Most celebrity coming-of-age memoirs take place when the author is a crack-smoking 21-year-old bohemian in New York City, but most celebrities aren't like Holly Madison. Her new book, The Vegas Diaries, takes readers on her journey of self-discovery, beginning when she was 29 years old, had just dumped Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, and moved to Las Vegas.
The narrative follows Holly as she stars in her own reality show, scores the leading role in Peepshow (the Las Vegas Strip's then-premiere burlesque act), and dates a variety of famous and/or drunk men until she understands what she actually wants in life: to be a bestselling celebrity author, a wife, and the mother of a daughter named Rainbow. Where most celebrity memoirs have the literary style of a grocery-store tabloid, Holly and her collaborator, Leslie Bruce, write with a descriptive tone that makes The Vegas Diaries read like a Jane Austen novel set in Las Vegas.
This makes sense considering they're the team behind Holly's number one New York Times bestseller Down the Rabbit Hole. Last summer, the memoir took readers through the behind-the-scenes drama of the hit E! reality show, The Girls Next Door, about Holly and Hefner's two other girlfriends, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson. In prose reminiscent of a gothic novel, Holly describes contemplating suicide in her her bedroom above the Grotto. She sees girls using crystal meth and battles Hefner over his strict rules that forbid her from leaving the dog-shit covered decaying mansion.
Her revelations caused a sensation. Hefner and Wilkinson publicly denied her accusations, feminists debated whether Holly was, as she called herself in a Buzzfeed interview, a "born-again feminist," and critics applauded Holly's mix of juicy gossip and honest, lyrical descriptions of her Hefner-imposed depression.
An unlikely literary star was born, and The Vegas Diaries continues Holly's astonishing reinvention. She's currently seven months pregnant with her second child and at the start of a two-week book tour. From her hotel room in New York City, she tells Broadly about her new book, getting paid to do nothing, and why she considers herself a born-again feminist.
BROADLY: Why did you come of age in your late 20s versus your early 20s?
I moved into the Playboy mansion right when I was in the middle of college. I didn't date like a normal person in my 20s; I wasn't pursuing a normal career or getting to know myself in the ways that most people do when they're in the real world. When I moved out at age 29, I felt like I was coming out of college almost. I was having the experiences that most people have in their 20s—finally.
Why did you chose to find yourself in Las Vegas?
It all started with my fascination with burlesque. I was invited to do a guest appearance in the Crazy Horse Paris at MGM [Grand Las Vegas Hotel and Casino]. I loved that show. When I went out there to interview for that job, I met someone and went through a four-month rebound relationship. Finally, I got an offer to do an even bigger show with a longer and higher paying contract.
In the book, you discuss how you found burlesque freeing whereas the Playboy bunny persona restricted you. How do different types of sex symbol roles differ?
At Playboy, it was a brand of glamour. I wanted to do pictorials, but— at least when I was there— it was a very conformist world. All the Playmates look the same; they just have different hair and skin color. Nobody showed much personality in their pictorials. There was only so far you could go with a still picture, but when I saw my first burlesque show, there were so many performers that showed such personality. It was sexy and it was also glamorous and it was also fun, but everything seemed to come from the heart. The [first] show I watched was Dita Von Teese right before she got famous. She was the headliner, with several other really talented performers. Every [performer] was so different, and everyone came with something that looked home-made enough to feel very authentic.
What's it like dating in Sin City while working on the Strip?
Everywhere you go, people say, "dating sucks in this town." If you're in LA, people complain that people only date people who can help their career. In Vegas, my personal experience was a lot of people who work in nightlife. There's a lot of people who are in monogamous relationships in nightlife, but it's definitely a lifestyle that lends itself to a different girl every night. I've known guys who brag about hitting up several girls a night because they work a door at a club—they can get all this attention, and girls will do anything to get a table. For me, it was hard to meet someone who wanted something serious.
What's the best and worst date you went on in Vegas?
