Heather Locklear: the heartbreaking decline of TV's original – and best – 'power bitch'
Over the course of seven years playing landlady of 4616 Melrose Place, the most thrilling address in Nineties American TV, Heather Locklear survived kidnappings, explosions, stalkings, attempted murder and a host of doomed marriages.
Ten years earlier, in her role as Sammy Jo Carrington on the iconic soap opera Dynasty, she brushed off arson, embezzlement and illegitimate pregnancies with a dramatic flick of her Farrah Fawcett hairdo and some questionable dance moves.
Throughout her four decades in television, Heather Locklear has epitomised survival against the odds, infusing her characters with a steely if often unexpected strength. An all-American beauty so revered by TV bosses that the mogul Aaron Spelling dubbed her his “good luck charm”, Locklear has long possessed such a charmed on-screen life that her recent personal turmoil has been particularly upsetting to watch unfold.
Locklear is currently in a Los Angeles hospital following an alleged overdose, an incident that occurred just hours after the actress was released on bail for attacking police who were called to her home. 2018 has already seen her arrested and placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold, along with a stint in rehab.
For an actress long famed for her work ethic and beloved reputation behind the scenes, it is a shocking, saddening departure from the Heather Locklear that Hollywood once knew.
There was always a sense of surpassed expectations with Locklear, who regularly beat the odds when it came to the longevity of her career. Starting off as a model, Locklear found success early on, becoming a favourite of Aaron Spelling, who cast her as the scheming Sammy Jo on Dynasty, the virtuous beat cop Stacy Sheridan on the camp classic TJ Hooker, and boosted her visibility with roles on Fantasy Island and The Love Boat.
Visually speaking, Locklear fit the Spelling mould: blonde and perky but approachable rather than intimidating. It was also the kind of career that rarely promised long-term success. Spelling turned female stars into icons, but also inadvertently trapped them in amber, with the likes of Fawcett, Chery Ladd and Shannen Doherty all struggling to evolve past their most famous TV characters.
But Locklear always seemed aware of the drawbacks of the Spelling boot camp, talking about still attending acting classes long after she became famous and expressing an interest in playing multi-faceted characters. “I don’t want to be one more [blonde], I want to stick out differently,” she said in a 1983 interview. “It’s very easy to typecast a blonde…”
TJ Hooker helped turn Locklear into an Eighties pin-up, but it was Melrose Place that turned her into a sensation. A twentysomething spin-off from Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place was another Aaron Spelling production, but one initially pitched as a grungy young adult drama driven by relatable, low-key storylines.
In execution, this meant a show revolving around such scintillating plots as “Billy deals with bad credit” and “Jane loses her wedding ring”. Spelling realised he needed to throw a cat amongst the pigeons, and recruited Locklear to inject some fire into the show.
He cast her as Amanda Woodward, a ruthless interloper who both purchases the art deco apartment complex of the title and takes over at D&D, the advertising agency in which many of the show’s characters ended up working. Amanda was forthright, cutthroat and impossibly glam, seducing the far majority of the show’s male characters (only Melrose’s resident gay man proved impossible to crack) and becoming a magnet for drama.
“Amanda came along at a time in my life when I needed to confront myself and other people, both personally and in business, and say things that I would normally be afraid to say,” Locklear once revealed. “This character has helped me to be strong.”
By the end of the show’s first season, its ratings had jumped, Locklear’s arrival pinpointed as the exact moment audiences sat up and paid attention. In her hands, Melrose Place became a Nineties powerhouse, dominating cultural discussion in the US and seducing millions with its outrageous plot twists and unparalleled kookiness.
When FOX, the show’s broadcaster, decided to move Melrose to a more competitive night on the week’s schedule, it plastered Locklear’s face on billboards across the US to promote the move. Captured in extreme close-up along with the iconic tagline “Mondays are a bitch”, Locklear helped define the FOX network as a whole, becoming as important to their branding as Bart Simpson and Mulder and Scully.
She also helped create a very Nineties version of femine power. Dressed in dangerously-tight pencil skirts and with hair so peroxide-blonde it was practically white, Amanda was a vision of immaculately-presented strength and voracious workplace ambition, someone who could broker high-risk business deals as easily as she could woo an unavailable man into bed; a sexually uninhibited #Girlboss long before such a thing existed.
She was both villain and unexpected heroine, as much Lois Lane as she was Clark Kent, and single-handedly lay the groundwork for the complex, independent women at the centre of Sex and the City, Ally McBeal and a host of other Nineties pop culture.
Even today, for better or worse, Amanda remains an archetype of the kind of fiery, fashionable and unapologetically ruthless businesswoman seen regularly on shows like The Apprentice. And when Kelly Kapoor, a brilliantly vacuous character on the US version of The Office played by Mindy Kaling, rebranded herself as a powersuit-clad mogul she dubbed “The Business Bitch”, there was more than just a hint of Amanda Woodward to her brazen entrepreneurial confidence.
Melrose Place came to an end in the summer of 1999, with Locklear telling reporters that she was hoping to move into comedy. It was an unexpected ambition, one that raised more guffaws than genuine interest. But despite showing little comic timing in her previous work, Locklear quickly landed on the cult sitcom Spin City, impressing audiences with her comedic ability.
Brought in to help alleviate the workload of the show’s star Michael J Fox, who had been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, it was another high-risk venture for Locklear. But like Melrose Place before it, Spin City’s audience skyrocketed, further cementing Locklear as a one-woman defibrillator for ratings-challenged television series.
Locklear spent three seasons on Spin City, earning two Golden Globe nominations in the process. But it would be the last long-running venture she has been associated with, with her televisual good luck coming to an end with the short-lived and critically reviled airport drama LAX, and then her return to the role of Amanda on the similarly short-lived Melrose Place revival in 2009. But her vast legacy as TV’s go-to leading lady has long surpassed any recent career woes.
Little has been known about Locklear’s life off-screen. In her prime, she was often written about as the girl-next-door that regularly tamed wild rock stars, marrying Tommy Lee and Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, while her press in the Nineties painted a fairytale picture of her bond with daughter Ava, born towards the end of Melrose’s run. She’s had run-ins with police for at least a decade, but somehow kept bouncing back, her positive reputation in the industry largely contributing to the idea that her troubles were odd blips rather than warning signs.
It could be described as wilful ignorance on the part of Hollywood, once again forfeiting their responsibility when one of their own cries out for help. But it also works as a testament to the inherent strength Locklear has long demonstrated, a feeling of “She’ll be all right” that eclipses any real concern.
There’s an old adage that all that will be left after a nuclear holocaust are cockroaches and Cher. But for so long Locklear has felt like she belongs in that unique group too. Maybe no longer the A-list star of the Eighties and Nineties, but somewhere out there still working, throwing a drink over someone’s face, or slapping a love rival.
Locklear’s current battles are proof that anyone, no matter their circumstances, can be struck down by addiction and mental illness. But if anyone can crawl out of that hole, it’s her. Speaking to Redbook in 1999, Locklear expressed slight apprehension about moving on from Melrose Place, but also gratitude that, no matter what professional or personal setbacks she’s encountered, she’s always somehow managed to land on her feet.
“Things change from one day to the next,” she said. “I’m very lucky. The good that I’ve had so far outweighs the bad. I know that it could go away tomorrow, so I appreciate it. But I keep in mind that if it all goes away tomorrow, I may have another chance.”