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Taraborrelli, J. Randy 1956-

Taraborrelli, J. Randy 1956-

PERSONAL:

Born February 29, 1956, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Rocco P. (a painting contractor) and Rose Marie (a medical technician) Taraborrelli. Education: Attended Temple University.

ADDRESSES:

Agent—Bart Andrews and Associates, 7510 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 100, Los Angeles, CA 90046.

CAREER:

Biographer, 1984—; editor and publisher of Soul; has worked as a journalist.

WRITINGS:

BIOGRAPHIES; UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED

(With Reginald Wilson and Darryl Minger) Diana, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985.

Cher: A Biography, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.

Motown: Hot Wax, City Cool, and Solid Gold (nonfiction), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1986.

Laughing Till It Hurts: The Complete Life and Career of Carol Burnett, Morrow (New York, NY), 1988.

Call Her Miss Ross: The Unauthorized Biography of Diana Ross, Birch Lane Press (New York, NY), 1989.

Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness, Birch Lane Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Roseanne Arnold, Putnam (New York, NY), 1993.

Sinatra: Behind the Legend, Carol Publishing Group (Secaucus, NJ), 1997.

Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Madonna: An Intimate Biography, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.

Once Upon a Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Elizabeth, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2006.

ADAPTATIONS:

Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot was made into a television movie, NBC-TV, 1997, and recorded as an audiobook, Time Warner Audiobooks, 2000.

SIDELIGHTS:

A former journalist and editor, J. Randy Taraborrelli is best known for his celebrity biographies. His writings cover the lives of performers such as Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Madonna, as well as the women of the Kennedy family. Taraborrelli, who usually writes without the cooperation of his subjects, has been both criticized and complimented on his research style, which relies heavily on quoted secondary sources and the sheer quantity of detail and trivia about his subjects.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to a middle class Italian-American family, Taraborrelli was raised in the small Pennsylvania town of Morton, where at the age of fourteen he founded an international fan club for his favorite pop group, the Supremes. He maintained the fan club and his intense interest in the group for several years. Taraborrelli told Lisa Anderson in the Chicago Tribune that "I just thought they were great, the sound was great. And when I found out that they were black, I became intrigued, because I didn't know anyone black."

By the age of nineteen, Taraborrelli had landed a job working for ex-Supreme singer Mary Wilson; he eventually became editor and publisher of Soul magazine. His first celebrity biography, Diana, is about a subject he knew quite well—Diana Ross, the lead singer for the Supremes. The biography depicts the career moves and publicity Ross received. Richard Harrington wrote in the Washington Post Book World that Diana is "basic hagiography, a dedicated fan's ‘celebration of her life and career.’"

Taraborrelli later wrote another biography on Ross, Call Her Miss Ross: The Unauthorized Biography of Diana Ross, a title taken from the singer's constant demands that she not be addressed by her first name. Here he details the rigid, almost fanatical standards Ross set for the people around her. Harrington, writing in another Washington Post Book World article, labeled this volume "one of the most heavily documented pop bios of all time," but insisted that "it's also one of the meanest, portraying Ross as egotistical, insecure, mean-spirited, paranoid, devious, arrogant, manipulative, etc." Anderson, however, called the book "well-balanced for the genre," noting that "the more Taraborrelli learned about Ross … the more he had to come to terms with the selfish, temperamental, often insensitive and irrational side to his heroine."

Taraborrelli's biographies of performers Cher and Carol Burnett were also published without authorization. Cher: A Biography follows Cher's singing career in the 1960s—along with husband, Sonny Bono—to her acting career in such films as Silkwood and Mask. Taraborrelli then focused on Carol Burnett in Laughing Till It Hurts: The Complete Life and Career of Carol Burnett. Bruce Cook summed up the biography in Chicago Tribune Books: "Those curious enough about [Burnett] to read this book will also have read One More Time [an autobiography by Carol Burnett] … and the two taken together will give an accurate picture of a woman who has become something of an American institution."