The best one before I met my husband was a quiet New Year's Eve I spent with my boyfriend one year. The worst: When I ended up puking outside of a guy's car. That wasn't cute.
What was the worst experience?
There isn't one, but I would categorize the worst [kind of sex] is when you feel unfulfilled and not even satisfy and think, Why did I even waste my time?
What's the biggest misconception about Las Vegas?
It's not a very large city. Less than 2 million people live there. There's a lot of locals who don't like to go to the Strip for anything. It's just small town life.
In the book, you talk about how much you love your social life and Peepshow but hate host nightclub events. Why?
I grew to like it but at first I didn't. Right after I left the Mansion, I was doing quite a few of them because that was right when nightclubs were still hiring reality stars to show up and do nothing. I'm not complaining because I was making a lot of money for doing nothing—I know that's an amazing opportunity—but for me emotionally, it felt very empty and lonely. I always felt like I had to be on the lookout. I only drank water.
When you left the Mansion, did it limit the kind of work you could get?
It depends on what you want to do. At first, it helped being a reality show personality. At the time, it was in to just hire [reality stars]. The job on the Strip really liked that I was known for being on TV and being a sexy personality, but there comes a time in your life where you don't want to be in a bikini every day. It gave me a good story to tell. I wrote my first book.
You don't have to pity me. Things are going better than ever.
How did you come up with the idea to reinvent yourself as an author?
I got tired of people approaching me and thinking they knew my story. It got frustrating when I was on my own in Vegas and people would approach me and say, "Don't you miss the mansion? Sorry didn't things work out!" You don't have to pity me. Things are going better than ever. I wanted to share that side of the story. Once I got into actually doing it, I really loved the process and opened up different ideas I had. Right now, I'm working on a fiction project.
During your current book tour, reporters have written extensively about your feuds with Playboy, Hefner, and your former Girls Next Door co-star Kendra Wilkinson. Your book, though, has little to do with Playboy. Is the coverage annoying?
Oh, absolutely! I'm grateful for opportunities to promote the book but when somebody uses [Playboy], a word I don't want to be associated with anymore, in a headline and it's on a national magazine, I cringe. I die inside. It's what I wanted to put a tombstone on in the last book.
What's the worst thing about dating famous men when you're also famous?
The worst thing for me was my own fault. Even though I dated a few famous people before, it took me several times to get that what you see on TV is not what you get. I should have been the first person to know that since it wasn't true about me. It's not what you see in real life half the time.
Do you think you used to have bad taste in men?
I don't know if it's bad taste, but with the relationship with [Hugh Hefner] I was with him for all the wrong reasons. With [Criss Angel], I was just taken aback with what someone was trying to sell me. I grew less naive over the years.
Over the last year, a lot of these big misogynist characters from the Playboy Mansion, like Hefner and Bill Cosby, have come crashing down. Has that been fun to watch?
It's not fun, but it's things I saw happening the whole time, and now other people are starting to see. [In regards to] the Mansion going up for sale, everybody was so shocked by it and wanted a reaction from me, but it was a shrug from me. I knew what the financial situation was and how unsustainable it had been for so many years, but now everyone is seeing what I already saw.
You're now raising a family. What's it like taking care of kids in Las Vegas?
Because of the gaming regulations, people are very strict here. You have to have a valid ID when you go in a nightclub. Other places, like in LA, that's not the case at all. In some ways, it's harder to get in trouble in Vegas.
Do you consider yourself a born-again feminist?
Absolutely. What's so interesting when I came out with the first book a year ago, so many people jumped at me and said, "You can't be a feminist because you were with Playboy with the first place, or you did this so you can't do this, or you used the word 'girl' to describe a grown woman in your book, so you can't be a feminist." Of course, that's all B.S., but I definitely feel like I've learned a lot. And I love that term born-again feminist. It applies to me definitely.
Finish this sentence: Holly Madison is...
Tired! Just cause I'm pregnant though.