The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Shannen Doherty

Consistently a hugely popular star of dramatic TV shows in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, Shannen Doherty might be better known for the sad, scandalous, and traumatic events that have characterized her personal, off-screen life. A child actor on '80s staples like "Little House on the Prairie" and "Our House," Doherty became one of the iconic stars of her generation, as Brenda Walsh on Fox's '90s smash hit teen soap "Beverly Hills, 90210," and then as powerful witch Prue Halliwell on the supernatural saga "Charmed." Doherty's purportedly difficult personality played a part in early, abrupt, and controversial exits from both long-running series.

Doherty has remained in the public eye, however, starring in films, reality shows, short-lived TV series, and openly living her life in full view of her legions of fans. Doherty has suffered through multiple tumultuous relationships, family issues, professional struggles, and particularly harrowing health problems. Here's a look into the tragic personal life of Shannen Doherty.

Abuse and drugs characterized her first serious relationship

In 1989, and just after successful turns in series like "Our House" and "Little House on the Prairie" and movies including "Heathers" and "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," Shannen Doherty turned 18 years old. Upon that milestone, she moved out of her family's home in Los Angeles — where they'd relocated when Doherty was a child, to further her acting career — and into a place with a much older boyfriend. The unidentified man told the actor his age was 28, when in fact he was 31. That partner was also a heavy user of drugs and alcohol. "And I tried drugs and drinking," Doherty told People. "I was drinking up a storm. Cocaine was something that I tried and didn't really like. It was more the lifestyle I was into."

After about six months of nightly partying at clubs and ingesting illicit and illegal substances, Doherty's partner violently lashed out at her. "I just remember one slap across the lace and I was out of there." Doherty placed a phone call to her family from a store across the street from her home and then moved back in with her parents.

An engagement ended in violence and a restraining order

Shannen Doherty's engagement to Dean Jay Factor, descendant of makeup magnate Max Factor, ended in 1993, when Factor filed a request for a restraining order against his former fiancée. "I was weary of the verbal assaults and locked myself in our bathroom. At this point she threatened to shoot me and said, 'I'm going to drop you!' I knew she had a loaded nine-mm automatic," Factor alleged in court documents obtained by People. "I heard the chamber pulled back; at that point, I hastily exited the house through a back door connected to the bathroom and escaped."

In response, Doherty suggested that Factor's allegations were less than truthful, part of an active anti-Doherty campaign. At the time, media outlets negatively reported on Doherty's partying and supposed difficult backstage behavior at "Beverly Hills, 90210," and the independently produced newsletter "I Hate Brenda" (named for Doherty's TV character) enjoyed a robust circulation. "To paraphrase Mark Twain, half the things you read about me are untrue, and the others are lies," Doherty told a reporter (via People). Meanwhile, when reached for comment, Doherty's father, John Thomas Doherty, suggested that Factor was the abuser. "He initialed the charge, but she's the victim," he said, alluding to Factor's admissions in his domestic violence request that he'd slapped Doherty and pushed her into a pool.

She's been dealing with cancer for nearly a decade

In August 2015, in the wake of TMZ leaking legal documents over a lawsuit in which her health history was germane, Shannen Doherty confirmed that five months earlier, she'd received a breast cancer diagnosis. "Yes, I have breast cancer, and I am currently undergoing treatment," Doherty told People. The disease rapidly moved into other areas of the body, requiring Doherty to employ aggressive treatment options. "I had breast cancer that spread to the lymph nodes, and from one of my lymph nodes, and from one of my surgeries we discovered that some of the cancer cells might have actually gone out of the lymph nodes," the actor told Entertainment Tonight in 2016. "So for that reason, we are doing chemo, and then after chemo, I'll do radiation." Doherty then elected to surgically remove the cancer-affected breast, followed by reconstructive procedures.

