When towering Danish superstar Brigitte Nielsen had her fifth child, it marked the end of an incredible journey. For a while, it had not seemed likely that Nielsen and husband Mattia Dessi would be adding to their family. However, the birth of daughter Frida crowned their love for each other.
Nielsen gained fame first as a model and then as an actress and singer. This may well have seemed unlikely when she was a child in Copenhagen. That’s because her height, which would see her top six feet as an adult, brought with it scoliosis and legs of unequal lengths.
However, the stick-thin girl that other kids nicknamed “the giraffe” caught the eye of a scout, which led to her becoming a model. Nielsen soon became a favorite of fashion designer Helmut Lang. And the late 1980s would see her grace the cover of Playboy magazine and pose as a real-life She-Hulk for Marvel Comics.
It wasn’t all fun, though. On one occasion in the Seychelles, Nielsen was taken hostage by gun-toting insurgent soldiers attempting to take over the country. She was among 41 prisoners imprisoned for half a day in a tiny room at the airport before armed forces managed to set her and the other captives free.
It had been agent John Casablancas who had helped Nielsen into the limelight. He had shaped her look: with hair cropped short and bleached white, she cut a striking figure. And it wasn’t too long before she caught the eye of filmmaker Dino de Laurentiis, who cast her in the role that would catapult her into fame.
In Red Sonja, Nielsen stars opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in the title role, based on a Marvel character. Unfortunately for Nielsen, critics did not receive the film very warmly, and Schwarzenegger would claim that it was his “worst film.” However, this did not prevent her from making an approach to Hollywood star Sylvester Stallone.
It seems that Stallone was impressed by the photo that she sent him. As a consequence, Nielsen found herself married to the star within 12 months. However, it didn’t work out well, and she would later describe it to newspaper The Guardian as a “horrible marriage.” In the same 2019 interview it was claimed the Rocky actor often preferred the company of his bodyguards to the tall Dane.
However, getting married to Stallone did have its benefits, not least a role in Rocky IV. In that film, Nielsen played Ludmilla Drago, spouse of Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan, the villain. Ludmilla was supposedly a former Olympic swimmer, and Brigitte certainly looked the part. The 1985 movie proved a huge success, pulling in more than any previous sports-based film to date.
Nielsen had been no stranger to marriage before that. Indeed, she had been married when she had seduced Stallone. In 1983 she had wed Kasper Winding, a composer. And she had not long had her first child, Julian, with him before she left him. After divorce from Stallone, she would marry three more times.
In 1990 Nielsen wed Sebastian Copeland, a photographer and director. However, it didn’t last long, and by 1993 the Danish actor had moved on to husband number four Raoul Meyer. They stayed together for a dozen years, although that marriage too ended, and she became free to marry husband number five, Dessi.
Before marrying Copeland, Nielsen had been engaged to footballer Mark Gastineau. Together, they had had a son Killian. And Nielsen was to go on to have two more boys, Douglas and Raoul, Jr., with Meyer. With this male brood, it may not be a surprise that she told People magazine in June 2018 that she had “always wanted that girl.”
Meanwhile, although these years may have seen ups and downs romantically for Nielsen, as far as her Hollywood career went, they were all down. It seemed that there was a lack of decent roles for the statuesque Dane, perhaps because she was simply too tall for the average co-star. “Everyone looks at you as a villain,” she told The Guardian.
On top of that, Nielsen felt that more sinister forces might have been at play. After her marriage to Stallone had fallen apart, she claimed that she had found herself shut out. She told The Guardian, “After I left Sylvester, I kind of felt like I was blacklisted for a long time.”
However, Nielsen’s career had not completely ended. A move to Europe saw her work as a singer, and she found roles that she actually felt good about. Not least of those was as Strega Nera, the Black Witch, in the Fantaghirò series of films, which proved a hit on Italian TV.
Despite this relative success, Nielsen started to drink heavily while married to Meyer. Things became so bad for her, she took an overdose. In February 2019 she explained how she had felt to The Guardian. She said, “You don’t really want to die, but in that moment, you are so far out, you are literally ill, and you are drowning.”
Nielsen’s parenting also suffered while she was in the grip of alcoholism. In May 2018 she told People magazine about its effect. She said, “I’ve been a bad mum at times – when you take the bottle over your kids, you’re a bad mum.” Despite the drinking, though, she claimed that she had retained a “close bond” with the boys.
The 2000s saw Nielsen begin a new career, as a star of reality TV. She made appearances in all sorts of shows, from Danish Big Brother VIP to Celebrity Rehab and the U.K.’s version of Celebrity Big Brother. It seemed that nothing was out of bounds: From Old To New saw her have tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of cosmetic surgery on camera.
By 2005, Nielsen felt that she had “reached rock bottom.” In 2012 she told the Daily Mail, “Booze turned me into a bad mother, an ugly, depressed woman and a complete loser.” However, it was her drinking that was to lead to a surprising twist in her romantic tale in that year.
While in a bar in Italy, drinking cocktails, Nielsen got talking to the bartender. Despite the circumstances of their meeting, the mixologist – Mattia Dessi – turned out to be her “salvation.” Indeed, he would become husband number five, the man to whom Nielsen is still married to today and father of her fifth child.
That may have all seemed a bit unlikely at the time, as Nielsen acknowledged to The Guardian. She said, “Everybody was laughing in a bad way at us, because he was 25 and I was almost 40, so I was a joke. It’s always the woman that has to pay for the jokes.”
