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Why We Love Sarah Jessica Parker At 50

03/25/2015 02:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2015

An icon of our generation, according to High50's Alexa Baracaia, Sarah Jessica Parker, is 50 this week. While we'll never forget her as Carrie in the game-changing Sex and the City, she's moved on, filming a new TV show, Divorce

Let's be frank: unless the biggest cultural tipping point in your life was the 1979 Broadway staging of Annie, or you're a massive Footloose fan for whom Rusty Rodriguez really floated your boat, the main reason Sarah Jessica Parker is on your radar is Sex and the City.

This, however, is not a bad thing.

Call it what you will: taboo-busting celebration of turn-of-the-century female friendships and sexuality or shoe-slutty triviality at its anti-feminist worst. We can't help it. We will always heart SATC.

From its launch in 1998 through six years, 94 episodes (and two iffy films) the show had us in thrall to its ballsy, candid and unashamedly glossy vision of 30-something womanhood.

At the centre of it all was SJP's Carrie Bradshaw, the simultaneously mouse-like and spunky confessional columnist juggling her men, Marlboro Lights and Manolos against a Manhattan skyline, in a succession of increasingly covetable frocks and fripperies.

Was she the best female role model for a generation? Probably not so much, what with the tendency towards fatuous wittering and doe-eyed idiocy over a succession of crappy men. Did we want to be her? Ooh, yes. We certainly felt less guilty about lighting up outside the offices on a miserable grey day.

She Almost Didn't Do Sex And The City

It's odd now to think that Sarah Jessica Parker was nearly not ever Carrie, the role having first been offered to Desperate Housewives star Dana Delaney, who refused ("I didn't want to be in a show about sex"). And after shooting the pilot, Parker herself had second thoughts, confessing: "I felt like it was not the right fit."

But, having added a no-nudity clause to her contract (nary a Carrie boob on show), SJP signed up. Suddenly, the then 33-year-old Parker, a former stage school kid who trod the boards as Annie at 14 and enjoyed moderate success in movies such as Ed Wood and Honeymoon in Vegas, became a global icon.

Of course, many wrongly conflate Carrie with the actress who played her. Letters still pour in to her manager's office from viewers seeking relationship advice: "It's crazy," she says. "I have no more counsel than you would have. I only played the part!"

'People Say I'm A Style Icon'

Meanwhile, a life lived out in Joe DiMaggio-referencing knickerbockers and appliquéd flowers the size of her own head is not for the actress - a working mother of three - either.

"Carrie's clothes are not for the real world," she says. "You'd have to be a real narcissist to dress like that. I'm a bit simpler in what I like. And, while people say I'm a style icon, I'm really not."

Ditto. While the show smashed boundaries of on-screen female speech (remember the c-word episode?), Parker herself is entirely less bawdy: "If something is really vulgar, I have conversations with the writers where I say I'm not comfortable with that... I basically never cursed either."

So while we are all agreed that SJP is not, in fact, Carrie, can we agree that Carrie is only Carrie - and SATC only SATC - because of SJP?

And, with Parker joining the 50-club, talk a little bit about why we heart SJP as much as the show?

From Poverty In Ohio To Hollywood Star

By rights, she should be nauseating: a stage school brat turned Hollywood megastar whose own brand perfume line includes the biliously twee Lovely, Dawn, Endless and Twilight.

But we'll forgive her that, not least for fortitude in the face of idiocy (the misogynistic fools at Maxim once voted her 'unsexiest woman alive', to which she retorted: "Do I have big fake boobs, Botox and big lips? No.").

Then there is the fact that she slogged her way to the top: born the fourth of eight kids in Nelsonville, Ohio, she has since recalled a "Dickensian" childhood where electricity was scarce and Christmases were few.

Her love of the stage stemmed from visits to free matinee showings. Her mother - a schoolteacher divorced from her father, and whose second husband was frequently out of work - encouraged her acting talents. After Parker landed her first New York stage role aged 11 in The Innocents, directed by Harold Pinter, the entire family moved to New Jersey to help to further her career. From there she toured in The Sound of Music, before getting her big break as Annie on Broadway in 1979.

A Radical Transformation

The New York Times described her transformation from character actress - the skinny, frizzy-haired sidekick in 80s high school TV series Square Pegs - to Hollywood icon as: "One of the more radical transformations in the history of the American entertainment industry... that could be accurately classified under the heading Revenge of the Nerd."

By the time she landed the role of her lifetime, she had garnered plaudits for parts in LA Story alongside Steve Martin and as Nicholas Cage's fiancée in Honeymoon in Vegas, as well as wife of schlockmeister Ed Wood in Tim Burton's 1994 biopic.

A seven-year relationship with troubled Firstborn co-star Robert Downey Jr, a brief fling with Nicholas Cage and some high-profile dates with John F. Kennedy, Jr. also afforded her gossip column status that was sealed by the time she married Matthew Broderick in 1997.

The pair had their first son, James Wilkie, in 2002, and their twin daughters Marion Loretta and Tabitha were born via surrogate in 2009. That decision, made after years of trying to expand their family, sparked a tabloid furore, leading to the door-stepping of the surrogate mother and an Ohio police chief being convicted of stealing personal items from the woman to sell to freelance photographers.

Although usually favouring the avoid-and-ignore method of dealing with online comments, attacks on her family have been hard to bear. Parker recently spoke about being moved to respond to one tweet that questioned whether she was the mother of her daughters.

"I kept scrolling and then I was like, 'Wait a minute, did she just say that?' She, not subtly at all, said that my children are not my children. There have been a few - let's say half a dozen times - in my career when I have wanted to respond... But I wrote back, 'What? Like, is this fun?'"

Next For Sarah Jessica Parker: HBO's Divorce

Now, as the actress sips well-deserved cocktails on the beach in Turks and Caicos this week, where she and her brood are holidaying to mark Broderick's 53rd birthday - and, quite possibly, her own 50th - what's next for SJP?

There's her shoe line, inevitably enough, created with Manolo Blahnik CEO George Malkemus for the department store Nordstrom, and earlier this year she created her own design of the Fendi 3Baguette bag for charity.

But most exciting is her imminent return to HBO. A full decade after the end of SATC, SJP is bound for our TV screens as the exec producer and star of Divorce, a show penned by Sharon Horgan.

According to Deadline, "It tells the story of a very, very long divorce and will be filmed in New York, where Sarah Jessica Parker lives."

So. We have shoes, telly and NYC. Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose, as they say. Welcome to 50, SJP - we're with you on the ride.

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Sarah Jessica Parker Style Evolution