It’s difficult to walk through a bookstore and not be shocked by the number of celebrities (and “celebrities”) who’ve put their life story on the page. Often you’re left wondering whether the celeb wrote a book because they have a good story to tell, or just a good book advance to cash. But sometimes, an entertainer’s autobiographies is very much worth the investment. Here are some of the best:
Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin
At the height of his fame, Martin performed in front of crowds large enough to make rock stars jealous, and his book Born Standing Up provides a fascinating look at what led up to that fame, then what caused him to eventually step down from the stage. Martin talks not just about his career in show business, but also his early experiences at theme parks like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. Many fans were disappointed when he retired from standup in the early 80s, but Born Standing Up is a superb record of how he came to that decision.
Bossypants, by Tina Fey
With a résumé that includes Saturday Night Live, Mean Girls, 30 Rock, and two consecutive years hosting the Golden Globes alongside Amy Poehler, Fey has established herself as one of the top names in comedy. As such, it would have been easy for her to deliver a half-baked autobiography and get away with it, but with Bossypants she did something much more special. It’s not only impressive how revealing and hilarious the book is, but also how thorough. It begins with her childhood and ends with her contemplating the future, and each subject is approached with the same disarming honesty and charming humor. Fey was already a respected figure before Bossypants, but anyone who reads it will come out the other end a true Fey-phile.
Cash: The Autobiography, by Johnny Cash with Patrick Carr
Cash was not only one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, but he also lived one of the most fascinating lives. His story inspired both an award-winning biopic (Walk the Line) and a parody of said biopic (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story). In Cash: The Autobiography, published just six years before his death, Cash reflects on his eventful life in his own words. Books published in an artist’s prime can still be fascinating, such as the aforementioned Bossypants, but when an artist like Cash is able to sit back and put over six decades of memories down on the page, the result is truly unique. There will likely never be another Johnny Cash, and his autobiography allowed him to describe his journey as he remembered it.
Chronicles: Volume One, by Bob Dylan
Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One is another late-career autobiography by a legendary musician, but it’s unique in that it’s just the first part of a series that has yet to see a second installment. (Dylan’s claimed he’s working on Volume Two multiple times.) Even so, Volume One remains a revealing look inside the mind of a man who spent his entire career trying to be as introverted as possible. He writes about the time surrounding the height of his fame, with a special focus on the start of his career in early 1960s New York. Those wanting a thorough record of Dylan’s life will likely be disappointed, but those wanting to know more about what makes him tick will be fascinated from first page to last.
The Elephant to Hollywood, by Michael Caine
Caine’s The Elephant to Hollywood is actually the second autobiography by the respected British actor, but in many ways it’s the more satisfying of the two. When he wrote his first book, 1992’s What’s It All About?, he thought that he was at the end of his career. As he says at the beginning of The Elephant to Hollywood: “this is the story of a man who thought it was all over, and found out it wasn’t.” Caine may not have the tumultuous life of some of the other entertainers on this list, but there’s something interesting about listening to an old pro like Caine tell, as he calls them, “the old stories.” One of the first anecdotes is about a New Year’s Eve he spent with a couple oil billionaires, Sean Connery, Sidney Poitier, and others—so yeah, not always easy to relate, but Caine tells his tales with an undeniable charm.
I, Tina, by Tina Turner with Kurt Loder
Tina Turner’s life always seemed tailor-made for a compelling autobiography, and the 1986 book I, Tina, which she wrote with then–Rolling Stone journalist Kurt Loder, remains one of the more celebrated musician autobiographies. It covers just about every aspect of her rise to fame, and all the hardships that got in the way. I, Tina begins in her birthplace of Nut Bush, Tennessee, and ends with her discussing the massive popularity that came in the wake of “What’s Love Got to Do with It.” Of course, there are many pages devoted to her initial success with Ike Turner, and the abusive relationship that tore them apart, but that only makes her ultimate comeback all the more satisfying. Hers is a truly great story, and this autobiography is a wonderful guide through the struggles and triumphs of her life.
Still Me, by Christopher Reeve
There aren’t many people on this planet who can comprehend the fame that comes along with playing Superman on the big screen, but these days that role is only the second thing people think of when they hear the name Christopher Reeve. In 1995, Reeve was horribly injured while horseback riding, and was left wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. (He also required a breathing tube.) His career continued in the years after the accident, and in 1999 he released his autobiography Still Me, which focuses heavily on the impact the injury had on his life. However, Reeve had no interest in making his story a sad one. Instead, Still Me is an exhilarating book about a man whose life took on a new, unexpected shape, which he refused to let defeat him. He passed away in October 2004, but his story will continue to provide inspiration to all who read it.
What are some of your favorite entertainer autobiographies? Any you think deserve more attention?