Bret Easton Ellis Biography

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Birth Name: Bret Easton Ellis
Born: 03/07/1964
Birth Place: Los Angeles, California, USA

Born in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Sherman Oaks, CA on March 7, 1964, his childhood was marked by both wealth and sadness. Ellis and his two sisters lived in a gabled house with a pool, yet endured physical abuse at the hands of their father, Robert, a property developer who suffered from alcoholism. The dichotomy of his existence reared its head in his writing, which began to surface in grade school; a student at Buckley, a private school for wealthy families, he penned articles for its literary magazine that highlighted a growing disconnect with the world around him. He eventually shifted his focus to pop music and movie reviews.

At 14, he was shipped out to Nevada to work at his grandfather's casino after his parents discovered marijuana in his room. The separation pushed him further into writing and fiction. By the time he was a junior in high school, he had begun work on one of two novels, including an early draft of Less Than Zero. After graduation, he attended Bennington College in Vermont, where he studied writing under lawyer-turned-novelist Joe McGinnis. The choice did not sit well with his father, who wanted him to major in business, but McGinnis was so impressed with Ellis' sample work that he introduced him to his own literary agent. During this period, Ellis also played keyboards with a local band, the Parents, and enjoyed the party atmosphere and casual drug use and sex that accompanied the scene.

In 1985, Ellis finally pared down the 530-page manuscript that would become Zero and sold it for $5,000. Its impact was immediate and all-encompassing; a bleak story of disaffected Los Angeles youth who dive headlong into apathy, drug use and flirtations with depravity during a holiday break from college, it reached the New York Times bestseller list and crowned Ellis with "voice of his generation" laurels. The accolades had the exact opposite effect on the author; he suffered a nervous breakdown and reportedly refused to leave his dorm room at Bennington. Allegations flew that Ellis' editor was the real literary mind behind the piece. Therapy and anti-anxiety medication soon quelled Ellis' trauma in the wake of the book's release, and after graduating from Bennington, he relocated to New York City to begin work on its follow-up.

In 1987, Less Than Zero was adapted into a motion picture with Andrew McCarthy, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jami Gertz as its leads; the film was largely whitewashed of its more unsavory aspects, with McCarthy's lead now strongly anti-drug - a complete about-face from the character in the novel. The film received mixed reviews from critics, and Ellis himself voiced an extreme dislike for the picture, though in subsequent decades, his reaction softened to a more tolerant tone. Certainly Downey, Jr. more than delivered the goods, essaying a perfect drug addict performance that stayed with viewers long after the lights went up.

That same year, Ellis released his second novel, The Rules of Attraction. Another sex- and drug-soaked story of excess and anomie among the college set, it did not receive the glowing praise of its predecessor, thought it remained one of his favorite projects. The most significant aspect of the book was its connection to Less Than Zero and future novels by means of connective characters; Clay, the protagonist of Zero turns up to narrate a chapter, while the lead in Attraction, Sean Bateman, is the brother of Patrick Bateman, the monstrous hero of American Psycho, who also appears briefly in the novel. Another character, Betrand, turned up in Glamorama. The novel also makes references to The Secret History, the acclaimed debut novel by Ellis' college friend Donna Tartt, as well as Jill Eisenstadt's From Rockaway. Both authors, along with Ellis, were part of a circle dubbed the Literary Brat Pack by the media; its members included such young hot properties as Jay McInerney and Tama Janowitz, and were frequently spotted at hot locations across Manhattan. Like Zero, Attraction was made into a movie in 2002 by director Roger Avary; a flop upon its release, the picture became something of a cult favorite in later years, thanks to its excess of sex, drugs and violence. Ellis himself voiced a favorable opinion, citing it was the film version that came closest to capturing the tone of his novels.

In 1991, Ellis generated what was perhaps the greatest controversy of his career with the publication of American Psycho, a dreamlike essay on the excesses of the 1980s financial scene as viewed from the perspective of a self-obsessed investment banker who may or may not also be a serial killer. Narrated by its protagonist, Patrick Bateman, who was based in part on Ellis' own father, it catalogued the emptiness of a life spent in pursuit of status through designer labels and soulless pop music, and which could only be invigorated by unrelieved carnage. However, the novel concluded on an ambiguous note, suggesting that the murders could have simply been Bateman's dark fantasies. Reaction to the violence brought protests from the National Organization of Women, who successfully blocked publisher Simon and Schuster from releasing the book. Ellis, who was shocked by the outpouring of negative press surrounding his work, brought it to Knopf, who released the book on its Vintage line. The response was unilaterally condemning; writers like Norman Mailer and John Updike lambasted Ellis in the press, while critics compared the work to a snuff film. Ellis received death threats while on a promotional tour, as rumors flew that he had actually printed excerpts from the diary of a real murderer in its texts.

