🚨 Warning: this post contains mentions of sexual abuse, eating disorders, addiction, and other sensitive topics. 🚨
The book, which is out now, chronicles McCurdy's early career as a background actor, her rise to fame from portraying Sam Puckett on several Nickelodeon shows, and her retirement from acting following her mother's death.
Here are 22 shocking and surprising things McCurdy revealed in her memoir:
1. Jennette's mother, Debra, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer when Jennette was only 2 years old. Although Jennette said she was too young to remember most of the details about her mother's illness, her mother would bring it up at any chance she got. "Even though the facts of it are so sad, I can tell that the story itself gives Mom a deep sense of pride. Of purpose," she wrote. "Like she, Debra McCurdy, was put on this earth to be a cancer survivor and live to tell the tale to any and everyone…at least five to ten times."
Every Sunday after church, the family would come home and watch a home video Debra made about her cancer. Jennette said it made her and her three brothers incredibly uncomfortable. While watching the video, Debra praised Jennette's brother Marcus for being upset and scolded Jennette, who was only 2 in the video, for not caring enough about her mother's health. Jennette said she felt immense guilt for her reaction to her mother's diagnosis every time she saw the video.
2. By the time Jennette was 6, her mother decided she was going to become an actor, despite the fact that Jennette had never expressed any desire to try acting. Debra said she had always dreamed of being famous, and she wanted Jennette to have a better childhood than she did. When Jennette auditioned to find an agent, she was told she'd be better as a background actor and was terrified to tell her mother the news. When signing paperwork, her mother promised that she was not going to take any of the money Jennette made, except for her "salary and essentials." After a 6-year-old Jennette asked what she meant by essentials, her mother became enraged and demanded to know why Jennette didn't trust her.
3. Jennette, who grew up Mormon, said she loved going to church every Sunday because it was a "beautiful, peaceful, three-hour weekly reprieve from the place I hate most: home." She describes Debra as a hoarder who filled every room of their home with junk. In fact, there were so many things in the bedrooms that the children had to sleep in the living room on gymnastics mats purchased from Costco.
After booking a national commercial for Sprint PCS, Jennette decided she was going to use the money to purchase a bunk bed. Debra forbid her from sleeping on the top bunk and decided to use it as storage instead. Once the top bunk was full, Debra crowded the bottom bunk with her belongings, forcing Jennette back out into the living room to sleep on the mats.
4. After earning background roles in commercials and shows like The X-Files — work that Jennette said she didn't particularly enjoy — she booked a role in Golden Dreams, a film set during the Great Depression that played at Disney's California Adventure. While on set, she looked so sad that a director noticed her and cast her as a principal actor. Riding high from Jennette's first big role, Debra decided to take her career to the next level, and met Barbara Cameron, a talent agent and the mother of Candace Cameron Bure. Barbara said that Jennette needed to take acting lessons if she wanted to be one of her clients.
Once enrolled in the acting class, Debra learned that parents weren't allowed to sit in on the sessions. This infuriated her, and she begged the teacher to make an exception and said that she had stage 4 cancer and was unable to sit in the car and wait. The teacher suggested that she could sit at a nearby coffee shop until class was over, but Debra refused and demanded to be allowed in the room during class. Jennette, who hated the acting classes to begin with, said she was even more stressed out once her mother started sitting in.
After Jennette bombed the audition for a Paula Abdul dance video, Debra enrolled her in 14 dance classes a week and told her that she must book at least two background jobs a month in order to afford it. She also forced Jennette to chug sugar-free Red Bulls before comedy auditions so she would have more energy. For more somber parts, Debra encouraged Jennette to bring up her cancer to the casting agents.
5. During her audition process, Jennette said that her mother took her on "maintenance trips" to Rite-Aid, where she bought beauty supplies to "fix" her flaws. Every time her mother told her she was pretty, there was also always a list of things that needed to be fixed. "I’m beginning to wonder if I’m really naturally beautiful at all, or if Mom’s use of the term ‘naturally beautiful’ goes in the same place where others would just use the term ‘ugly,'" she writes. She later learned that she wasn't invited to audition for the movie Because of Winn Dixie because they were looking for an "ethereal beauty," and Jennette was too "homely." The role went to AnnaSophia Robb instead.