Chemotherapy and radiation treatments were effective in the short term, and in April 2017, Doherty announced that the cancer had gone into remission. "The next five years is crucial. Reoccurrences happen all the time," she warned on Instagram. Sadly, that happened to Doherty. "I'm stage four. So my cancer came back," Doherty said on "Good Morning America" in February 2020, revealing that her condition had moved into the terminal phase. By early 2023, the cancer had spread to Doherty's brain, and later that year, into her bones.

An insurance snafu may have escalated her cancer

Shannen Doherty was first diagnosed with cancer in 2015, and she believes that efforts toward stopping or limiting the progression of the disease may have been more effective had she started treatments earlier. But according to a lawsuit against her business managers, that wasn't a possibility. Doherty alleged that firm Tanner Manstain pocketed money she'd paid them and then neglected to pay her insurance premiums for the year 2014, and then severed the business relationship. Left without health insurance, Doherty says, she was unable to seek medical attention of any kind for the entirety of 2014. After regaining insurance in early 2015, she was diagnosed with cancer, which she says likely would have been noticed had she been able to see a doctor for a checkup during the previous year. "This is a case about crooked business managers who not only stole from their clients but habitually blundered the most critical tasks of the profession," stated the suit. "The claim that Tanner Mainstain caused her to be uninsured, prevented her from seeking medical care, or somehow contributed to her cancer is patently false," read a statement from the company to ABC News.

Doherty sought $15 million in damages. The suit was settled out of court in 2016 for an amount not publicly revealed.

She wanted children but her healths problems didn't allow for that

Shannen Doherty never gave birth to a child or raised any nonbiological offspring, but for years, she hoped to start a family at some point. "I think that we both want kids, but there's times when we don't want kids," Doherty told Entertainment Tonight shortly after her 2011 wedding to Kurt Iswarienko. "We have a lot of things to do yet before we get there. Who knows, I may be the oldest woman to have a child."

Any future plans for children were indefinitely postponed, and in the end, called off entirely, due to Doherty's personal health. In 2015, doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer. Powerful treatments designed to destroy cancer precluded pregnancy. "I'm 44 and my husband and I wanted children," Doherty told "The Dr. Oz Show" (Via The Daily Mail) in 2016, also announcing that she planned to undergo a mastectomy to further limit the impact of cancer. The actor has been in treatment for cancer for most of the next decade, and subsequently never did become pregnant.

The many marriages and traumatic divorces of Shannen Doherty

Shannen Doherty has been married three times, and each relationship ended abruptly. In 1993, the 22-year-old met 19-year-old actor Ashley Hamilton, and three weeks later, they got married. Five months later, the marriage was over, with Doherty filing for divorce. Her spokesperson told UPI that "irreconcilable differences" were to blame. In 2002, Doherty married again, to Rick Salomon, with whom she was acquainted for two days before the wedding. That union was annulled nine months later. Salomon would later become best known for co-starring in Paris Hilton's leaked sex tape. "It ended up being very embarrassing for me, and humiliating and disgusting," Doherty told the Chicago Tribune.

Doherty married a third time, in 2011, to photographer Kurt Iswarienko. More than 11 years into the marriage, Doherty petitioned for a divorce. "Unfortunately, she felt she was left with no other option," Doherty representative Leslie Sloane told People. The official, legal reason for the split was "irreconcilable differences," but Doherty later revealed on her podcast, "Let's Be Clear," that infidelity was the true reason, which she learned about during a traumatic time — hours before a procedure to remove cancer cells from her brain. "I went into surgery early in the morning and I went in after I found out that my marriage was essentially over, that my husband had been carrying on an affair for two years," Doherty said. "I couldn't go into surgery with him there. I felt so betrayed."

A wildfire destroyed her home

In 2018, the Woolsey fire  tore through Southern California, burning about 97,000 acres and 1,500 buildings across Ventura and Los Angeles Counties. Malibu, a costly enclave, suffered the loss of more than 670 buildings worth upwards of $1.6 billion. Many celebrities live in Malibu, and they lost their homes and possessions to the fire very quickly, and among them, according to early media reports, was Shannen Doherty.

