In the mid-2000s, Jennette McCurdy’s life seemed perfect. She was a star teen actress in the hit Nickelodeon show “iCarly,” in which she played spunky sidekick Sam Puckett — the tough, fried-chicken-leg-eating, wisecracking member in a ragtag trio of kids who start a popular web series.
Her character was funny, irreverent, and, most importantly, rebellious. (A running gag on the show was Sam Puckett going in and out of juvie.) But when the cameras weren’t rolling, McCurdy says she was the polar opposite: an anxious, traumatized child actor terrified of disobeying the controlling and abusive person who pressured her to enter show business — her own mother.
Now, she’s opening up. In her explosive new memoir, provocatively titled “I’m Glad My Mom Died,"McCurdy, now 30, reveals the abuse, exploitation, and toxicity she experienced in her former career as a child actress. “My whole childhood and adolescence were very exploited,” she said in a recent interview with The New York Times. “It still gives my nervous system a reaction to say it.”
At times, “I’m Glad My Mom Died” is hard to stomach — McCurdy writes unflinchingly about years of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse — but her voice has the clarity, strength, vulnerability, and even sense of humor of someone who has healed from unimaginable trauma.
Here are some takeaways from her powerful debut. The below revelations mention assault, disordered eating and abuse.
Up until her early 20s, McCurdy said her mother controlled her life
McCurdy grew up in Southern California, one of four children in a dysfunctional, low-income Mormon household dominated by her temperamental mother, Debra McCurdy. Though the elder McCurdy passed away from breast cancer in 2013, when she was alive, McCurdy said she wielded her illness over her daughter to guilt her into acting to make money for their family.
McCurdy now feels “robbed” of a childhood: before her big break on “iCarly,” she says her mother crammed her schedule with acting classes, dance classes, and auditions. (McCurdy details how her mother once made her audition through a 103-degree fever.)
“I lived for her,” McCurdy said in a recent interview with Buzzfeed News. “I believed that she was in some way living for me. And to think she was incapable of even feeling for you, let alone living for you. It’s just really sad. I feel that in my chest.”
She struggled with anorexia and bulimia
When McCurdy was hit puberty, she said her mother encouraged “calorie restriction” so she could look thinner and book more roles for children. This caused McCurdy to start a nearly life-long struggle with anorexia and, later, bulimia.
“My mom explicitly told me how to engage in disordered eating,” she recently told The Cut. “As a survival instinct and a coping mechanism growing up, I couldn’t face that it was an eating disorder, and I just lived in the delusion that this was Mom’s way of helping me and helping my career. In therapy and in retrospect, recognizing that as such obvious abuse, it’s unsettling.”
In a chilling scene in the memoir, she talks about visiting her comatose mother in the ICU as a young adult. “‘Mommy. I am … so skinny right now. I’m finally down to eighty-nine pounds,’” McCurdy recalls saying in hopes that her mother will wake up.
McCurdy’s eating disorders made it even harder to act as her “iCarly” character, who was always eating. She said her anorexia later develops into binge-eating, and, after that, bulimia.
“I have kept myself rail-thin and my body childlike and I have found the perfect combination of power and solace in that,” she writes about first developing bulimia. “But now I feel out of control. Reckless. Hopeless. The old combination of power and solace is replaced by a new combination of shame and chaos.”
She said her mother gave her breast and vaginal 'exams' until she was 17 years old
McCurdy reveals that she “dreaded” taking showers as a teenager because her mom insisted on showering her. Her mother would justify touching McCurdy’s body by saying it was to make sure there were no “mysterious lumps or bumps because those could be cancer.”
“She gave me breast and vaginal exams until I was seventeen years old,” McCurdy writes. “These ‘exams’ made my body stiff with discomfort. I felt violated, yet I had no voice, no ability to express that. I was conditioned to believe any boundary I wanted was a betrayal of her, so I stayed silent.”
She spoke to the difficulties of being on a TV show
McCurdy wrote that her mother wasn’t the only person who controlled her life. She refers to a powerful figure — referred to only as “The Creator” — who was “mean-spirited, controlling, and terrifying,” prone to temper tantrums on the set of “iCarly.” McCurdy said he pressured her into drinking alcohol when she is underage and calls crew members “idiots, buffoons, stupid, dumb, sloppy” for making minor mistakes.
