Why iCarly’s Jennette McCurdy Refused $300K in Hush Money to Write a Book Called ‘I’m Glad My Mom Died’
It’s been eight years since audiences saw Jennette McCurdy on Nickelodeon shows like “iCarly” and “Sam & Cat.” Since then, she’s written a tell-all memoir titled, “I’m Glad My Mom Died” as part of her process of healing from her turbulent life as a child star.
Child stardom remains a contentious topic in our culture. On one hand, we celebrate young stars for their charm and precocious success. On the other hand, we have to acknowledge that early success comes at a price.
In the best of circumstances, child stars have to navigate the very grown-up world of professional life and the entertainment industry. This is only made more challenging by the prevalence of ambitious stage parents who might not always prioritize their children’s happiness or wellbeing.
This was, unfortunately, the case for Nickelodeon star Jennette McCurdy, who recently released a tell-all memoir about a childhood spent acting, counting calories, and managing a volatile stage mother.
How Jennette McCurdy Went From Working Class to Child Star
Jennette McCurdy doesn’t come from an acting background. She grew up in Orange County, California in a Mormon working-class family. She never dreamed of acting or stardom until her mother Debra’s idea. By the time McCurdy was eight, her mother had her auditioning for commercials and TV roles.
“I think she wanted me to have a better life than she had, but I also think her approach was very unhealthy and informed by her own lack of self-work,” McCurdy told Nightline. “And she lived vicariously through me.”
McCurdy was thirteen when she was cast as Sam Puckett, the best friend to Miranda Cosgrove’s Carly Shay on the wildly popular Nickelodeon sitcom iCarly. By then she was already acting full-time and was the sole breadwinner of the family.
“It felt like a lot of pressure. And then, I think my mom saw my career as a way out of that life, of that way of living, of that constant grind.”
Audiences saw the sitcom shenanigans, the cheery red carpet photos, and the peppy magazine interviews. What they didn’t see was the abuse happening behind the scenes.
Jennette McCurdy’s Abusive Upbringing
In “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” McCurdy writes about her mother’s volatility and rage. McCurdy and her brothers lived in fear of their mother’s temper and tried to please her at every turn.
Describing her home life at this time, McCurdy said, “It was really complicated. My mom also had cancer when I was two years old. It was the first time she was diagnosed. So not only was it chaotic because of the abuse that was happening – my mom’s violent, erratic, unstable behavior – but also because we all lived in fear of her cancer coming back.”
Since she was eleven years old, McCurdy’s mother encouraged her to restrict her caloric intake. The stated goal was to delay puberty and keep her looking young, which would prolong her career as a child star. She quickly began to struggle with anorexia, something she went on to battle throughout her teens.
“I think my mom encouraged and conditioned my anorexia because both she thought that it would in some ways help my career, and also because it served her goal of keeping me young and under her influence.”
McCurdy’s mother also subjected her to repeated examinations of her breasts and genitals – exams to theoretically check her for cancer that prompted out-of-body experiences and left McCurdy feeling violated. These “health checks” continued until she was seventeen years old.
“I absolutely felt violated and eventually accepting that was the most I think was the most integral piece to my own healing and recovery.”
Why Jennette McCurdy Chose to Quit Her Acting Career
In 2013, McCurdy began production on the iCarly and Victorious spin-off Sam & Cat, co-starring Ariana Grande. The show aired for two seasons, during which McCurdy’s mother died of cancer. Despite this, McCurdy’s life continued to be plagued by her mother’s influence.
“I was operating through this lens of, ‘My mom wants what’s best for me’ even after she died. ‘I’m nothing without my mom, I can’t do anything without my mom, I’m incapable, I’m incompetent, what would Mom want, what would Mom think, what does Mom need.'”
McCurdy’s anorexia developed into bulimia during this time. It would be years before she was ready to acknowledge her mother’s abuse and seek professional help for her trauma.
“Accepting that she was abusive meant reframing my entire life, and that felt impossible. I couldn’t go near that for a long time.”
But she did eventually seek out professional help, at which point she decided she needed to quit her acting career.
“It was important for my recovery at the time. It represented my mom living vicariously through me. It represented something that my mom wanted, that I didn’t want. So it was important for me to step away in a very definitive way and really just focus completely on healing myself.
The next step in her journey was to write about her experience as a child star, something nobody wanted her to do.
Why Jennette McCurdy Chose to Write a Book Titled, “I’m Glad My Mom Died”
According to McCurdy, Nickelodeon offered her a “Thank-You Gift” after Sam & Cat was canceled. In return for remaining silent about how the network treated her over the years, Nickelodeon would give her a whopping $300,000. As we all now know, McCurdy turned their offer down. Despite initially wavering on her decision, thinking that $300,000 could pay for her nieces to one day go to college, she reports being ultimately proud of her decision.
“I think I’ve chosen a path of integrity,” McCurdy said, referring to Nickelodeon’s offer. “And it hasn’t always been easy.”
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In her memoir, McCurdy writes not just about her mother’s behavior, but her treatment by the studio as well. She writes about a Nickelodeon executive referred to only as “The Creator,” who encouraged McCurdy to engage in underaged drinking and once gave her a shoulder massage.
The cover of McCurdy’s memoir includes a photo of McCurdy holding a pink urn and shrugging under the title, “I’m Glad My Mom Died.” It’s a provocative cover, which was a deliberate and effective decision.
“I think I earned that title through the writing of the book, but I wanted it to be something that would grab people’s attention and get them to pick up the book and hopefully learn by the end of it why I’ve chosen that title.”
What’s Next for Jennette McCurdy
It seems like the world is opening up for the now 30-year-old Jennette McCurdy. Since 2017 she’s directed three short films and one TV movie, focusing on covering serious topics with a comedic twist. She began writing her memoir during the pandemic when directing became impossible.
McCurdy is now a published author, with a novel and essay collection in the works. She considers herself a writer these days, though she hasn’t ruled out possibly acting again in the future.
As far as her healing journey, McCurdy reports that she’s well on her way to recovery. She no longer suffers from disordered thinking around food and is on her way to healing from the years of abuse.
“I just wish I could have shown my twenty-year-old self me now,” McCurdy said, referring to her current success and happiness. “I would have known what I was aiming for. I would have had something to hope for, something to be encouraged about.”
With all the McCurdy has endured, it’s a clear sign that staying true to yourself is what matters in the end.