The uproar had one dominant effect on the book - it helped it sell millions of copies, which in turn made it a pop culture touch stone, with later tributes in song from Eminem and a mixed martial arts fighter, Stephan Bonnar, who bore the name "American Psycho." A film version, launched in 1992 and released in 2000, struggled with its own troubles. Once considered a project for such leading men as Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp, the film was initially going to be Leonardo DiCaprio's first post-"Titanic" (1997) film, but pressure from Gloria Steinem, as well as general unease in the industry itself, forced him to abandon the $20 million payday offered to by Lions Gate Films to star in the movie. Eventually, the picture was given to indie director Mary Harron, who penned a script with actress Guinevere Turner in 1992. After insisting that then-unknown Christian Bale play Bateman, she was dropped from the project, only to be brought on board again after Lions Gate deemed that a female director was the best way to counter charges that the film promoted violence against women. Released in 2000, "American Psycho" did solid business and received generally effusive praise from critics, who singled Harron's decision to emphasize the idea that the events in the film were the product of Bateman's mind. Lions Gate purchased the rights to the property for multiple sequels, which Ellis declined.

In the wake of the Psycho controversy, Ellis' father passed away in 1992, leaving behind a debt of $10 million that Ellis was required to address. After settling the affair, he began work on his third novel, which had originally been designed for a 1993 release. Launched with the idea that it would begin with the word "Specks" and end with "mountains," the book was painstakingly culled from character outlines and voluminous notes; however, he began to lose perspective while mapping out the global conspiracy that served as the book's core, and the 1993 deadline passed with no completed text. In an attempt to appease his publishers, he sent them a collection of short stories written between 1983 and 1994; the book, The Informers, featured walk-ons from numerous established characters from previous works, but did little to appease rabid fans. Adding to the delays were an addiction to heroin and a relentless schedule of clubbing, which chipped away at the small fortune he had amassed from his three previous books.

In 1998, the magnum opus, titled Glamorama, finally hit the shelves. A dizzying political thriller with fantasy overtones and Ellis' own observations of life among the fabulous, the book follows Victor Ward, a minor character in The Rules of Attraction, as he is pulled into a terrorism network driven by homicidal ex-models. The satire of fashion and consumerism, combined with the by-now expected levels of violence and hazy plotting involving Ward's father, a U.S. Senator, pleased both critics and readers, who praised his return to American Psycho-level entertainment.

During the debacle that surrounded the film version of "Psycho," Ellis himself was the subject of a lightweight documentary titled "This is Not an Exit: The Fictional World of Bret Easton Ellis" (2000). The film mixed talking-head footage of Ellis, his fans and detractors - which by then included former friend and author of Bright Lights, Big City Jay McInerny - with footage of actors performing scenes from his novels. It also attempted to solve the long-standing debate over Ellis' sexuality in footage that alleged his appreciation for a particular sexual practice favored by homosexuals. However, in 2005, Ellis acknowledged that he had lost his partner of six years, Michael Kaplan, in an interview with The New York Times.

Roger Avary also briefly considered Glamorama for film adaptation after he assembled footage of actor Kip Pardue, who played Ward in "The Rules of Attraction," pretending to be the character while interacting with strangers throughout Europe. The finished film, titled "Glitterati" (2004), was never released, though it briefly spurred Avary to purchase the rights to Glamorama. Though casting, which included Shannen Doherty, was bandied about, the film was never launched. In 2005, Ellis broke a six-year silence with Lunar Park, his most self-reflective novel then to date. He fashioned himself as the main character in the book, now living in a fictional town in a post-9/11 world plagued by horrific acts of terrorism. The global fear of the book's setting was reflected in a rash of murders apparently committed by Patrick Bateman, as well as numerous supernatural occurrences that may or may not have been the work of Ellis' real father in spirit form. Other characters from previous Ellis novels, including Psycho detective Donald Kimball, played into the book's meta-plot, which served as both an homage to the horror novels the author favored as a child and a means to exorcise the feelings that arose after the deaths of Kaplan and Robert Ellis, to whom the book was dedicated. Positive reviews seemed to indicate that Ellis had continued to preserve his audience.

In 2010, Ellis announced that he was at work on Imperial Bedrooms, a sequel to Less Than Zero that followed that novel's protagonists as they advanced towards middle age. He was also hard at work on screenplays based on Adam Davies' novel The Frog King and Molly Jong-Fast's Normal Girl, both of which owed considerable debts to Ellis in their brittle dialogue and characters steeped in fast living.