Roberts' parents, Walter, a drama teacher, and Betty, a real estate agent, divorce when she is 4. While her father and older brother Eric remain in Atlanta, Roberts and her sister Lisa move to Smyrna, Ga., with their mom.
A budding thespian, Roberts – whose first onstage role was playing Elizabeth Dole in a mock election campaign at her school – graduates from Campbell High School in Smyrna. A few months later, Roberts moves to New York to pursue acting full time.
Roberts lands a part in her first movie, playing a hipster band member in the rock-musical Satisfaction. Though the film fails to satisfy critics, 19-year-old Roberts begins dating her costar Liam Neeson, 35. The pair move in together in Venice, Calif., but break up the next year.
The comedy Mystic Pizza, in which a 21-year-old Roberts plays a saucy, street-smart waitress, hits theatres. She is praised by critics and named one of PEOPLE's Newcomers of 1988. "The first time I felt famous was when I went to the movies with my mom. Someone in the bathroom said 'Girl in stall No. 1, were you in Mystic Pizza?' I paused and said, 'Yeah, that was me,'" she tells PEOPLE in 2002.
Roberts dumps Neeson to begin dating Dylan McDermott, who played her husband in the critically acclaimed Steel Magnolias. (Roberts later wins a Golden Globe and receives her first Oscar nomination for the film.) The camera-friendly pair is briefly engaged but break up in 1990.
The iconic romantic comedy Pretty Woman hits theatres, catapulting Roberts, who plays a warm-hearted call girl opposite Richard Gere, to the top of Hollywood's A-list. She is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar the following year.
Roberts moves in with Kiefer Sutherland, her costar in Flatliners. 'We're together all the time,'' she tells USA Today the following year. ''We work together; we're in love with each other. That's a life. You can't ask for more.'' The pair announce their wedding date through columnist Liz Smith a year later.
A 22-year-old Roberts is named one of PEOPLE's Most Beautiful People. "She's is a cross between Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball and Bambi," Garry Marshall, who directed her in Pretty Woman, tells PEOPLE. The following year, she makes the cover!
The day of her planned nuptials to Sutherland, Roberts, who backed out a few days before, flies to Dublin with a one-time Sutherland friend, actor Jason Patric. The two begin dating but break up in 1992.
After filming for Steven Speilberg's Hook wraps (she plays Tinkerbell), Roberts takes no acting roles for almost two years, other than a cameo appearance in Robert Altman's The Player (1992). In early 1993 she is the subject of a PEOPLE magazine cover story asking, "What Happened to Julia Roberts?"
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): REX USA; Classmates Yearbook Archives; Kobal Collection/Wireimage; Samuel Goldwyn/Everett; TriStar Pictures/Everett; Buena Vista/Everett; Kevin Winter/DMIPHOTO; Steve Granitz Archive/WireImage