An Inside Look At Carly Simon's Life And Career

On October 19, 2022, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame published their list of inductees for the year. Named were some prominent figures from the rock scene of the 1970s and '80s: Duran Duran, Pat Benatar, Eurythmics, and Carly Simon. For Simon, who began her career in folk music, it could be seen as a vindication of her diversity.

According to Britannica, Simon was raised in a well-off household and has gone on to have a truly colorful career. At certain times, she's worked with family — siblings or spouses — but her biggest successes as a musician have come from her solo career. Those hits include "Anticipation," "You're So Vain," and the James Bond title track "Nobody Does It Better." Alongside her musicianship, she's led a memorable private life, peppered with high-profile love affairs. In more recent years, she's turned to memoirs and children's books. Here is your inside look at Carly Simon's life and career.

Her father is a publishing legend

Chances are you've seen the Simon surname in connection to Carly Simon's family on the inside of a book. Her father, Richard Simon, was the co-founder of Simon & Schuster Inc., one of the most prominent publishing houses in America. Per Britannica, Richard and M. Lincoln Schuster formed the company in 1924 and had early successes with America's first crossword puzzle books and paperback lines. It's grown, diversified, and been passed among corporate owners since 1975 and currently acts as a major publisher of fiction and nonfiction.

Unfortunately, professional success did not translate into a happy home life. In Carly's memoir, "Boys in the Trees," she describes how her father became lonely and depressed. His wife carried on an affair with a much younger man, and bad habits badly affected his health, already damaged by arteriosclerosis. Even his business fortunes turned sour when Schuster and other supposed friends forced him out of the company.

While Carly loved her father, theirs was a distant relationship. She wrote in "Boys in the Trees" that Richard hoped for a boy after two girls and even had the name Carl ready when a third daughter came instead. Carly was never as close with him as her older sisters were, and it was only on a long train ride from New York in 1960 that the two had a chance to connect, and for Carly to realize all they had in common. Richard Simon died when Carly was 15 in July 1960.

She suffered sexual abuse at age 7

When Carly Simon was just 7 years old, she met a teenager she calls Billy in her memoir, "Boys in the Trees." Billy was the son of family friends visiting from Chicago. Initially, Billy showed an interest in Simon's older sister Lucy, but he soon turned his attention her way. That summer, he attempted to coerce Simon to join him in skinny dipping, then brought her into more explicit sexual activity in the shower.

Billy continued his manipulative and inappropriate behavior with Simon for six summers. As a scared and confused child, Simon mistook the relationship for romance (per People), and when she began seeing a psychiatrist for speech impediment issues, she refused to name Billy as an abuser. She would eventually tell her sisters Lucy and Joanna, neither of whom believed her.

Their mother did believe, when she was told, but her response was limited. Billy's punishment for taking advantage of a 7-year-old girl was a one-month ban from the Simon house. "The biggest secret and vanity of the Simon family," Simon later wrote, "was to insist that nothing was wrong when, in fact, so much was wrong, and neither one of my parents ever owned up to it." She told People that the experience colored her views of sex for years.

Singing helped her overcome a stammer

Had you met Carly Simon at age 8, she may not have seemed a likely candidate for fame and fortune through show business. At around that age, per her biography on the Stuttering Foundation, she developed a stammer. It was first apparent during a rehearsal for a production of "Little Women" Simon and her sisters were appearing in. Simon wrote in her memoir, "Boys in the Trees," that it was initially taken as a temporary setback, one her sisters were decidedly unsympathetic towards, but the stammer wouldn't go away.

Simon's mother was understanding, and the experience of trying to fight the stammer brought mother and daughter closer together. But Simon's stammer followed no definite pattern, and any progress was slow and inconsistent. Psychiatric care was unsuccessful. Simon took to inventing words in her diary to describe her condition and to using various word swaps and facial turns to compensate when in conversation.

A breakthrough came during a particularly difficult episode (per "Boys in the Trees"), when Simon struggled to request the butter be passed down during dinner. Her mother suggested that she sing the question instead of speaking it. While not a cure-all, it became an effective technique for Simon to navigate language, and it suggested that she could pursue singing as a career.

All her sisters went into singing too

Carly Simon comes from a musical family, as Rolling Stone noted. Her father was an enthusiastic pianist who enjoyed playing classical music away from his publishing work. In her memoir "Boys in the Trees, Carly Simon says that music went from a pleasure to a release in his father's life. As his health and happiness deteriorated, the music of Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, and Listz was a way to get out his frustrations.

