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Julia Roberts

Debuted on April 22, 2001

A box-office queen hits her stride

Julia Roberts seduced audiences along with Richard Gere in the 1990 movie "Pretty Woman."

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(CNN) -- She's a dazzling beauty who stands tall with an Oscar that cements her place as the reigning queen of Hollywood. A woman who seemingly has everything, Julia Roberts inspires strong reactions.

But fans and movie critics alike can agree on one thing -- Roberts is at the top of her game in Hollywood, and no one is going to stop her. Her dazzling teeth, famous smile, loose laugh and the uncanny ability to look like she's always having the time of her life have charmed everyone from producers to the public on and off the big screen.

"There's something too magical in her to ignore," said "Good Morning America" co-host Diane Sawyer. She has "something singular and some radiance that can only come from inside."

Part of her appeal comes from her storybook success. A girl from Georgia captures hearts in Hollywood. There is tragedy, love and glory. And no one knows how it will end.

Roberts is queen of the box office. Eight of her films have grossed more than $100 million each, and she's the first actress to command a $20 million paycheck per picture. Her box-office prowess gets tested once again when her latest comedy, "America's Sweethearts," opens this summer.

Not only does she command the big bucks, but she also reigns with power. The March issue of Forbes magazine ranked Roberts first among the female actors on its celebrity power list. The ranking system combines a star's monetary worth with Internet popularity, press clippings, magazine covers and TV and radio mentions.

"Julia Roberts, of course, is this powerful businesswoman. She's a person with an awful lot of clout in Hollywood," said Robert Thompson, professor of film, television and popular culture at New York's Syracuse University.

Power, money and respect

So far, Roberts has spent most of 2001 walking down red carpets. She won Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards and the most coveted golden statuette in Hollywood, an Oscar, for her performance in "Erin Brockovich."

"I love the world," Roberts, who played a feisty mom and legal aide, said in her four-minute Oscar acceptance speech during which she thanked "everyone I've ever met in my life."

Her co-workers and directors praise her character and her acting ability. "To go to work every day on 'Erin Brockovich,' " said director Steven Soderbergh, "and see someone with so much talent comport themselves with such grace and such wit and such generosity of spirit was not only instructive but inspiring."

Unfortunately, fame comes with a downside. Her romantic relationships are always under heavy scrutiny by peers and the press.

"People are welcome to know as much as they wish to know," Roberts said, "as long as they want to be honest about it and also respect the fact that we don't sit and ask them, 'What's your life like? Are you married? Where do you live? What do you do? What makes you guys happy?' I only ask that of my best friends."

A childhood in Georgia

Roberts picked up an Oscar for her role as a tough-talking legal aide in last year's "Erin Brockovich."  

Julia Fiona Roberts was born October 28, 1967, the youngest of three children to Walter and Betty Roberts. Her parents ran a writing and acting workshop out of their two-story house in Atlanta.

"The only thing my father ever directly said to me about acting was, 'Don't ever say anything unless it means something,' " Roberts said.

The acting studio failed despite years of effort, according to biographer Joyce Wagner. "I think it was a great dream, but I think it turned into a financial nightmare," Wagner said. "They were always hard-pressed for money."

When Roberts was 4, her parents divorced. Her mother remarried, and she and her two daughters moved to Smyrna, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb.

In 1977, when Roberts was still a child, her father died of lung cancer, although he reportedly never smoked. He was 47.

During a televised workshop for the Actor's Studio, Roberts shared her childhood loss. "I think a lot of the hardship and heartache that comes with events such as divorce and losing a parent were really eased by my sister being there for me," she said.

Roberts said it was her sister, Lisa, who is two years older, who provided her with love, support and counsel through her teen years.

Roberts attended Campbell High School in Smyrna. Her American literature teacher Keith Gossett recalled, "The most incredible day with Julia was the first time I heard her laughing. ... It was the giggle and the snort -- that is totally natural."

She made a lasting impression on others, but it was in the high school library where Roberts began her longest love affair -- with literature. Walt Whitman, she said, is one of her favorites.

Recently when asked by Oprah Winfrey what was on her home bookshelf, Roberts answered with a wide range of novelists, including William Faulkner, Thomas Hardy, Carson McCullers and Anita Diamant.

But Roberts didn't spend all her time with books. She also played on the high school tennis team. There were no drama classes offered at her school, but she did play the part of Elizabeth Dole in a mock election campaign and joined in when her English class acted out Shakespearean plays.

Nevertheless, she couldn't resist the lure of the family business. At age 17, the recent high school graduate moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting. By this time, older brother Eric was a well-known actor, appearing in movies like "Runaway Train," "Star 80" and "King of the Gypsies."

A movie star in the making

Roberts played Sally Field's daughter in the 1989 film "Steel Magnolias."  

Within two years and after some bit parts, Roberts landed a role in the low-budget movie "Satisfaction," the story of an all-female rock group starring Justine Bateman.

Roberts' manager claimed she could play the drums. This was not true, but Roberts managed to learn to play bass guitar. The movie closed soon after it opened, but there was an upside to her involvement in this project.

"Satisfaction" producer Alan Greisman was then married to Sally Field, who soon became a mentor to Roberts. A year after "Satisfaction," Field pushed to get Roberts into the cast of "Steel Magnolias."

After her success as a dying young woman in "Magnolias," the then-21-year-old actress landed the role of a charming hooker in the romantic comedy "Pretty Woman." For this star-making part, she received $300,000, a pittance compared with her future movie salaries.

"Julia is a cross between Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball and Bambi," said "Pretty Woman" director Garry Marshall in a People magazine interview.

Moviegoers poured into theaters to see "Pretty Woman." In its first four weeks, it made more than $150 million and became the highest-grossing movie of 1990. Roberts received a best actress Oscar nomination for the part. She had previously been nominated for her supporting role in "Steel Magnolias."

Her career took off. In 1991, she starred as Tinkerbell in Steven Spielberg's "Hook." After a sabbatical, she returned to the screen in "The Pelican Brief" in 1993. Although known for her comic roles, Roberts accepted a dramatic part in the 1996 film "Mary Reilly," the story of a poor maid working in Dr. Jekyll's house.

After some of her movies fizzled at the box office, Roberts starred in the 1997 hit comedy, "My Best Friend"s Wedding," and the 1999 smashes "Notting Hill" and "Runaway Bride."

Roberts' private life has sometimes drawn even more attention than her movies. Over the years, her boyfriends have included Hollywood headliners such as Liam Neeson, Dylan McDermott, Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Daniel Day-Lewis and Matthew Perry. Her well-publicized engagement to Sutherland ended in 1991 when she called off a lavish wedding days before it was scheduled. She surprised fans when she married singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett in 1993. The marriage lasted less than two years.

More recently, Roberts parted ways with actor Benjamin Bratt after a four-year relationship. As usual, the star tried to maintain her privacy in the face of the tabloids' frenzied interest.

At 33, Roberts may not be able to tame the curiosity of the press, but she does seem to feel more at ease with her personal and public lives.

"I can accept the things that come with being famous. And I really love my job so I accept the other elements that come along with it," she said.

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