In an attempt to make Jennette look more glam, Debra made her show up to every audition in a fuzzy, rhinestone-encrusted shirt, a faux leather skort, and go-go boots. During an audition to play an intersex child on Grey's Anatomy, she was told that the look was too much and was asked to put on a flannel shirt to better embody the character. Despite the outfit change, the casting directors told her she was too "pretty" for the part. Jennette initially worried that her mother was going to be angry that she didn't get the part, and instead was shocked when Debra was overjoyed that her daughter was deemed too good-looking for a role.
6. Jennette became notorious for her ability to cry on cue, a feat that her mother emblazoned at the top of her résumé. She writes that she would imagine situations from her family life to get herself to cry, but notes that she could only think about each event 4–6 times before she would be "all cried out" from it. During an audition for an episode of Without a Trace, Jennette failed to cry on cue for the first time. After leaving, she tearfully told her mom that she wanted to quit acting. Debra started to sob and told her that if she quit, their family would lose their chance at fame and success. Soon after the audition, Debra ended up in the hospital. Jennette, who was 10 years old at the time, went to visit her and proudly showed her a screenplay she wrote. Debra balked at the script and told Jennette that if she became a writer, she would get a "big, giant writer’s watermelon butt" instead of a "little actress’s peach butt."
7. Debra always took pride in Jennette being small for her age because it meant she could play roles meant for younger children. When Jennette's breasts started to grow, she was horrified because she knew she would be alienated from the younger roles. After she expressed this to her mother, Debra told her that restricting calories would help halt puberty. They created a plan where Jennette ate a maximum of 1,000 calories a day. Despite the low caloric intake, Jennette started eating only half of her meals to impress her mother. Debra weighed her every Sunday, measured her thighs, and encouraged her to start drinking coffee to suppress her appetite, even though coffee is forbidden in the Mormon church.
Privately, Jennette started to weigh herself five times a day, because it was her lucky number. During this time, she also began to display OCD tendencies, something her grandfather worried about, only to be shot down by Debra. At a doctor's appointment, her doctor expressed concern about Jennette's weight, but Debra insisted that nothing was wrong. At this point, Jennette was so thin that at age 14, she still had to sit in a booster seat in the car.
8. Jennette writes that she dreaded taking a shower because her mother showered her until she was 17 years old. While Debra claimed it was because she didn't trust Jennette to wash her own hair properly, she also enforced the same treatment on Jennette's older brothers, and even forced Jennette to shower with her brother when he was a teenager. After every shower, Debra gave Jennette a breast and “front butt” exam, which she claimed was to ensure that Jennette didn't have cancer. When her mother examined her, Jennette said she felt like she left her body and went to "Fantasyland."
9. In 2006, Jennette was invited to screen test for both iCarly and Californication. She booked iCarly, and although she knew she should be thrilled that she finally landed a leading role, she said she was only glad that her mom would finally be happy with her. Once on set, Jennette met Miranda Cosgrove and was instantly enamored with her, writing that when they met, her "cool radar" shifted.
She noted that Miranda had a level of independence that Jennette could only dream of. Miranda was allowed to walk to pick up lunch by herself, had a cellphone, cursed, and loved music that Jennette's mother had forbidden her from listening to, telling her it would make her want to "do bad things." Debra warned Jennette about not getting too close to Miranda because she "didn't believe in God," but told her that Nathan Kress, who played Freddie on iCarly, was fine because he was a Southern Baptist. Miranda and Jennette eventually started talking on AIM and developed a close relationship that Jennette tried to downplay to Debra.
10. On the set of iCarly, Jennette noted several times when she felt uncomfortable around Dan Schneider, who she refers to as The Creator in the book. During a photo shoot, Schneider insisted that the girls wear bikinis, even though Jennette said she felt uncomfortable showing her body. Jennette's first kiss happened on screen and was micromanaged by Schneider, who angrily forced her to reshoot it over and over again while yelling specifications and instructions.
She writes that conversations with The Creator normally started with compliments that undercut her costars. According to Jennette, The Creator had “two distinct sides” — one where he was generous and complimentary, and another where he was mean-spirited and controlling. After discovering this, she learned not to take his compliments to heart, because she knew she could be on his bad side by the next day. Ultimately, she wrote that she felt similarly around The Creator as she did around her mom.
11. During a lunch meeting with her mom and The Creator, he told her that she was in the running to receive her own spinoff series called Just Puckett, as long as she listened to all of his advice and did what she was told. He promised her that the show would happen in the next few years because iCarly had been doing so well that he didn't want to ruin it. Prior to the meeting, Debra encouraged Jennette to play up her health struggles in an attempt to make The Creator pity them and offer them more opportunities.