If Richard Simon turned to music as an escape, his three daughters made it into a profession. Carly, of course, has made her name as a singer in pop, rock, and folk music. Her oldest sister, Joanna Simon, went into opera. Her NBC News obituary noted her frequent appearances on the stage, concerts, and TV as a mezzo-soprano, and after retiring as a singer, she kept a hand in the arts as a journalist for PBS. The middle sister, Lucy Simon, began as a folk singer alongside Carly before taking a break to raise her children and study nursing (per The Washington Post). She would return to music as a songwriter and a composer. Her Broadway show "The Secret Garden" was nominated for six Tony Awards in 1991.

The one sibling who didn't pursue music was the baby of the family, brother Peter Simon. Until his death in 2018 (per his website), he was a photographer. His subjects ranged from his sister and other rock groups to the landscapes of his home in Martha's Vineyard.

She left college to perform with her sister

Per Rolling Stone, Carly Simon spent some time in Sarah Lawrence College in the 1960s, but her time in academia was short-lived. At the same time she was meant to be studying and attending classes, she and her older sister Lucy Simon came together as a singing duo. Their appearance on the TV show "Hootenanny" brought Carly a fresh wave of popularity on campus, according to her memoir "Boys in the Trees," and Lucy was eager to keep pursuing music as a career. Carly took a leave of absence from college to join her that ultimately became permanent.

Billed as the Simon Sisters, Carly and Lucy's repertoire was primarily filled with popular folk songs, according to All Music. They signed with Kapp to produce a handful of records. One of them featured the Simon Sisters' original song "Winken, Blinken and Nod." It became a minor hit in 1964 and the first brush of fame for the siblings. Their time as a duo came to an end when Lucy married. But she would join Carly under the Simon Sisters name for one more record in 1969, "The Simon Sisters Sing the Lobster Quadrille and Other Songs for Children." It was a collection of famous children's poems set to Lucy's music.

She first made it big co-writing with Jacob Brackman

After a brief stint as a duo act with her sister Lucy Simon, Carly Simon set out on a solo career as a singer-songwriter in 1970. In a profile by Tidal, she explained a roadblock to making it on her own: Music producers liked her work but didn't get the sense of her as a performer. She was turned down by some of the biggest names in the music business before being signed to Elektra Records by Jac Holzman.

Carly Simon's first album under her Elektra deal was titled after herself and dropped in February 1971 (per Billboard). Tidal credited it with marking the rise of the singer-songwriter, a movement Carly compared with the auteur theory of filmmaking, and it was part of a trend of female artists speaking to their sex. The biggest hit off her album was the critique of traditional marriage, "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be," co-written by Carly and journalist Jacob Brackman.

Brackman had never written lyrics before, but he and Carly were close friends, and she was struggling to find words to match her music. The two found they had a professional chemistry, and they've been regular collaborators since. Carly wrote in "Boys in the Trees" that the two have always kept things platonic, sensing that romance would spoil their friendship and creative partnership.

Who is You're So Vain about?

One of Carly Simon's biggest hits is 1972's "You're So Vain," a cutting musical portrait of a male lover overloaded with personal admiration. Ever since the song's release, it's fueled speculation on just who Simon — a woman with many high-profile love affairs in her life — could have been talking about. And, for just as long, she's been coy about the answer. She anticipated being asked the question when speaking to The Washington Post in 1983 and would only confirm who it wasn't about (Mick Jagger).

She did tell the Post that Warren Beatty thought the song was about him, and 32 years later, she confirmed to People that he was right — in part. In the same interview, Simon said that "You're So Vain" was inspired by three men, and that Beatty is described in the second verse. She declined to name the other two, at least until they knew themselves that they were part of the song — and even in that event, Simon was noncommittal about divulging any more. She did play a fourth verse, not included in the original release, for the BBC in 2017, but no new names were named.

The one person besides Simon with a claim to know who "You're So Vain" is about in full is former NBC sports chairman Dick Ebersol, who won the knowledge with a $50,000 bid in a celebrity charity auction (per the Los Angeles Times). Ebersol swore himself to secrecy.

Nobody Does It Better

While celebrated as a talented songwriter in her own right, one of the most successful tunes of Carly Simon's career is one in which she was the performer only. In 1977, she recorded "Nobody Does It Better," written by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager as the theme song to the James Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me." In a contemporary documentary on the making of the film (via YouTube), Hamlisch said that, contrary to past Bond themes, he wanted the song to be about 007 himself, a tribute to his own vanity and arrogance. The lyrics by Sager were so complimentary to Bond that she and Hamlisch thought of "You're So Vain" and Carly Simon, prompting them to offer it to her.

"Nobody Does It Better" has become so associated with its performer that Rolling Stone claimed many people don't realize it's from a James Bond film in their ranking of the series' theme songs. "Nobody Does it Better" came in at Number 3 for them. Billboard put it at Number 2. And ahead of the most recent entry in the series, "No Time To Die," USA Today named "Nobody Does It Better" the best of the Bond themes.

