Jenny McCarthy

Jenny McCarthy (b. 1972) is an American model, actress, author, and activist. She began her career in 1993 as a nude model for ‘Playboy’ magazine and was later named their Playmate of the Year. McCarthy then parlayed her ‘Playboy’ fame into a television and film acting career.

More recently, she has written books about parenting, and has become an activist promoting research into environmental causes, and alternative medical treatments for autism. She has claimed that vaccines cause autism and that chelation therapy helped cure her son of autism. Both claims are controversial and unsupported by any medical evidence. Additionally, her son’s autism diagnosis is disputed.

McCarthy was born in Evergreen Park, Illinois, to a working-class Catholic family, and has Irish, German, and Polish ancestry. She lived in the West Elsdon neighborhood of Chicago. She is the second of four daughters; her sisters are named Lynette, Joanne, and Amy (who has also posed for ‘Playboy’). Her cousin is Academy Award-nominated actress Melissa McCarthy. As a teenager, McCarthy attended Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School (whose school sweater she donned in the pages of ‘Playboy’); she has referred to herself as an ‘outcast’ at school and has described how she was repeatedly bullied by classmates.

‘Playboy’ offered McCarthy $20,000 to pose for an issue. McCarthy became the ‘Playmate of the Month’ for October 1993. Hugh Hefner cites McCarthy’s ‘wholesome Catholic girl’ persona as the unique quality for which she was selected out of 10,000 applicants. Her layout emphasized her Catholic upbringing with a schoolgirl theme. According to McCarthy, the pictorial caused an uproar in her Catholic neighborhood, and resulted in her house being pelted with eggs, her sisters being taunted at school, and McCarthy, who counted Catholic nuns among her aunts, being lectured about her future damnation by those close to her. McCarthy was later made the ‘Playmate of the Year,’ and was paid a $100,000 salary. In 1994, because of her newfound public attention, McCarthy moved to Los Angeles and, for a time, hosted ‘Hot Rocks,’ a Playboy TV show featuring uncensored music videos.

She left Playboy TV in 1995, when MTV chose McCarthy to be the host of a new dating show called ‘Singled Out.’ Her job as a host was a success, and Playboy wanted her to do more modeling. That same year, she also appeared at WrestleMania XI as a guest valet for villain Shawn Michaels, who faced heroic WWF Champion, Diesel. She left after the match with the victor, Diesel. (McCarthy returned to World Wrestling Entertainment on a 2008 edition of ‘Saturday Night’s Main Event’ to thank the fans for supporting ‘Generation Rescue,’ an autism advocacy organization). In 1997, she launched two shows: an MTV sketch comedy program called ‘The Jenny McCarthy Show,’ which was sufficiently popular for NBC to sign her for an eponymous sitcom later that year, ‘Jenny.’ The latter show is generally considered a disappointment and was quickly canceled. Also in 1997, she appeared on one of two covers for the September issue of ‘Playboy’ (the other cover featured Pamela Anderson). McCarthy also released an autobiography: ‘Jen-X: Jenny McCarthy’s Open Book.’

In 1998, McCarthy’s first major movie role was alongside Trey Parker and Matt Stone in the comedy ‘BASEketball.’ The following year, she starred in ‘Diamonds,’ a movie which was directed by her then-husband John Mallory Asher. In 2000, she had a role in the horror movie ‘Scream 3,’ and three years later she parodied that role in horror film spoof ‘Scary Movie 3’ along with fellow Playmate and actress Pamela Anderson. In 2005, McCarthy produced, wrote, and starred in the movie ‘Dirty Love,’ where she was again directed John Asher (the film won several ‘Razzies’).

McCarthy dated manager Ray Manzella from 1994 until 1998. McCarthy began dating actor/director John Mallory Asher late in 1998. The couple married in 1999 and had a son, Evan Joseph, three years later, who was diagnosed with autism in 2005. (McCarthy and Asher divorced later that year). In December 2005, McCarthy began dating actor Jim Carrey. They did not make their relationship public until June 2006. She announced on ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ on April 2, 2008 that she and Carrey were living together, but had no plans to marry, as they did not need a ‘piece of paper.’ The couple split in 2010. In 2012, McCarthy briefly dated linebacker Brian Urlacher. She is currently dating Donnie Wahlberg.

In May 2007, McCarthy announced that her son Evan had been diagnosed with autism. Before claiming that her son’s autism was caused by vaccination, McCarthy wrote that he was gifted, a ‘crystal child,’ and she an ‘indigo mom.’ Evan’s disorder began with seizures and his improvement occurred after the seizures were treated, symptoms experts have noted are more consistent with Landau–Kleffner syndrome, often misdiagnosed as autism. McCarthy served as a spokesperson for ‘Talk About Curing Autism’ (TACA) from June 2007 until October 2008. She participated in fundraisers, online chats, and other activities for the non-profit organization to help families affected by autism spectrum disorders. She is a prominent spokesperson and activist for the ‘Generation Rescue’ foundation, which advocates the view that autism and related disorders are primarily caused by environmental factors, particularly vaccines.

