After 19 years of marriage, Cox's parents, Richard, a building contractor, and her mother, Courteney, a homemaker, divorce. She lives with her mother and her three older siblings, a brother and two sisters, in Mountain Brook, Ala.
Cox begins working for the Ford Modeling Agency. She appears on the covers of teen magazines Tiger Beat and Young Miss before moving to Washington, D.C., to major in architecture at Mount Vernon College. After one year, she drops out and returns to New York to continue modeling.
At an audition for director Brian de Palma, Cox lands the memorable part of a Bruce Springsteen fan in the singer's music video "Dancing in the Dark." She is paid $350 for Springsteen to pluck her from the audience at a concert and dance with her on stage.
In a commercial for Tampax tampons, Cox becomes the first person to use the word "period" in a biological sense on TV in the U.S. She also lands bit parts on TV shows, including As the World Turns and The Love Boat, before nabbing her first role in a major motion picture, Masters of the Universe, a live-action feature film based on a popular cartoon series.
Cox gets major exposure as Lauren Miller, the girlfriend of Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) on the wildly popular TV series Family Ties. Cox's role on the sitcom continues for two seasons.
In her first prominent role in a major movie, Cox stars in the drama Cocoon: The Return, sequel to the Ron Howard-directed hit Cocoon. The film costars Hollywood old-timers Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Don Ameche and Wilford Brimley.
Cox meets actor Michael Keaton after telling a mutual friend that she admired his work in the 1988 drama Clean and Sober. The two begin dating and the relationship lasts 5 ½ years. "It's the most important relationship I've ever had, and I think he's the most wonderful person I've ever met," Cox tells PEOPLE just months after the split.
Cox scores her first major box office smash with the comedy Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. She plays the love interest opposite a relative unknown by the name of Jim Carrey.
After playing Jerry Seinfeld's girlfriend on an episode of Seinfeld, Cox debuts in what will become her iconic role, Monica Gellar. Her character joins Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer on the NBC sitcom Friends about six twentysomething New Yorkers.
With a hit on her hands, the raven-haired pixie appears on the cover of PEOPLE's "50 Most Beautiful People" issue. "I only have to do three things to look halfway decent," Cox Arquette tells the magazine. "Curl my eyelashes, fill in my eyebrows and put some lipstick on."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): COURTESY COURTENEY COX; Paul Natkin/WireImage; INF; EVERETT; 20th Century FOX/Everett; Steve Granitz/WireImage; Warner Bros/Everett; Warner Bros.