Be that as it may, Nielsen herself had little doubt about Dessi. It seems that she fairly quickly saw him as a father for a future child. She prepared for the eventuality by freezing some eggs so that they could try IVF. However, the reality TV star recognized that she had been close to the natural time limit for IVF, since she was already in her 40s.
Nielsen explained the whole thing to People magazine. She said in July 2018, “If you don’t want to use [donor] eggs, you have to preserve your own eggs at a reasonable age for there to be a possibility.” She continued, “I wouldn’t even bother trying after age 42.” And that possibility was not high.
Indeed, doctors candidly told Nielsen that her chances of conceiving would be low. It turned out that she only had a one in 40 hope of having another baby. That’s because after age 42 your odds of getting pregnant by IVF fall dramatically. Still, Nielsen felt that it was worth trying. As she later told the Daily Mail, “Someone has to win the lottery.”
In IVF, eggs are harvested from the ovaries and then taken into a lab. There sperm fertilizes them if all goes well. Next, the embryo – or embryos if more than one fertilized egg is available – are put into the uterus. The procedure – called a cycle – takes roughly a fortnight.
Nielsen had first considered doing IVF at the age of 45. In 2008, she had told Hello! magazine that she wanted to give it a go. She said, “It’s asking a lot, but if it’s possible, it would make our package complete.” However, far from a quick process over in a fortnight, it would take Nielsen about a decade to get pregnant.
Nielsen told People about the journey upon which she had embarked. She said, “There is a huge disappointment.” And she explained why, saying, “If you do IVF, 80 percent of the time, it doesn’t work. It’s that phone call going, ‘It’s negative.’ It’s the waiting. It’s a lot. It’s a big, big journey.”
What is more, the process involved a hefty financial commitment, as Nielsen explained. She said, “Another thing is it is expensive. It doesn’t come easy or cheap if you do it my way. I want people to know that.” In fact, on average, one cycle alone will set you back $12,000, and that doesn’t include the medication required.
Nielsen talked about how isolating the experience had been. She told news website IOL, “I think at times you can feel lonely, because a lot of women don’t talk to each other about it. We should hold hands because there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a baby whether you’re 20, you’re 30, you’re 40 or, in my case, 50.”
Nielsen told The Guardian in February 2019 that trying to conceive had been really difficult. She said, “You’re on a lot of medication… Hormones will do different things to different women … you always think you’re going to get pregnant, but most of the time, the phone call comes and it’s: ‘I’m sorry.’ It is devastating.”
The determined star emphasized the importance of support from your significant other. She told The Guardian, “The partner you’re with has to be on board as much as you, unless you’re a woman who wants to have a baby on your own. You have to stay realistic and, if you’re older, the odds are against you.”
Despite the trials of undergoing IVF, Nielsen remained adamant that she would not give up. She explained to The Guardian, “I was always like: ‘I want to do it until there are no more embryos left.’” Finally, the procedure would bear fruit, but the star did not share the news with the world at first.
In fact, Nielsen only made news of her upcoming birth public three weeks before it happened. She had even kept the pregnancy a secret from her mom, telling her no earlier than 27 weeks in. You see, her doctor had advised her to keep news of the baby that she was carrying to herself until then.
If you have seen the movie Creed II, in which Nielsen brings Ludmilla Drago back to the screen, you won’t have realized that she was pregnant at the time. The director had to shoot scenes that featured her without revealing the baby bump. However, there was no hiding it when she told Instagram, “family getting larger.”
After that surprise, fans did not have long to wait. Nielsen announced in June 2018, “We are overjoyed to welcome our beautiful daughter into our lives. It’s been a long road, and so worth it. We’ve never been more in love.” Her daughter Frida weighed in at 5 lbs 9 oz.
Certainly, Nielsen feels fiercely protective of Frida already, particularly when she thinks about social media. As she told The Guardian, “I’m going to really have to protect her.” And she’s already thinking of the future. She said, “You see a lot of solitude and loneliness … I want to empower her. I want her to travel, and have responsibilities; a little bit of the upbringing I had.”
Meanwhile, Nielsen has a strong answer for those who might claim she’s too old to be a new mother. She explained to The Guardian, “When people say you were 54 – yeah, well, what about all the men who are in their 60s, 70s, 80s?” And she had an example to hand: Jeff Goldblum is 64 but recently had his second son. She said, “I saw Jeff Goldblum recently, and I said: ‘Jeff! How are you doing, old daddy?’”
And talking of fathers, how does the new papa feel about Frida? Nielsen told IOL, “It [is] his first baby and we are very much in love. We are very happy.” It seems that after years of upheaval in her romantic life, the new mom might have found a man with whom she can find real happiness. She said, “We have a solid relationship. We are celebrating, or we have already – 14 years together.”
After the announcement of Frida’s birth, Nielsen received lots of support. Brigitte told The Guardian, “I get a lot of letters and emails from women, so excited that I’ve given them the courage.” Some of the media reacted quite harshly, but that didn’t upset her too much. She said, “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.”
The future certainly looks bright for Nielsen. She even has hopes that Hollywood might come knocking again. She explained to The Guardian, “What’s good for me now is that the Marvel Universe is open to a lot of things, so I fit right in.” And who knows, perhaps she might even be seen in a familiar role. She said, “And they’re redoing Red Sonja.”
Ultimately, the contentment that has sometimes eluded Nielsen seems finally to have come into her life. “I wonder why this all happens now,” she said. “I think the reason is I’ve been doing very well for years now, psychologically and physically. I wish I’d always been like this – but better late than never.”