McCarthy’s book on the subject, ‘Louder than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism,’ was published in 2007. She stated both in her book and during her appearance on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ that her husband was unable to deal with their son’s autism, which led to their divorce. In 2008, she appeared on a ‘Larry King Live’ special dedicated to the subject, and argued that vaccines can trigger autism. In a 2010 PBS ‘Frontline’ documentary, she was interviewed about the controversy between vaccine opponents and public health experts.

In addition to conventional, intensive Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy, McCarthy tried a gluten-free and casein-free diet, hyperbaric oxygen chambers, chelation, aromatherapies, electromagnetics, spoons rubbed on his body, multivitamin therapy, B-12 shots, and numerous prescription drugs. ‘Try everything,’ she advises parents, ‘It was amazing to watch, over the course of doing this, how certain therapies work for certain kids and they completely don’t work for others … When something didn’t work for Evan, I didn’t stop. I stopped that treatment, but I didn’t stop.’ McCarthy has stated on talk shows and at rallies that chelation therapy helped her son recover from autism. The underlying rationale for chelation, the speculation that mercury in vaccines causes autism, has been roundly rejected by scientific studies, with the National Institute of Mental Health concluding that children with autism are unlikely to receive any benefit to balance the risks of heart attack, stroke and cardiac arrest posed by the chelating agents used in the treatment.

McCarthy’s public presence, and vocal activism on the vaccination-autism controversy, led, in 2008, to her being awarded The James Randi Educational Foundation’s ‘Pigasus Award,’ which is a tongue-in-cheek award granted for contributions to pseudoscience, for the ‘Performer Who Has Fooled The Greatest Number of People with The Least Amount of Effort’. Randi stated in a video on the JREF’s website that he did sympathize with the plight of McCarthy and her child, but admonished her for using her public presence in a way that may discourage parents from having their own children vaccinated.

McCarthy’s claims that vaccines cause autism are not supported by any medical evidence, and the original paper by Andrew Wakefield that formed the basis for the claims (and for whose book McCarthy wrote a foreword) has been shown to be based on manipulated data and fraudulent research. The ‘British Medial Journal’ published a 2011 article by journalist Brian Deer, based on information uncovered by Freedom of Information legislation after the British General Medical Council (GMC) inquiry into allegations of misconduct against Wakefield that led to him being struck-off from the medical register (unable to practice medicine in the UK) and his articles retracted, stating that Wakefield had planned a venture to profit from the MMR vaccine scare.

Parental concerns over vaccines have led to decreased immunization rates and increased incidence of measles, a highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease and whooping cough. Neil Cameron, a historian who specializes in the history of science, writing for ‘The Montreal Gazette’ labeled the controversy a ‘failure of journalism’ that resulted in unnecessary deaths, saying that ‘The Lancet’ should not have published a study based on ‘statistically meaningless results’ from only 12 cases and that a grapevine of worried parents and ‘nincompoop’ celebrities fueled the widespread fears.

Generation Rescue issued a statement that the ‘media circus’ following the revelation of fraud and manipulation of data was ‘much ado about nothing,’ which led ‘USA Today’ to report that McCarthy had ‘taken a beating on Twitter.’ ‘Salon.com’ responded to Generation Rescue’s statement with this: ‘It’s high time the woman who once said that ‘I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe’ took a step back and reconsidered the merits of that increasingly crackpot stance. And it’s time she acknowledged that clinging to research that’s been deemed patently fraudulent does not make one a ‘mother warrior.’ It makes her a menace.’

In January 2011, McCarthy defended Wakefield, saying that he had listened to parents, reported what they said, and recommended further investigation. She said of the controversy: ‘Since when is repeating the words of parents and recommending further investigation a crime? As I’ve learned, the answer is whenever someone questions the safety of any vaccines. For some reason, parents aren’t being told that this ‘new’ information about Dr. Wakefield isn’t a medical report, but merely the allegations of a single British journalist named Brian Deer.’

In July 2013, McCarthy was announced as a new co-host on ABC’s ‘The View,’ replacing former co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck. The appointment called forth many protests. James Poniewozik, a television critic for ‘Time’ magazine, criticized Walters’ endorsement of McCarthy, arguing that ‘The View’ is largely aimed at parents, on whom the public health system is dependent, and that the credibility that McCarthy’s hiring will give her will endanger the public. Poniewozik argued that McCarthy’s views would have the effect of framing the issue of whether vaccines cause autism, which is a matter of empirical fact, as a matter of opinion. David Freeman, senior science editor for The Huffington Post, wrote about the concerns of Bill Nye, who stated: ‘I believe Ms. McCarthy’s views will be discredited.’

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