Meet the young Brinkleys, a fun-loving, hardworking, genetically blessed troika unafraid to get real about life’s darker moments.
"I hate the term ‘celebrity children,’” says Sailor Brinkley-Cook, the 21-year-old daughter of supermodel Christie Brinkley and architect Peter Cook, whose 12-year marriage ended in divorce in 2008. “It can stunt your growth.”
Her celebrity mom flutters about on the terrace of their bucolic Hamptons estate, causing a stir of activity among the small army of people here for the photo shoot of Brinkley’s children.
“Mom, can you go inside, please? You’re making too much noise,” yells Sailor. Mom obliges and, sure enough, the whirlwind subsides.
“Even more weird is ‘celebrity offspring,’” continues Alexa Ray Joel, the daughter of Brinkley and megastar musician Billy Joel, who were married from 1985 to 1994.
A third sibling, Jack Brinkley-Cook, a product of Brinkley’s brief third marriage to Richard Taubman, sits nearby with a seeming indifference toward the whole celebrity aspect of his being. He recently launched Rove, a transportation company utilizing Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans to shuttle passengers between lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Hamptons. “It’s going really well,” he says. “I think it resonated with a lot of people looking for a more comfortable way to get in and out of the Hamptons.” His Sports Illustrated model girlfriend Nina Agdal walks by, having finished a workout in the Brinkley home gym.
It is a charmed existence for anyone peering in. Beauty and privilege abound in more ways than the average person can fathom. But push a little deeper, and the sisters appear eager to speak about more substantive issues, like the unending expectations placed on children of celebrities, the scourge of social media and struggles that come with those pressures.
It’s not simply talk. In early August, Jack and Sailor were co-grand marshals at the fourth annual Race of Hope to Defeat Depression in Southampton, which raised more than $275,000 for advanced depression research. Sporting sunny yellow T-shirts and bright smiles, 750 participants completed a 5K course, the culmination of the Week of Hope, a villagewide campaign in Southampton to raise mental health awareness. Two hundred local business owners placed yellow statement balloons by their front doors to symbolize hope and their commitment to changing the staggering statistics around depression. According to Audrey Gruss, founder and chairperson of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, “In the United States, depression is the leading cause of suicide and affects more than 18 million adults each year. Among teens, depression and suicide rates are the highest on record.”
“Depression is a touchy word,” says Sailor. Even though awareness of mental health issues is growing worldwide, she believes it’s still difficult for most people to admit to suffering from it.
If struggling with body issues, especially through the filtered lens of today’s social media, is the domain of most teenagers, then add a legendary parent, or parents, to the equation, and it often leads to a perfect storm of anxiety, depression and self-esteem issues.
Of the three siblings, Alexa, 33, a songwriter and performer, seems to gladly occupy the role of thoughtful and exceedingly kind big sister. She possesses a certain fragility despite extraordinary beauty; she was ruthlessly bullied at a young age “because I don’t look like my mom,” she shares.
She admits to battling depression almost daily, and news accounts report that she hit rock bottom in 2010. However, several years ago, she discovered that helping others, especially young girls, is perhaps the best antidote. While she didn’t participate in the Race of Hope (“I left that for my sporty siblings”), she likes to be “involved quietly” with the cause. Several years ago, she wrote an advice column in J-14, one of the longestrunning magazines for teens and preteens, and also uses Instagram and Facebook to help young girls who appear to be struggling with anxiety, depression or online cruelty.
Indeed, an increasing number of reports have found that mental health problems have soared among girls over the past decade, coinciding with the period in which use of social media has exploded among young people. On a recent Instagram post, Alexa wrote, “Truth without compassion—or any constructive intention—is cruelty... Just be decent while still telling the truth to yourself and others... We have forgotten that we’re supposed to be listening to one another, protecting one another and caring for one another.” She calls Instagram a “highlight reel.”
For Sailor—who says she’s been modeling to support herself but will return to Parsons School of Design this fall to study photography after a gap year in Australia—looking through Instagram makes her feel almost protective of girls, and she wishes they would stop trying to please others and would think about what makes them happy instead.
“I have been every size,” she says, adding that she was constantly “body shamed” and compared to her mother. “I’m not the mini-Christie Brinkley. I’m myself. Now, I just try to post more normal things.”
Alexa adds: “I like to encourage girls to showcase other things, like a music clip... and to embrace women for who we are.” It’s true that when public figures open up about their own mental health struggles, it can help break down stigma, spark important discussions and even inspire people to seek treatment. Brooke Shields was one of the first when she went public about her battle with postpartum depression in the early 2000s. More recently, a slew of celebrities have come forward, from Prince Harry, who started the Heads Together campaign to help “end the stigma around mental health issues,” to Anne Hathaway, Jim Carrey and Lady Gaga. Pulitzer- and Grammy Award-winning rap star Kendrick Lamar even recorded the vulnerable track “u”, which exposes his struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, on his album To Pimp a Butterfly.
So, if the Brinkley clan wants to be part of this vital conversation about mental health issues, proving that it can affect anyone, then let’s hear what they have to say. Their stories and courage to talk frankly about their struggles will only help build healthy awareness of the cause and showcase the importance of loving support.
Photography by Ben Watts; All clothing and accessories, Alexa’s, Jack’s and Sailor’s own; Hair for Alexa: Niko Lopez using Oribe Hair Care; Makeup and styling for Alexa: Caitlin Monahan using Kevyn Aucoin; Hair for Sailor and Jack: Andrew Chen
at Kramer + Kramer; Makeup for Sailor and Jack: Jodie Boland at The Wall Group