Lionel Richie is taken by 3-year-old Nicole, a fixture at his concerts, and gets the approval of her birth parents to let her move in with him and his wife, Brenda. She is officially adopted six years later. "My parents were friends with Lionel," Nicole tells PEOPLE in 2003. "They trusted that they would be better able to provide for me." In 1986, she attends kindergarten at the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, Calif. with classmate Paris Hilton.
By 14, Richie uses fake IDs to sneak into clubs, honing her party-girl reputation. A few years later, she says to PEOPLE, "I experimented with drugs," and at 21, "I dabbled in heroin." After her graduation from Montclair, Richie decides to leave California behind to be a coed at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She studies arts and media, but eventually drops out, returning to L.A.
Richie, 21, is busted on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance and driving with a revoked license. "They found one balloon of heroin. It wasn't on me; it was in the car," she tells PEOPLE. She soon enters the Sierra Tucson drug rehab center in Arizona.
The fish-out-of-water reality series The Simple Life is originally conceived as a vehicle for Paris and her sister Nicky Hilton. When Nicky bows out, Richie steps in. Soon after she leaves rehab, Richie heads for the Ledings' farm in Altus, Ark., where she and Hilton are guests of the family and start filming their first season.
Richie and Hilton climb into a Winnebago in the first episode of The Simple Life's season two. "I've never been in a Winnebago before," Richie tells PEOPLE. "I've heard they're supposed to be spacey...I'm most concerned about the safety. I pray to God that Paris and I both take lessons to learn how to drive it before they just stick us in." The following season, a Greyhound bus takes Richie and Hilton on their next adventure in The Simple Life: Interns.
Richie–who has a new look and slimmer figure–becomes engaged to 32-year-old boyfriend Adam Goldstein (a.k.a. DJ AM). She sports a diamond and pink sapphire ring, and the couple moves to Hollywood Hills together. After a 10-month engagement, they split in December.
"Nicole has grown up a lot," a source tells PEOPLE, "and Paris is still being Paris." Adds Richie, "I will go to some parties and stuff, but I really just don't have time." In April, Hilton lobbies to replace Richie on The Simple Life with gal pal Kimberly Stewart. "I love her," Hilton tells PEOPLE, "but I want to do what's best for the show." Ultimately, FOX sticks with Richie. Later that year, Richie and Hilton, no longer on speaking terms, shoot The Simple Life 4 separately.
Richie's autobiographical novel, The Truth About Diamonds, hits bookstores. Although it's based in part on her life, Richie tells PEOPLE, "It's more exciting if you make things up."
After becoming the face of Jimmy Choo, Richie rekindles her romance with Goldstein in Los Cabos, Mexico. This time, it lasts only until May. After their second split, Richie and Goldstein once again remain best of friends. But Richie's new lifestyle – avoiding the nightlife scene – clashes with Goldstein's profession as a DJ.
Richie begins dating childhood friend Brody Jenner. Her dad, Lionel – a longtime friend of Brody's Olympic track star dad, Bruce, and songwriter mom, Linda Thompson – tells PEOPLE, "I was there when [Brody] was born! They grew up together. To see them together now is like, 'Where are you going with this?' But they're having a wonderful time." By fall, Richie and Jenner decide theirs is more friendship than romance.
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