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Jessica Simpson recalls taking diet pills to lose weight at the direction of a music exec: 'I was down to 103 pounds'

Suzy Byrne
·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
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Jessica Simpson’s weight struggles have been well-documented, but for the first time she’s admitting that she relied on diet pills to stay trim — and started taking them when after a music executive told her she was overweight.

In yet another excerpt from her upcoming memoir, Open Book, Simpson recounts meeting then-Sony Music Entertainment honcho Tommy Mottola when she was a 17-year-old aspiring singer. She said he “wanted to sign me,” which she was over the moon about. "And then he said, 'You gotta lose 15 pounds.'"

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 07:  Jessica Simpson takes photos and hosts army wives and kids for a spring style event in Dillards at The Mall at Green Hills on April 7, 2018 in Nashville, Tennesse  (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for  Jessica Simpson Collection )
Jessica Simpson says she took diet pills for 20 years after a music exec told her she was overweight as a 17-year-old aspiring singer. (Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images for Jessica Simpson Collection )

Simpson, who hadn’t yet graduated high school, recalled thinking, "What? I was five-foot-three and weighed 118." She said star maker Mottola told her, "That's what it will take to be Jessica Simpson."

Hoping he would help her the way he did superstars Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Jennifer Lopez, Simpson said she "immediately went on a strict diet, and started taking diet pills, which I would do for the next 20 years,” meaning she finally stopped taking them some time after going into recovery for alcohol and pill addiction in November 2017.

While Simpson did drop the weight she was asked to shed, she was starving. It also was harmful to her self-image, resulting in her calling herself horrible names.

Jessica Simpson (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Here's Jessica Simpson in 1999 — two years after she started taking diet pills to keep her weight at 103 pounds. (Photo: KMazur/WireImage)

"I started to hear voices when I was alone at night, waiting for the sleeping pill to kick in: 'Do more sit-ups, fat ass,’” she remembered thinking. "By the time we got to the release of my second album's first single, 'Irresistible,' I was down to 103 pounds. Everyone went on about how great I looked, but I couldn't enjoy it because I was so freaking hungry."

Simpson said another directive of the label was to "show more skin."

Yahoo’s attempts to reach Mottola, who now heads Mottola Media Group, were not immediately successful.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Tommy Mottola Honored With A Star On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame on October 10, 2019 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
Tommy Mottola being honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in October. (Photo: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)

In a 2009 Vanity Fair story about Simpson, both Mottola and Simpson spoke about their initial meeting. It took place in July 1997 — and Simpson said she was excited not just to potentially ink her first major record deal but because Mottola was married to Carey, who was one of her favorite artists. (Mottola and Carey had a bitter split the next year. In his 2013 memoir, he apologized to Carey for being “controlling” and “obsessive” toward her but said, it was “part of the reason for her success.”) The music exec didn’t hide that Simpson’s looks played a part in signing her to Sony’s Columbia division.

“She had a great little look and a great attitude, a fresh new face, and something a bit different than Britney [Spears] and all of them,” he told the magazine. “She could actually sing.”

The VF article also makes it clear why Simpson kept secretly popping diet pills for two decades. The article was all about whether she could reinvent herself after two boxoffice flops, an unpopular country music album — and especially after being photographed looking “fat” in mom jeans. The writer talked about it being a “danger sign” that pictures “turned up in the tabloids” that showed “the starlet, onstage, looking less than slender, holding the microphone like a turkey leg, and wearing” the jeans she was mercilessly ridiculed for. (Fun fact: The jeans were a size 4.)

PEMBROKE PINES, FL - JANUARY 25:  Singer Jessica Simpson performs at the 99.9 Kiss Country 24th Annual Chili Cook Off at CB Smith Park on January 25, 2009 in Pembroke Pines, Florida. (Photo by Logan Fazio/Getty Images)
Jessica Simpson performs at the 99.9 Kiss Country 24th Annual Chili Cook Off at CB Smith Park on January 25, 2009 in Pembroke Pines, Fla. (Photo: Logan Fazio/Getty Images)

The interviewer went on to describe Simpson — who details in her memoir how she became addicted to alcohol by using it to mask her anxiety — as “nervous” saying her “hands trembled” and detailed how “she ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio. It seemed to calm her. She didn’t want to talk about her weight, so, of course, that’s all I could think of — it gilded each question in my mind: What are you working on now [that you’re fat]? Do you see yourself as part of a class, with Christina and Britney [or are you too fat]?”

The interviewer also noted Simpson’s “extra pounds had gone back to wherever they came from, existing only in a few dated pictures on the Internet. Jessica was skinny again.”

Simpson’s weight struggles have been a narrative throughout her career. Her body was celebrated when she rocked those “Daisy Dukes” in the 2005 film The Dukes of Hazzard, but she was mercilessly ridiculed as well. Now a fashion mogul, Simpson always credited diet and exercise, with her long-time trainer Harley Pasternak, never revealing that she used diet pills as a crutch all that time.

Simpson also served as a Weight Watchers spokeswoman, using the program after having her first two children in 2012 and 2013. After the birth of daughter Birdie in 2019, Simpson lost an amazing 100 pounds in six months working out with Pasternak, going from 240 pounds to 140.

Open Book will be out on Feb. 4 and it’s already clear that it’s filled with some truth bombs. Simpson also recorded the audiobook as well as new music that is inspired by her memoir.

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