She's known her share of romances

Besides her music, Carly Simon has been in the spotlight for her love life. She said in her memoir, "Boys in Trees," that she grew up longing for an idealized and traditional marriage, but that she also felt conflicted about her many relationships during the 1960s and '70s. Yes, as the Los Angeles Times notes, it wa the sexual revolution, and Simon admists she embraced the sexual freedom.

Not every famous name Simon has been connected to was a romantic or sexual partner. A chance encounter with Sean Connery, for instance, resulted in a pleasant but platonic cruise from London to New York. But there were brief affairs with Bob Rafelson, Jack Nicholson, Terrence Malik, and Kris Kristofferson. More serious romances developed with Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger, and Cat Stevens. The former romance gave Simon one third of the hit song "You're So Vain" and persisted despite Beatty's serial womanizing.

One famous name has his own connection to "You're So Vain." Donald Trump met Simon at a lunch when he was still a businessman and invited her to join him at Mar-A-Lago (per The Guardian). She was unimpressed with Trump and declined. She compared Trump negatively to the men described in "You're So Vain" to the Guardian, saying that those men could at least be in on the joke, while Trump seemed to have nothing to him but self-obsession. Per CBS, she allowed the song to be used in anti-Trump campaign ads in 2016, the first time she let it be put to political use.

Her marriage to James Taylor was rocky

Of all her famous romances, Carly Simon's marriage to singer-songwriter James Taylor has loomed largest. The Los Angeles Times described Simon's memoir, "Boys in the Trees," as covering a large part of their relationship, and she has frequently spoken about their time together. She's also volunteered about the state of affairs she and Taylor find themselves in today — or lack thereof.

Simon and Taylor first met when she was 11 and he was a teenager, according to the Vineyard Gazette, and at the time they were no more than passing acquaintances playing in Martha's Vineyard. They became a couple in the 1970s when they were both rising stars. Simon claims to have known they would marry even before meeting again, when she saw him on the cover of Time magazine, and that their first night together, Taylor preferred lying together to sex (via the LA Times). They built a home in Martha's Vineyard and had two children together.

But the pressures of two successful singer-songwriter careers, affairs on both sides, and Taylor's drug use took a toll on their marriage. The couple divorced in 1983. Taylor has not spoken to her since their split, for reasons she does not understand. But she told People that she remains deeply in love with him.

She's enjoyed a second career as an author

In recent years, Carly Simon has become known for her writing as well as her musicianship. Her earliest works as an author were children's books, many of them (per an archived version of her personal website) derived from stories she made up to tell her own children. Another, "The Fisherman's Song," was adapted from one of her own tunes. Simon wrote five such books between 1989 and 1997, four of them illustrated by Margot Datz. In the same period, she released a recording of her reading three of the stories to her own music, and later released a musical interpretation of Mother Goose rhymes in 2000.

Simon achieved greater critical notice for her 2015 memoir, "Boys in the Trees." Initial press buzz focused on whether or not the book would reveal the identity of "You're So Vain's" subject, an angle Simon told Pop Matters angered her. But once the book was out, reviewers were struck by Simon's wit and complexity. The Guardian's reviewer was surprised by the book's often melancholy tone compared with the reputation of Simon's music but considered it an excellent piece of self-reflection. In 2019, Simon followed "Boys in the Trees" with a second memoir, "Touched By the Sun." Per her official website, it's about Simon's chance encounter and long friendship with Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

Her sisters died one day apart, both from cancer

The year 2022 was a heavy year for the Simon family. On October 19, according to NBC News, opera star and journalist Joanna Simon died; one day later (per The Washington Post) her Tony-nominated sister, Lucy Simon, passed away. Joanna died of thyroid cancer, Lucy of breast cancer. Their younger brother Peter Simon had predeceased them in 2018. He too succumbed to cancer of the lungs, according to the Vineyard Gazette.

As the only surviving Simon sibling, Carly put out a statement mourning her sisters. "We ... not only took turns blazing trails and marking courses for one another, we were each others' secret shares," she said (via CBS News). "I have no words to explain the feeling of suddenly being the only remaining direct offspring of Richard and Andrea Simon."

Carly Simon has had her own battles with cancer over the years. Per the Independent, she had a lump in her breast that doctors spent years assuring her only needed monitoring. Carly was happy to follow their lead; she didn't like the thought of surgery. But in 1997, one doctor was finally concerned enough to have it removed and found that it was cancerous. While it hadn't spread to her lymph nodes, Carly underwent a mastectomy. She hasn't had a recurrence of cancer since.