On another occasion when Jennette and The Creator were alone at a dinner, he forced her to try alcohol. When she declined, he told her that the teens who were starring on Victorious drank all the time and that the iCarly kids were too wholesome. She wrote that he frequently compared the casts of each show and would pit them against each other. Jennette eventually took a sip of the drink to placate him. When Jennette shivered later in the meal, The Creator made her wear his coat and massaged her shoulders, even though she felt uncomfortable.
12. During the 2007 writer's strike, iCarly went on hiatus. Debra decided to use the downtime to kickstart a potential country music career for Jennette. By the time the songs were finished, production had resumed, but Debra insisted Jennette could do both, and put her on a grueling schedule of filming all week, then flying to Nashville to record music all weekend. Her debut song was about missing her mother, even though Jennette said at that point, they had never been apart for more than a few hours. While planning her tour, Debra learned that her cancer had returned. Jennette offered to cancel the tour, but Debra told her she couldn't. The tour marked the first time Jennette had been away from her mother for a long stretch of time. While apart, Jennette began to eat more and started to gain weight. When she saw her mother for the first time after the tour, Debra was horrified and told Jennette that she had gotten "too chunky."
13. When Jennette got her period at age 16, she was horrified and lapsed back into her restrictive eating patterns because she was terrified of growing up. Throughout the rest of her career on Nickelodeon, Jennette struggled with anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.
14. By age 18, Jennette decided to move out of her family's home and into her own apartment. At this point, her mother was in a wheelchair and could no longer drive Jennette to set, but she refused to let her get her license because she said Jennette's time was better spent "learning lines or planning tweets." On the first day in her new apartment, her mom asked to spend the night, then slept there for three months straight, even though Jennette craved independence.
Part of that desire for independence came from Joe, a coworker who Jennette had begun seeing. One night, she told her mom that she was going to a sleepover at Miranda's house, even though she had been planning to meet up with Joe. Debra saw through the story, called Jennette a "lying whore," and threw a remote control at her. A year later, Joe and Jennette were still together, but they managed to keep the relationship a secret from Debra.
During a vacation to Hawaii, the pair were photographed by the paparazzi. Debra saw the photos and sent Jennette a scathing email, calling her a “little slut" and telling her it looked like she had been “eating her guilt." After reading the messages, Joe locked the phone in the hotel safe to salvage the trip. When Jennette got her phone back a few days later, she saw that Debra called her over 50 times and had posted a message on a Jennette McCurdy fan page that she hoped would turn all of Jennette's fans away so Debra could have all of the fame to herself. In an email, Debra wrote, "YOU have caused my cancer to come back. I hope you’re happy knowing this. YOU have to live with this fact. YOU gave me cancer.” They eventually resumed their relationship, but never talked through the situation.
15. When iCarly ended in 2012, Jennette was devastated — not because the show was over, but because she feared her friendship with Miranda Cosgrove would come to an end. However, their friendship got much stronger once the show ended. In fact, Miranda became one of the first people Jennette told about her bulimia once she sought recovery. Years later, when Miranda called Jennette to ask her to costar in the iCarly reboot, she told Jennette that she thought it could be the thing that restarted their Hollywood careers.
16. When Sam and Cat began in 2013, Debra went back into the hospital. During this hospital stay, Jennette decided that she desperately needed a break, and went on a road trip with one of her best friends. While on the trip, Jennette drank alcohol for the first time and called it one of the best nights of her life. From then on, she drank nearly every night. At one point, she writes that she was doing 8–10 shots of hard liquor every day.
Jennette woke up hungover one morning and realized she was late for her flight to host Nickelodeon's Worldwide Day Of Play. As she was packing, her dad called her and begged her to come to the hospital immediately because the doctors believed Debra was about to die. She shrugged him off, but later deduced from his tone that she needed to get to the hospital quickly. Debra died soon after, and Jennette vowed to maintain her mother's food restriction plan to make her proud.
17. After she learned that her cancer was terminal, Debra asked Jennette to sing "Wind Beneath My Wings" at her funeral. Jennette told her she didn't think she could perform the song, but Debra forced her to sing it for her while they were eating at Panda Express, which embarrassed Jennette. Not wanting to upset her mother, Jennette decided to practice the song every day until finally, her neighbor taped a piece of paper to her door that read "No More Bette Midler." At the funeral, she prepared to sing the song on the altar, but was so overcome with emotion that she said she just stood there and cried instead.