Michael Jackson, known to be elusive of press and publicity, is the subject of Taraborrelli's biography Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness. As with many of his other biographical subjects, the author had to research Jackson without his cooperation. When possible, he interviewed friends, family members, and employees, and even obtained court depositions to acquire facts and trivia. According to Jeffrey Ressner in Rolling Stone, "Taraborrelli has relied heavily on court documents and legal papers to glean new insights into his obsessively private subject." Geoff Pevere, reviewing Michael Jackson in the Toronto Globe and Mail, wrote that "for Taraborrelli, The Magic and the Madness is as much a story of dynastic tragedy as it is the story of Michael. It was the family that shaped the phenomenally talented boy, and it is family … that has created the troubled, troubling figure of the man." Following the publication of Michael Jackson, Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, sued Taraborrelli for one hundred million dollars for libel and invasion of privacy. Taraborrelli filed a countersuit of two hundred million dollars against Gordy for libel and slander.

Sinatra: Behind the Legend followed, and in the tradition of celebrity biography it offers insider knowledge of singer and actor Frank Sinatra's private affairs with women, including Marilyn Monroe, and Sinatra's former wives. It also includes accounts of Sinatra's relationship with the Mafia and his ties to other celebrities, including singer Dean Martin and the Kennedy family. Insights about the 1963 kidnapping of Sinatra's son are gleaned from Taraborrelli's interviews with one of the kidnappers. Portions of the text were published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. James Gavin noted in Entertainment Weekly that of three books on Sinatra's life released in 1997, in Taraborrelli's "Sinatra the man emerges most vividly."

In a departure from Hollywood figures, Taraborrelli took on political celebrity wives in Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot. Emphasizing their relationships with each other, the book "is filled with fascinating glimpses into the private lives of Jackie, Joan and Ethel Kennedy, their arguments, their parties, their concerns about their husbands' affairs, their relationships with their own and each others' children," as Phyllis Karas reported in the Boston Herald. Taraborrelli conducted research at the Kennedy Library and interviewed Secret Service agents and others to obtain documentation for the book. The book was also the basis of a television movie.

Taraborrelli spent ten years researching Madonna: An Intimate Biography, which includes interviews with friends, business associates, and family members close to the performer. His own conversations with Madonna also inform the text. Daily Telegraph critic Lynn Barber called it a "well-researched biography," which goes a long way in explaining how "so much success … has been built on so little talent." In addition to the anticipated accounts of Madonna's sexual escapades, her many boyfriends, and her well-documented temper tantrums, the book outlines Madonna's formula for success, which, as Barber noted, includes "gruelling hard work … ruthless ambition … a canny understanding of the uses of publicity. And finally a bit of luck." Taraborrelli explains the performer's insatiable drive for success by noting her mother's death from breast cancer when Madonna was five and her father's immediate remarriage, events that embedded in her deep cravings for attention. Sally Connolly noted in the Times Literary Supplement that despite Madonna's enormous popular appeal, Taraborrelli's book is the first major biography of the singer. Barber found Madonna to be a "thoroughly professional job," which "rounds out her character and makes her more, not less, fascinating."

The romance between American actress Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco, who were married in 1956, is the subject of the unauthorized biography Once Upon a Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. In an interview with Publishers Weekly writer Kevin Howell, Taraborrelli commented that he was surprised "by how tormented Grace Kelly's life was, both before and after she married Prince Rainier." He went on to explain that, contrary to popular belief, Kelly "actually struggled through most of her life" to achieve approval, which she managed by exploiting her sexuality. Her marriage, Taraborrelli said, forced her to give up her acting career when she was at the height of her success—a decision that she found difficult at first, but grew to accept. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly considered the book "fascinating, compelling and well-researched."

