From PRIME, a special issue of City & Shore Magazine
By Deborah Wilker
At the height of her fame as the rookie cop Kris Munroe on Charlie’s Angels, Cheryl Ladd was a ’70s icon, fashion plate and role model worldwide. Yet, like so many of us, she’d check the mirror regularly for flaws. In her mind, they were everywhere.
“If I could kick myself now, I would,” says Ladd, now 63 and an avid tennis player and pro-am golfer. “I remember looking in the mirror at 28 years old and being just so critical of myself. Now I look at photos of myself that I used to hate and I think – what was wrong with me? I looked fine!”
Today the grandmother of three never hunts for imperfections. Instead, she revels in the simple aspects of day-to-day life in her new hometown of Austin, Texas, near her mother and extended family. And she is particularly grateful she’s fit enough to run after her grandkids.
“Having energy and being healthy – if you’ve got that, everything works after that,” she says. “That is such a blessing.”
Her daily fitness routine varies, she says. Sometimes it’s a killer game of tennis, sometimes a brisk walk or Zumba class. No matter her schedule, which still includes film and TV appearances, there is always some kind of work-out every day, along with plenty of organic food.
“I’ve kept my weight in check my whole life,” says Ladd, who estimates she’s about “10 or 12 pounds heavier” today than she was in her 20s. “You cannot be that thin at this age.”
She stays in shape not only so she can continue to work in Hollywood (she recently co-starred in the faith-based film, The Perfect Wave), she says fitness is a road to doing all the other things “we want to do in life.”
“I want to be able to get out there and play tennis and throw the ball and play golf with them,” she says of her grandchildren – boys ages six and seven and a granddaughter almost three. “I want to be involved in their lives and really do the things that they’re interested in, and I can’t do that if I’m not healthy.”
She says she’s not opposed to the “odd tweak” now and then.
“There’s not a woman in our industry over 35 who hasn’t at least had some filler or a little work done here and there. It’s not as much about looking young. It’s just become part of staying fresh. When you’re 60 trying to look 25 – that’s gonna fail!
“I want to still look like myself – and so far people still recognize me as Cheryl Ladd, so I guess I’m doing some of the right things.”
For Ladd, the right things also include lots of philanthropic work. Today she’s aligned with the South Florida charity, Food For The Poor, which serves struggling communities in the Caribbean and Latin America. She will speak at the organization’s annual fundraising gala Jan. 22 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.
“I’ve done it now for a couple of years,” she says. “I like letting people know what the organization is and does. They are helping desperately poor people. They provide education and skills-training, clean water and medicine.”
Another aspect of her active life is that she and Brian Russell, her husband of 33 years, don’t mind getting in the trenches in the difficult regions served by such charities. They are soon to take another trip to Haiti to monitor rebuilding that’s been ongoing since the catastrophic earthquake of 2010.
If all this seems a universe away from the Cheryl Ladd who came of age in the ’70s as one of the most alluring personalities on television, it isn’t, she says.
“Even going back to Charlie’s Angels, I was always working for children’s issues and other causes.”
Yet the career-making Angels role of Kris – the little sister to Farrah Fawcett’s Jill Munroe – almost never happened. When producer Aaron Spelling first approached Ladd to step in for the exiting Fawcett, Ladd turned him down.
“Farrah was so huge,” she says of her late co-star, who shot to fame during the show’s first season and then wanted out. “I just didn’t know if I wanted to put myself in that position.
“All the kids in my acting class were asking me, ‘are you out of your mind? What is wrong with you?’ Happily – the way life goes – sometimes you do get a second chance.”
When producers couldn’t find an actress they liked, they called Ladd again. By then she and Spelling had discussed making Ladd’s character “a little less perfect” – a young investigator who made mistakes.
“Once I knew I had someone I could play who wasn’t trying to be Farrah, I felt like I might have a shot.
“She was such a terrific actress,” Ladd says with some sadness.
Fawcett’s death in 2009 was sobering, she says.“It sure was. Really tragic. Appreciate every moment.”
Most importantly, Ladd says, “don’t dwell” on the small stuff – and that includes the lines she occasionally sees in the mirror.
“I like my crinkles. You can’t be 63 and not have some crinkles on your face.”
For information on Food For The Poor’s Fine Wines Hidden Treasures gala fundraiser on Jan. 22, where Cheryl Ladd will speak, please visit: foodforthepoor.org/events/galas/palm-beach