18. On the Sam and Cat set, Jennette became known as a “good sport” because a lot of accommodations had to be made to fit into Ariana Grande’s flourishing music career. Even though Jennette put her best foot forward, she said it was frustrating that she had to turn down movie projects because the writers refused to write her out of episodes, even though they extended that courtesy to Ariana. Her frustration came to a head when she learned Ariana had been completely written out of an episode by telling the audience that her character had been locked in a box.
Jennette writes that during this time, she was jealous of Ariana for a few reasons. Ariana had an idyllic upbringing that was much different than Jennette's, with a loving, wealthy family. Jennette had also been under the impression that the show was going to be just her show, and was annoyed when they added Ariana into the mix. As Ariana's fame rose, Jennette felt like she was toiling away on kids shows, and she wondered if Ariana's involvement in Sam and Cat was robbing her of potential career opportunities.
The one saving grace on set was the idea that she would be able to direct an episode of the show, something The Creator had promised her during contract negotiations. After she had been snubbed for the entire season, she learned that someone on set had threatened to quit if Jennette directed an episode. During this time period, The Creator got in trouble with Nickelodeon after accusations of emotional abuse went public. He was banned from set and had to sit in a room by himself, "surrounded by piles of cold cuts, his favorite snack, and his Kids Choice Awards blimps, his most cherished life accomplishment." This development made the days on set even longer, because The Creator was forbidden from communicating directly with the actors and had to rely on assistants to relay his messages.
19. Sam and Cat got canceled after one season, a decision that thrilled Jennette. When her management company told her that Nick was offering her $300,000 as a “thank you gift” for not speaking publicly about her experiences at Nickelodeon, she turned down the offer because she said it felt too much like “hush money," although she later worried that she should have taken it because it would've made a big difference in her life. Meanwhile, rumors that the show was canceled because Jennette was angry that Ariana made more money than her began to spread, but Jennette said this was not the case. Reflecting on her experience on Nickelodeon, she writes, "I hate being known as Sam. I absolutely hate it. I’ve tried to find some peace with it, but I haven’t."
20. After Sam and Cat ended, Jennette landed a role in a Netflix show called Between, but had some trepidation about it after reading the script. She accepted the role because she thought being part of a huge brand like Netflix would be good for her career. Once on set, she noticed that things didn't seem quite right and began to believe that she was going to be a part of Netflix’s first flop. After she learned that Between was really a show made by CityTV that Netflix had agreed to distribute, she was humiliated and started to reconsider if she really wanted to be an actor.
While starring on Between, Jennette started dating Steven, an assistant director. After shooting wrapped, he came to visit her at her Los Angeles home, where he discovered her bulimia and told her that he can't be with her unless she got help. This motivated her to find Laura, a therapist who developed a plan to help her through her eating disorder, her dependence on alcohol, and her overwhelming grief. Laura became her plus one at all of her Hollywood events, so she could ensure that Jennette was not purging. After a session where Laura asked Jennette to explore her relationship with her mother, Jennette decided that therapy was too hard and quit.
21. After Debra's death, Jennette's father Mark began dating Karen, who was Debra's best friend in high school. Karen encouraged Mark, who always had a strained relationship with both Debra and Jennette, to divulge a life-changing secret: he is not Jennette's biological father. Jennette was shocked by the revelation, and learned that Andrew, her biological father, was a jazz musician who performed locally. She gathered a group of friends, including Miranda Cosgrove, to go to one of his concerts, where he told her that he knew she existed, but never reached out because he was unsure if Debra had ever told her that Mark wasn't her biological dad. She wrote that although she's glad she met him, she doesn't know if she's ever going to see him again.
22. And finally, after she lost a tooth while purging during a flight to Australia, Jennette decided to re-enter treatment for her eating disorders. With the help of Jeff, her new therapist, she worked to retool her thinking around food. After Between was canceled in 2017, she decided to finally stop acting after she determined through therapy that she needed to quit in order to regain control of her life. Jennette has since turned to writing, directing, and podcasting.
I'm Glad My Mom Died is available now.
If you are concerned that a child is experiencing or may be in danger of abuse, you can call or text the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-2253 (4.A.CHILD); service can be provided in over 140 languages.
The National Eating Disorders Association helpline is 1-800-931-2237; for 24/7 crisis support, text “NEDA” to 741741.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline is 1-888-950-6264 (NAMI) and provides information and referral services; GoodTherapy.org is an association of mental health professionals from more than 25 countries who support efforts to reduce harm in therapy.