"She was fairly quiet," investment analyst Jon Fellows, who claims to have shared Richards' first kiss in seventh grade, tells PEOPLE. "You wouldn't have thought she would become a star." But by high school, when Richards' family moves to Oceanside, Calif., the skinny kid with the glasses emerges from her shell and starts working part-time as a model. She moves to L.A. after graduating high school in 1989, where she spends years staying afloat with bit parts on television shows including Saved by the Bell, Married With Children and Beverly Hills, 90210.
Richards lands a lead movie role as futuristic fighter pilot Carmen Ibanez in the box-office dud turned cult classic Starship Troopers. "It was not my best performance," she bluntly tells EW in 1998. "I had this smile plastered on my face throughout the whole movie. I was so annoying."
"Men love to see women together," Richards says to Entertainment Weekly. "Why is that? Explain it to me." She's talking about her saucy role in Wild Things, specifically her infamous threesome scene with Neve Campbell and Matt Dillon that turns her into a major sex symbol. "[My parents] definitely want to see the movie," she adds, "but I don't want my dad to see my breasts. I'm just hoping he'll cover his eyes."
As nuclear physicist Christmas Jones, Richards joins the long legacy of Bond Girls in the 19th 007 film, The World Is Not Enough, opposite Pierce Brosnan's Bond. "That's what is so fun about being a Bond girl – the names. I'm very happy with mine," Richards tells PEOPLE. "I think my name is one of the more innocent ones you can have as a Bond girl."
Richards appears in the first of her four-episode guest spots on the sitcom Spin City, starring Heather Locklear and Charlie Sheen. Although she previously met Sheen while filming the comedy Good Advice in 2000, sparks fly during this recent encounter. "You'd walk by and in a little corner they'd be kissing, so it was pretty obvious," Locklear tells PEOPLE in 2002.
In front of 85 friends and relatives, Richards and Sheen tie the knot in an outdoor wedding at the Brentwood estate of Spin City creator Gary David Goldberg. During the ceremony, the celebrant Rev. Michael Kennedy refers to the couple as Nellie and Pip, the nicknames they call each other. "She was laughing so hard," Locklear, who came with her husband, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, tells PEOPLE. "She said, 'You are so cute, Pip!' It broke the seriousness of it all." The couple's dance to Journey's "Open Arms" before launching into an elegant dance routine choreographed by Fame star Debbie Allen.
Parodying the movie Signs in Scary Movie 3, Sheen – in the Mel Gibson role – and Richards appear as a farmer and his wife whose cornfields are suddenly overcome with a mysterious appearance of crop circles. Richards is killed when she is pinned to a tree by a truck.
Going into contractions the night before her scheduled C-section, Richards rushes to a Tarzana, Calif., hospital, where she gives birth to a baby girl named Sam. Throughout the pregnancy, Richards indulges her cravings and refuses to step on the scale. "After I hit the 10 lb. mark," she tells PEOPLE, "I didn't want to know.
Richards appears nude in a photo spread for the December issue of Playboy Magazine. The pictures are shot in the Bahamas in August, just months after Richards delivers Sam. "[Sheen] was very supportive," Richards tells USA Today, noting that he helped her pick the final photos. "Charlie's been a Playboy fan for years." To lose the baby weight in time for the shoot, Richards goes on the Zone diet and hires a trainer for daily cardio workouts.
Six months pregnant with her second child, Richards surprises the couple's family and friends by filing for divorce from Sheen. She cites irreconcilable differences and asks for legal and physical custody of Sam and their unborn child. Sheen's rep issues a statement denying reports that Richards ended the relationship due to his client's misbehavior. "He did not cheat. He did not have a relapse. There is no scandal. He is not going into rehab," Stan Rosenfeld tells PEOPLE. "Sometimes marriages don't work."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): CLASSMATES YEARBOOK ARCHIVES; Everett Collection; WENN; GLOBE; Everett Collection, inset: BEImages; ERIC CHARBONNEAU/BEIMAGES