The simply titled Elizabeth is Taraborelli's unauthorized and sympathetic biography of actress Elizabeth Taylor. Critics differed as to whether this book adds anything new or important to the mountain of information already written about the iconic film star, whose many marriages—including two tempestuous ones to actor Richard Burton—and bouts of alcohol and drug abuse provided steady fodder for celebrity gossip mongers. As Ilene Cooper pointed out in Booklist, Taraborrelli "isn't able to generate any insider feel" to his narrative without having spoken to Taylor herself or her children. Nevertheless, Cooper added that Taylor's life is so passionate and eventful that "it's hard not to keep turning pages." A Publishers Weekly contributor expressed less qualified praise, calling Taraborrelli a "superb storyteller" whose book is a "fitting tribute" to its subject.

Also noting the book's compassion, Jamie Driggers observed in an Armchair Interviews Web site review that Elizabeth is a "nearly exhaustive tribute" to the passionate actress.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Biography, winter, 2007, Keith Garebian, review of Elizabeth, p. 158.

Booklist, May 15, 2003, Brad Hooper, review of Once Upon a Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, p. 1618; May 1, 2006, Ilene Cooper, review of Elizabeth, p. 5.

Boston Herald, February 3, 2000, Phyllis Karas, review of Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot, p. O48; February 3, 2001, Rosemary Herbert, review of Jackie, Ethel, Joan, p. O47.

Chicago Tribune, November 10, 1989, Lisa Anderson, review of Call Her Miss Ross: The Unauthorized Biography of Diana Ross.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), April 21, 2001, Lynn Barber, review of Madonna: An Intimate Biography.

Entertainment Weekly, December 5, 1997, James Gavin, review of Sinatra: Behind the Legend, p. 79; August 10, 2001, Karen Valby, review of Madonna, p. 68.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 1, 1991, Geoff Pevere, review of Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness, p. C8.

Houston Chronicle, August 26, 2001, Linda H. Lamb, review of Madonna, p. 29.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2006, review of Elizabeth, p. 565.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 1, 2001, John Smyntek, review of Madonna, p. K7996; August 22, 2001, Linda H. Lamb, review of Madonna, p. K0101.

Library Journal, June 1, 1986, David Szatmary, review of Motown: Hot Wax, City Cool and Solid Gold, p. 125; November 1, 2003, Pam Kingsbury, review of Once Upon a Time, p. 138; June 15, 2006, M.C. Duhig, review of Elizabeth, p. 73.

Publishers Weekly February 21, 1986, John Mutter, review of Motown, p. 166; April 14, 2003, review of Once Upon a Time, p. 62, and "Grace under Pressure," p. 63; May 22, 2006, review of Elizabeth, p. 41.

Reference & Research Book News, November, 2006, review of Elizabeth,.

Rolling Stone, February 7, 1991, Jeffrey Ressner, review of Michael Jackson, p. 33.

San Francisco Chronicle, August 29, 1997, Liz Smith, review of Sinatra, p. D4; October 29, 1997, Jerry Carroll, review of Sinatra, p. E2; November 4, 1997, Patricia Holt, review of Sinatra, p. B1; July 13, 2001, Leah Garchik, review of Madonna, p. C18.

Times Literary Supplement, July 27, 2001, Sally Connolly, review of Madonna, p. 27.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), September 11, 1988, Bruce Cook, review of Laughing Till It Hurts: The Complete Life and Career of Carol Burnett, p. 4; May 18, 2003, review of Once Upon a Time, p. 2.

Washington Post Book World, March, 5, 1986, Richard Harrington, review of Diana; February 4, 1990, Richard Harrington, review of Call Her Miss Ross, p 9; January 11, 1998, review of Sinatra, p. 13.

ONLINE

Armchair Interviews,http://armchairinterviews.com (July 6, 2007), Jamie Driggers, review of Elizabeth.

J. Randy Taraborrelli Home Page,http://jrandytaraborrelli.com (July 6, 2007).

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