident in February 2018, saying, "A photographer came over to me from behind while I was facing a makeup mirror and put something on my shoulder. And I was like, 'Huh. A bagel? A pretzel? Stocking filled with mashed potatoes? What the hell was it?' It was his penis. On my shoulder. I have no idea why he did this."

Everyone around her at the shoot laughed at her assault as if it were a hilarious joke. It didn't take the young model to learn, as she wrote in her memoir, that such harassment was all "a part of the job." Porizkova learned to deal with being flashed, hit on, and verbally accosted, and it became so much a part of her job that she would worry more when it wasn't happening. "If a photographer well known for being creepy didn't try something, I'd feel uneasy, insecure. It meant that I wasn't as attractive as the other girls who were getting harassed," she wrote.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Paulina Porizkova felt invisible in her marriage

In 1984, Paulina Porizkova was just 19 when she met Ric Ocasek, the married frontman of The Cars, while filming their music video "Drive." The model revealed in her 2022 memoir that the then-40-year-old singer and her went on to have a three year affair with her before he eventually left his wife. Porizkova and Ocasek then tied the knot in 1989, sparking controversy over their 21 year age gap.

They spent many happy years together, but in 2017, the couple split. While speaking on the "What's Underneath With StyleLikeU" podcast in November 2021, Porizkova cleared the air about what happened between her and Ocasek, and the deterioration of their marriage. "We had been together for my entire life, since I was 19, and suddenly, he seemed not to find me attractive anymore. I started feeling like I was a coffee table. Something you put s*** on and bump into in the middle of the night but pay no more attention to than that. It made me feel worthless as a woman," she explained.

Despite the end of their romantic involvement, the two continued to live together and co-parented their sons Jonathan and Oliver. Porizkova spoke with Entertainment Tonight in November 2022 to explain, "The biggest misconception about my marriage to my husband was that it was a toxic marriage because it ended so poorly. We had an amazing 25 years. Ric gave me the love that I so needed."

Her husband Ric Ocasek died in 2019

Ric Ocasek had been recovering from a surgery at home when he died on September 15, 2019, at the age of 75. The medical examiner determined the rock star's death was due to natural causes, citing Ocasek had been battling heart disease. Paulina Porizkova was tragically the one to discover her husband's body, which she explained in a statement released the following day on Instagram. "I found him asleep when bringing him his Sunday morning coffee. I touched his cheek to rouse him. It was then I realized that during the night he had peacefully passed on," the model wrote.

Ocasek's death rocked the music world, inspiring artists like Peter Frampton, Slash, Billy Idol, and more to share their sadness about the loss of such an icon. But there was perhaps no one more disturbed than Porizkova, who spoke in her November 2022 interview with Entertainment Tonight about what it was like to discover her ex's body. "Finding the man that you spent your whole life with dead, that's not something that will ever leave my brain. ... There was no pain for him. Of course, [it] left quite a lot of pain for us," she said.

While Ocasek's death was tragic, it seemed like Porizkova's troubled love life was finally going to lighten up and she would be able to relax. That is, until she realized her ex had committed the ultimate betrayal just before he died.

Paulina Porizkova was cut out of her ex's will

Just weeks before Ric Ocasek died, he amended his will to keep Paulina Porizkova from inheriting a dime. He and the model were in the process of divorcing, according to the now public document (via Page Six), which read, "Even if I should die before our divorce is final ... Paulina is not entitled to any elective share ... because she has abandoned me." It was just one day after her ex's death that Porizkova discovered his will had been changed, and while she has since refuted this accusation, the betrayal cut deep. She was forced to sell the $10 million townhome she shared with Ocasek and her children at a loss and entered into a dispute against the rock star's estate.

While on "Red Table Talk" in November 2022, Porizkova explained, "I was in no state to process it, honestly. ... I was like, 'Well that's a lie.' So maybe he was angry, and like, he had jotted this down and somebody took it down as a memo. ... Somebody made a mistake." She went on to say that this theory of her abandoning Ocasek began to circulate in the press — that she had to fight off repeated accusations that she was a terrible wife. Porizkova settled her dispute with Ocasek's estate in October 2021 and was granted a settlement, though she has not revealed its exact sum.

She couldn't access her own finances

When Paulina Porizkova was growing up, she didn't have much in the way of financial stability, so when she finally began making her own money, the young model didn't know what to do with it. She would stuff teddy bears with cash and didn't have a bank account for years. Eventually Porizkova let Ric Ocasek's accountant handle her finances, which ultimately came back around to bite her in the butt after he died. She was forced to sell her home, but this was around the time that COVID hit and the housing market tanked.

While speaking on "Red Table Talk" in November 2022, Porizkova described her situation at the time, saying, "I was a woman with assets. I had two mortgaged houses, and I had a pension plan that I can access in 10 years — and zero cash and no way to pay for anything."

It took a while for Paulina Porizkova to finally reveal the financial straits she found herself in following Ric Ocasek's death. As she told SheKnows in 2023, "I wish I could have just given it up on Instagram and [said], 'I'm so f***ed right now. Like, I don't have money for groceries, and my friends are buying all the food, and I'm freaking out about trying to sell my house.' But that would have been sawing off my legs at the knee. It would have made me feel better, but it would have screwed me."

Paulina Porizkova contemplated ending her own life

Paulina Porizkova went through a dark time after Ric Ocasek died and left her with nothing. The model told Page Six in a November 2022 interview about her lowest point, saying she had contemplated ending her own life in the year after his death. "It's not even so much that I thought about how to kill myself or when to kill myself; it was just that feeling of, 'I just don't know how to go on. I can't do this anymore. ... I just want to go away. I can't bear waking up tomorrow morning, being the same person with the same feelings. I can't carry it anymore,'" she said.

Porizkova has bravely shared many of her struggles with the world, especially when it comes to her feelings about her ex's death. Around that time, in May 2020, she posted a video of herself crying on Instagram alongside a caption that read, "In the last five years I have cried more than in all my fifty years combined. ... I try not to be so scared of showing my vulnerability. Sometimes, when I do, people around me do as well, and the deeper understanding of one another is the pay-off." Her post was flooded with comments of support from her followers, who praised her honesty and vulnerability.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat

She has faced criticism for her anti-ageism campaign

Paulina Porizkova has made headlines in recent years as an advocate for aging in today's harsh society. She has had some choice words for the modeling industry over ageism, having experienced it herself on a number of occasions. Porizkova spoke with "People (The TV Show!)" in March 2022, saying, "I felt ashamed to be aging, and then on the other hand you go, 'But, I'm smarter, I'm better, I'm funnier, I'm more patient!' Overall as a person, I'm the best I've ever been. So I'm not ready to be dismissed." That said, Porizkova has also praised the efforts the industry has made for body and color inclusivity.

After Porizkova posted a photo of herself wearing just her underwear and an open knit cardigan in March 2023, she received mixed feedback, including comments that claimed she was seeking attention and shouldn't represent other women her age. The following day, she shared an Instagram post highlighting the backlash she had received, alongside a caption that read, "I post a barely clothed photo of myself, it gets a lot of attention, and then come the comments. Most of you are wonderfully supportive and understand what I'm trying to do in representing an older woman as still sexy and viable, and certainly not invisible. ... I'm not trying to represent all women of my age. How could I? How could anyone? Don't we all look different and isn't that where our beauty lies? In our uniqueness?"