A true Scandi icon, you might know her from Helmut Newton's photographs, or starring in Rocky IV, but a few of these you might not have been so aware of...
Looking back at Brigitte Nielsen’s life, it’s safe to say that her journey has been quite extraordinary. The 60-year-old Danish model, actress and singer first took Hollywood by storm in the 1980s and remains one of the best-known Scandinavian names in the entertainment industry. As fabulous and fierce as ever, Nielsen appears in Vogue Scandinavia’s August/September 2022 issue donning scene-stealing fashion with an attitude that packs a real punch.
Nielsen, who was born and raised in Rødovre, Denmark, left her home in the Nordics at the age of 16, determined to pursue a successful career in modelling. The blonde model was captured by everyone from the likes of Helmut Newton to Greg Gorman and Herb Ritts, scoring work for the likes of Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani and Gianfranco Ferré. In her early twenties, Nielsen decided a little foray into film, and the budding actress’ big break arrived in 1985 when a then 22-year-old Nielsen was cast to star in blockbuster action flicks, Red Sonja and Rocky IV.
As Nielsen continues to live her life to the fullest stateside, Vogue Scandinavia sums up the things you might not know about this Nordic icon’s illustrious life and career thus far.
She speaks four languages fluently
In addition to her talent to perform in front of the camera, Nielsen’s linguistic skills have also aided her in scoring work, especially in Europe. Speaking English, Danish, Italian and German fluently, the actress has been able to appear in a host of popular European productions, most of them taking place in Italy and Germany.
Attending Trust in Fashion in London, 2011. Photo: Getty
She’s been modelling since 1980
As young Nielsen headed out to the world to pursue a career in modelling, acclaimed photographers were instantly mesmerised by her icy blonde hair and hazel eyes. Nielsen lived between New York, Paris, Milan and Berlin, appearing on luxury campaigns and fashion editorials, including gracing the pages of Vogue.
Although her work in the early 1980s included eminent designers such as Versace and Armani, Nielsen’s most significant modelling gigs came a bit later. Towards the end of the decade, she was captured by icons Helmut Newton and Herb Ritts in their stunning, sensual – and occasionally quirky – images.
She almost died in 2001
In October 2001, Nielsen was meant to board a plane from Milan to Copenhagen. However, she had to cancel her tickets due to an Italian TV show filming. The stars were aligned for Nielsen that day, as the plane she was meant to be on tragically crashed into a small aircraft at Linate Airport, killing all passengers and crew on both planes.
At Paris Fashion Week, 1990. Photo: Getty
She married Rocky in 1985
Although it was not her first marriage, Nielsen’s relationship with legendary actor Sylvester Stallone might just be her most famous one. The couple started dating during the filming of Rocky IV (Stallone played the opposite titular hero in the film) and swiftly tied the knot in December 1985. The duo’s whirlwind romance lasted almost two years, and they were one of the most photographed couples of the 1980s. The ex-couple reunited on the silver screen in 2018 when they filmed the sports drama film Creed II.
Brigitte Nielsen and Sylvester Stallone at the premiere of Rocky IV. Photo: Getty
She’s a very skilled singer
In 1987, the multi-faceted, highly ambitious Nielsen began pursuing another industry: music. The actress released her debut album Every Body Tells a Story and collaborated with Austrian pop star Falco in their duet Body Next to Body, which was the 6th most listened song in Austria that year. In 1989, Nielsen appeared in Michael Jackson’s Liberian Girl music video, and two years later, she released a follow-up album, I’m the One…Nobody Else.
Performing in Paris in 1987. Photo: Getty
And she’s even tried her hand at playing TV host
While throughout the 1990s, Nielsen kept acting in more under-the-radar films such as action-packed Body Count (1995) and sci-fi flick Galaxis (1995), she also began to branch out to television too. Hosting a Danish talk show series Gittes Venner (1997) signalled the start of Nielsen's career in European television, one that continued in Italy, where she hosted shows such as Retromarsh! (1997) and ...la sai l'ultima? (1999). At the turn of the century, Nielsen continued her appearances on Italian TV, and the 2010s saw Nielsen participate in Germany's hit dance TV show Let's Dance.
She became a mum at 54
Nielsen’s four sons from her previous marriages received the news in 2018 that their long-anticipated baby sister Frida arrived. Dubbed as a “miracle child” by Nielsen, who gave birth at 54, Frida is her first child with her husband Mattia Dessi. The couple had been trying to get pregnant for over a decade, and after succeeding, Nielsen said that she had never felt more prepared to have a child. “I get a lot of letters and emails from women, so excited that I’ve given them the courage,” Nielsen told The Guardian. “Some find it ridiculous, some find it awful, and some love it. I don’t really think it’s anyone’s business. It’s my husband and my life and we love what we do.”
She is an avid animal rights activist
In 2013, Nielsen appeared in PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) Germany’s anti-fur ad, donning nothing but her striking self. Nielsen is known to stand proudly against animal cruelty, and in 2014 she appealed to Denmark’s Minister of Defense on PETA’s behalf, urging him to end the shooting and killing of animals in military trauma training excersises. Forever a dog person, Nielsen’s pets include two rescue dogs, Joker and Betsey, who follow their loving owner everywhere she goes, including trips abroad.