Doherty filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2019, per Variety, reporting that the Malibu home she shared with her husband hadn't burned down, but had been nevertheless "severely damaged" by both smoke and fire, to the tune of more than $1 million. The actor got the legal system involved because she claimed that her home insurance provider, State Farm, wouldn't pay out her policy. Due to evacuation orders and, once those were lifted, unlivable conditions on the home, Doherty lived in a rental property. She reported that State Farm adjusters took an egregious amount of time to respond, then required excessive paperwork to prove her claims of damages and rights to reimbursements, and then wouldn't pay out anyway. All the while, Doherty was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments for cancer. Doherty ultimately won $6.3 million in the federal lawsuit.

The death of Luke Perry affected her deeply

The most prominent role of Shannen Doherty's career is that of Minnesota transplant Brenda Walsh on the first four years of "Beverly Hills, 90210." During that time, her character dated brooding rebel Dylan McKay, portrayed by teen idol Luke Perry, and the Brenda-and-Dylan, off-and-on romantic storyline made the pair a major TV couple of the '90s. Playing opposite one another in such an intimate fashion for years drew Doherty and Perry into a friendship, although they'd become distant until Doherty publicly announced in 2015 that she was in treatment for breast cancer. "Luke reached out to me during my cancer journey and we picked right back up, albeit older and wiser, but that connection remained in tact," Doherty told People.

When Perry died suddenly after a stroke in 2019 at the age of 52, the loss was crushing to Doherty. "I am in shock. Heartbroken. Devastated by the loss of my friend. I have so many memories with Luke that make me smile and that are forever imprinted on my heart and mind," Doherty said. The actor paid tribute to her deceased friend and costar with a guest appearance on Perry's show "Riverdale." His character, Fred Andrews, died while saving a stranded driver — portrayed by Doherty.

Her father had myriad serious medical problems

Throughout most of her life, Shannen Doherty's father, John Thomas Doherty, hadn't been too long removed from an illness, emergency health crisis, or surgery of some kind. "He's had eight heart attacks, seven strokes, quintuple-bypass heart surgery," Doherty told the Chicago Tribune in 2008. "He has heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure. His kidneys recently failed him, and now he's on dialysis." Following a then-recent surgery, doctors informed the elder Doherty that no other options existed to cure or mend his heart issues.

In December 2009, John Thomas Doherty endured what would be his eighth stroke, debilitating to the point where he temporarily lost his ability to talk. Less than a year later, in November 2010, the older died Doherty at the age of 66. "He was loved, adored, cherished and admired. He was a fighter and stood strong to fight his health issues until the very end," Shannen Doherty said in a statement (via The Daily Mail). "He was smart, beautiful in every way and was my best friend and rock."

The sad reason she did Dancing With the Stars

In the spring of 2010, Shannen Doherty competed on ABC's celebrity reality contest, "Dancing With the Stars." It would prove to be a disastrous stint, with Doherty's partner Mark Ballas suffering a season-ending knee injury and the judges savaging Doherty's performance. (Bruno Tonioli criticized the actor for "swinging her arms like a primate" and Carrie Ann Inaba called her out for being "out of sync.") When viewers started casting votes to determine which competitors stayed and who went home, Doherty was the first star ejected from "Dancing with the Stars" that season.

All of that belies the reason why Doherty decided to appear on the show in the first place: It was for her father, John Thomas Doherty. "My father, on Christmas, had a massive stroke," Doherty told ABC's "Good Morning America." "He got really excited about 'Dancing With the Stars' and wanted me to do it. He asked me to do it and I can't ever say no to my dad," she said. Following her unceremonious and early exit from 'Dancing With the Stars,' Doherty visited her father. "My dad doesn't have his speech 100% back yet, but the first words he learned were 'I love you,'" the actor reported. "He was crying, and he said, 'I love you and I'm proud of you.'"