Model, ex-popstar-wife, stage actor, personal chef, failed startup entrepreneur and, recently, successful crypto currency trader, Julie Anne Rhodes is many things. What she isn’t, is a planner.
“I think that’s one of my talents in life,” she told me. “I’m ready to recognize opportunities and I’m willing to explore them and go with them. None of the ways my life has turned out has been planned.”
But her story this week isn’t about those opportunities — some obviously great, others less apparently so — but about the resolve necessary to charge at them. After all, the lesson isn’t in what you gain jumping headfirst into love and later marriage with Duran Duran’s keyboardist, it’s how you react when that love ends and what comes next. And Rhodes — “Jewels” to her friends — has been kind enough to share it with me.
Born in Des Moines, Rhodes went to boarding school in Massachusetts and university in New Orleans before landing in LA. It was there, in the early 80s, that she was discovered by a photographer. An invite to a yacht party after Duran Duran’s mixing session for Hungry Like the Wolf brought her and keyboardist Nick Rhodes together.
She followed him to London and then New York and Paris. The band lived the lives of tax exiles, spending most of their time in France, which had laws that allowed for the longest period of exile. Chateaus in the countryside, the glamorous Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris, and later an apartment across the street from a reclusive Marlene Dietrich … Friedman loved the life, even if it came with drawbacks.
"Duran Duran had not broken France, so we could walk around unnoticed. By contrast, going to Italy, there were 5,000 screaming fans outside our hotel. We had to be smuggled through the kitchen, and be escorted by police motorcade,” she remembers. “It’s very hard to describe living inside a bubble like that — I’m glad I experienced it, but I’m also glad my entire life isn’t lived that way.
Along the way, she collected friends — often older gentlemen — who lived lives she admired.
“When we were in our 20s and we were so busy acting, trying to act sophisticated and older than we were, we forgot how to actually enjoy life,” she says. “And these older men I’d meet had experience behind them, but they also knew how to grab life and had a child-like awe about it. I wanted to be around them and I wanted to learn from them.”
The couple had a daughter — who today works as a film editor in London — but eventually divorced in 1992. Friedman had worked as an actor in some plays in London, and decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue it more earnestly. But the move in 1998 gave her a strong dose of culture shock, and she wasn’t ready to handle the emotional stress of the acting life.
The period also marked the beginning of a four-year struggle with Crohn’s Disease, a bout that ended up changing her life.
"I was kind of house-bound for four years with nothing to do but watch TV,” she says. “So I watched the Food Network and the only way I could get the few friends I knew here to come over was to offer them dinner.”
The feedback to her cooking was unanimously positive. A friend told her she could make money doing it. So, in 2002, she started The Roving Stove, a personal chef business. She was fully booked within a week, but not entirely comfortable in the new role.
"It’s a weird feeling to suddenly go from hiring the staff to being the staff,” she says. “I struggled with it for a long time. There are still times today where I’m not thrilled with that thought. But it’s also how you frame it — as with anything in your life. You have to have confidence and pride in the work that you do. If you frame it within that context then it’s very easy to overcome.”
And it was how she decided to frame it that most resonated with me.
“I believe our lives are accumulative and the lessons we learn within them all add up to take us to the next stage, and that was all part of it,” she told me. “I probably wouldn’t have an award-winning personal chef business if I hadn’t lived the rockstar life before that.”
When another opportunity presented itself to scale her personal chef business into a tech platform, she took that as well. The Personal Chef Approach was kind of a precursor to Blue Apron, where members of her website would get not only healthy recipes for the week, but the grocery list and Friedman’s step-by-step guide to prepare them in advance. But the company was “derailed by web developers” she says, and she was forced to abandon the project.
“I’m sure if you have one good idea like that there will be others,” she says. “But it’s not something you can make happen faster organically; I’m just trying to stay positive and keep doing what I’m doing.”
Friedman’s resilience is what first attracted us to her story. When we talked to her, we discovered that it wasn’t just resilience, but a thirst for the new that defined her. Case in point: she began trading cryptocurrencies in March by relying on trusted financial newsletters, and has been doing very well for herself in the process. The move was a byproduct of a decision she made a year and a half ago to fire her financial advisors so that she could learn how to do it all herself.
“There was a period of time when I first moved to LA and I’d been to so many court battles with my ex-husband, and had to leave my daughter in England and that was soul-destroying because that was who I was, being a mother,” she says. “And I lived my life very safely for 10 years, where I wanted to be above reproach. And what I realized was that my life had become stagnant. I was so busy trying to be perfect at everything that I had forgotten how to live. I realized life is about taking risks — they should be calculated risks, they shouldn’t be haphazard, but you have to get past the fear and that’s what woke me up.”