Holly Madison Bio: In Her Own Words – Video Exclusive, News, Photos
Holly Madison is a New York Times best-selling author, model, showgirl and reality TV personality. She is best known for her appearance on The Girls Next Door, a TV series documenting the lives of Hugh Heffner’s girlfriends at the Playboy Mansion. Since then, Madison has gone on to have her own spin-off series, Holly’s World, a stint on Dancing With the Stars, and is currently promoting her second tell-all memoir, The Vegas Diaries: Romance, Rolling the Dice, and the Road to Reinvention.
HOLLY MADISON BIO: AGE, EARLY LIFE & DISCOVERY
Madison (born Holly Sue Cullen on December 23, 1979 – now age 36) was born in Astoria, Oregon, in 1979 to Steve and Patsy Cullen. Moving frequently, she found herself in Craig, Alaska, at the age of two, and later returned to St. Helens, Oregon, to complete middle school. In order to put herself through college, Madison worked as both a Hawaiian Tropic Model, wearing swimwear and a Hooters waitress. Inspired by Marilyn Monroe and the film How To Marry a Millionaire, she pursued a degree in Theater and Psychology at Portland University for two years before transferring to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She eventually dropped out of school to pursue acting full-time.
While at a Hawaiian Tropic event, Hugh Heffner’s physician stumbled upon the aspiring actress and invited her to a party at the Playboy Mansion, where she soon began a relationship with Heffner. After being kicked out of her apartment in 2001, Madison moved into the Mansion as one of Heffner’s girlfriends. At his request, she quit her job at Hooters.
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HOLLY MADISON BIO: PLAYBOY MANSION & GIRLS NEXT DOOR
Madison was never a Playmate (despite an audition attempt for the role of “Millennium Playmate” for the January 2000 issue of Playboy), stating that Heffner said she didn’t “have that look.” While living with the Playboy founder, she immersed herself in French lessons and courses on acting and real estate investment at UCLA. Heffner, while open to some of her requests, including covering the cost of cosmetic surgery enhancements, also maintained many restrictions on what Madison could and could not do. This allegedly included turning down an opportunity to compete on the first season of Celebrity Apprentice.
In 2005, television producer Kevin Burns approached Heffner about creating a show focused on Heffner’s day-to-day life in the mansion. After a pilot episode titled, ‘Heff’s World,’ the show refocused on the women at the mansion, shifting perspective to his girlfriends. Madison was promoted from one of seven girls to the top three of the series, starring on-camera alongside Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson. Madison quickly became Heffner’s top girl, the only one of the women allowed to share a bedroom with him.
The Girls Next Door, while documenting the life of the three women, especially as they pertain to the various events around Playboy and the mansion, also showed Madison exploring other opportunities within the company. During the first five seasons, she went from being featured on covers with her fellow stars to working on the production side of the magazine, climbing the ladder from intern to junior photo editor. Madison also helped design 2007, 2008 and 2009 Girls Next Door Calendars.
In season six, following her break up with Heffner in 2008, she stopped working at the company altogether by February 2009. Though the real reason for the break-up remains unclear, Madison later confessed that filming for The Girls Next Door continued after the relationship ended, prolonging her time in the Mansion. The show eventually wrapped its sixth season in 2010 and Madison moved out after a seven-year relationship with Heffner.
HOLLY MADISON BIO: LAS VEGAS, DANCING WITH THE STARS & HOLLY’S WORLD
While transitioning from her life in the Playboy Mansion, Madison was contacted by ABC’s celebrity-dance-show Dancing With The Stars as a replacement for musician Jewel, who was injured while rehearsing for a performance. Madison was paired with Dmitry Chaplin, but her time on the show was short-lived, ending in a double-elimination on March 31, 2009.
Post Dancing With The Stars, she was contacted by Tony Award-winning theater director Jerry Mitchell for a starring role in his Las Vegas burlesque show, Peepshow. The longest-running live show at The Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, she replaced former Playmate Kelly Monaco, joining a long list of other celebrities who headlined for Mitchell’s show. Of her debut on the stage, Variety critic Richard Ouzounian asserted that “Most of the audience have come to see Madison, calling out her name at random moments during the show and cheering wildly… Mitchell certainly knows what the audience wants, and with Madison having just signed a new year-long contract, it looks like “Peepshow” will keep providing it.” Madison’s act became the focus of a new reality series, Holly’s World, following her life in Las Vegas and her experiences surrounding the production. Spearheaded by The Girls Next Door producer, Kevin Burns, the series introduced new friends in Madison’s life, including her personal assistant, Angel Porrino, and singer/American Idol Alumnus, Josh Strickland.
The show only lasted two seasons, despite the promise of a third, due to new E! president Bonnie Hammer pledging to, “get rid of the more Playboy trashy element, and elevate E! to a fun, exciting and aspirational network,” as she told The Hollywood Reporter.
HOLLY MADISON BIO: DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE, VEGAS DIARIES, Recent Work
With her reality TV career currently on hold, Madison turned her attention to writing, penning her first confessional memoir Down The Rabbit Hole, Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny. In her book, she reveals the darker side of life in the Playboy Mansion, exposing the infamous residence as a dilapidated “hell-hole” filled with betrayal and emotional abuse. At several points she stressed that the luxurious lifestyle seen by the reality TV camera was nothing more than a façade, covering up a lack of money and freedom. Madison frequently recalls moments of severe depression in the memoir, which Heffner largely ignored. The book stayed on the New York Times Best-Seller list for eight weeks straight.
Following up the success of her first book, Madison released The Vegas Diaries, which picks up where the previous memoir left off, detailing her stint as a performer in Las Vegas. The chapters detail the rocky road of striking out on her own after living in the Mansion with Heffner. “I was at my own personal rock bottom,” she admitted exclusively to uInterview. “I was completely starting over with no leads and no friends…I felt like I was not just leaving a relationship but a whole world, a whole lifestyle that I had kind of submerged myself in.”
Madison hopes to continue writing more books and recently told the Las Vegas Sun that she has a fiction series in mind for her next project.
In 2023, Madison appeared in a docuseries entitled The Playboy Murders. The show investigates murders that have been linked to Playboy in an attempt to expose those involved. Similarly to how Madison opened up in her memoirs about her time as a Playboy Bunnie, she continued to share her experiences and lend information about the realities of the Playboy Mansion. The show was renewed for a second season in February.
HOLLY MADISON BIO: PERSONAL LIFE
Madison’s most notable relationship is with Hugh Heffner, which spanned seven years and five seasons of The Girls Next Door. Shortly after breaking ties with him, she became involved with American magician and illusionist, Criss Angel. The relationship did not last, as Madison soon found Angel to be possessive. In Down The Rabbit Hole, she wrote, “His anger seemed irrational to me and somewhat terrifying. By this time, it became clear to me that I had traded in one controlling megalomaniac for another.”
Madison married boyfriend and Electronic Daisy Carnival founder Pasquale Rotella on September 10, 2013, after dating Rotella since August 2011. The two were married at Disneyland, a longtime obsession of Madison’s, and have two kids, Rainbow Aurora Rotella and Forest Leonardo Antonio. The couple divorced in 2019.
Madison has been vocal about her privacy and concern about the manipulation of her image. “It was really important to me because I was in such high-profile relationships, to be known for myself and not to attach myself to anybody, to be known for that person,” she told uInterview.
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