12/30/1991 at 01:00 AM EST
She went from Pretty Woman to Troubled Woman in a year's swift passage. Not so many months ago, hers was the luminescent smile that no moviegoer could resist. She was lithe and long-legged, with a gamine's energy and a hint of fragility, almost weightlessness. And her charisma was certified by the bottom line: Pretty Woman, the 1990 fairy tale in which a multimillionaire businessman falls for an implausibly innocent streetwalker, pulled in $178 million at the box office.
For Julia Roberts
, only 24, this year proved that life doesn't abide by fantasy's rules. Sleeping with the Enemy raked in $98 million, seeming to validate her ability to carry a movie—despite salvos from the critics. But in May she entered an L.A. hospital with what her handlers termed a case of severe flu. The rumor mill, previously kind to her, now began cranking out the uglies: Julia had a drug problem; Julia had been fired from her costarring role as Tinkerbell in Steven Spielberg's Hook; on the set she had been a balky prima donna, earning her the nickname Tinkerhell.
Then in June, a month usually reserved for storybook weddings, Julia slammed the covers on hers. Her engagement to Hollywood bad boy Kiefer Sutherland did more than fizzle. Splashed all over town was the story of how the lavish nuptials, planned for the 20th Century Fox back lot, exploded at the last minute. Possible explanations were legion: Julia was seeing Kiefer's friend, dark-haired actor Jason Patric, whom she'd met a year earlier; Kiefer had been dallying with a Hollywood go-go dancer. In any case, it all seemed unsavory.
Next came Dying Young, in which she played the companion of a leukemia patient who, in fact, did not die. An obvious star vehicle for Roberts, it was the big summer movie that wasn't. Yes, it grossed an eminently respectable $33 million, but that was small potatoes by the demanding standard Hollywood had set for Roberts. Had its most bankable female star used up her fairy dust?
Toward year's end, Roberts finally took a stab at spin control. What was the state of her relationship with Sutherland, who had kept mum about the broken engagement? "Civil," she proclaimed, maintaining that he, not she, had called the whole thing off. Hadn't Dying Young been a disappointment? "Thirty-three million is a lot of money," she pointed out. Her alleged drug use? "Absurd," she said. "Quit picking on me."
Now that her Tinkerbell role is over, Julia plans to take the corning year off to recharge. "Instant fame is a very difficult phenomenon," says directer Joel (Dying Young) Schumacher. "I don't see how it can be undramatic, especially for someone very young. But Julia is a brilliant and very strong young woman. She will be fine. She is fine."