“The Creator can tear you down and humiliate you,” McCurdy writes. “I’ve seen him do this when he fired a six-year-old on the spot for messing up a few lines on a rehearsal day. And when a boom operator accidentally dropped the boom into a shot and The Creator stomped over to him and screamed in his face.”
In 2018, Schneider left the network. Per the New York Times in 2021, ViacomCBS, the parent company of Nickelodeon, investigated accusations of misconduct and verbal abuse leveled by former employees prior to Schneider’s departure. Schneider, in a 2021 interview with the New York Times, declined to comment on the investigation . If he is seen as “difficult,” he said it’s because he holds “high standards.”
Schneider also called allegations of inappropriate behavior with child actors “ridiculous.” “I couldn’t, and I wouldn’t have the long-term friendships and continued loyalty from so many reputable people if I’d mistreated my actors of any age, especially minors,” he said.
McCurdy said her mother wrote her hateful messages after seeing paparazzi photos
McCurdy said her sheltered upbringing caused her to seek out other imbalanced power dynamics in her personal life, such as in her relationship with a “iCarly” co-worker almost a decade older than her — her first sexual relationship.
When the paparazzi posted photos of her at 20 on vacation with her much-older boyfriend, McCurdy said her mother wrote a verbally abusive email … followed by a request for more money.
“You used to be my perfect little angel, but now you are nothing more than a little SLUT, a FLOOZY, ALL USED UP,” her mother emailed her, per the memoir, “… LIAR, CONNIVING, EVIL. You look pudgier, too. It’s clear you’re EATING YOUR GUILT … I am no longer your mother … P.S. Send money for a new fridge. Ours broke … YOU caused my cancer to come back. I hope you’re happy knowing this. YOU have to live with this fact.”
She felt Nickelodeon gave Ariana Grande preferential treatment over McCurdy
McCurdy drops a bombshell revelation in the book: Nickelodeon’s “Sam & Cat,” a spin-off of “iCarly” and “Victorious” that starred McCurdy and Ariana Grande, was originally pitched to McCurdy as her own show.
“I initially got a development deal with Nickelodeon for my own show a few years ago, I thought it was gonna be just that ... my own show,” she reveals. “This was supposed to be ‘Just Puckett,’ the harrowing tale of a brassy juvenile delinquent-turned-school counselor. Now it’s some half-baked two-hander."
Feeling blindsided by the network, McCurdy tried to bottle up her jealousy of Grande’s rising stardom.
“Ariana is at the stage in her career where she’s popping up on every 30 Under 30 list that exists. And I’m at the stage in my career where my team is excited that I’m the new face of Rebecca Bonbon, a tween clothing line featuring a cat with her tongue sticking out. Sold exclusively at Walmart … I frequently make the mistake of comparing my career to Ariana’s. I can’t help it.”
She also alleged that “The Creator” promised McCurdy that she could direct an episode of “Sam & Cat.” McCurdy was excited: she was finally getting a chance to show the industry that she was more than a “kids’ TV actor.”
According to McCurdy, Nickelodeon then said the directing job wouldn’t happen. TODAY has reached out to Nickelodeon for comment.
“I realize that I’ve been foolish. I believed that these people would do what they said they would … Now that I’ve shown up to work every day, been a professional, swallowed my anger, and carried a show for almost forty episodes, now that they’ve gotten what they wanted out of me—they’re taking away the very reason why I was doing all of those things in the first place,” she writes.
She said Nickelodeon offered her $300,000 in hush money,’ which she turned down
In the memoir, McCurdy wrote that when “Sam & Cat” didn’t get picked up for renewal in 2014, Nickelodeon offered her $300,000 as a “thank-you-gift” — under the condition that she never talks about her experience at the network publicly. She turned it down, infuriated. TODAY has reached out to Nickelodeon for comment.
“What the f---? Nickelodeon is offering me three hundred thousand dollars in hush money to not talk publicly about my experience on the show? My personal experience of The Creator’s abuse? This is a network with shows made for children. Shouldn’t they have some sort of moral compass? Shouldn’t they at least try to report to some sort of ethical standard?”
She thought of co-star Miranda Cosgrove as a ‘sister’
While “iCarly” was filmed during a traumatic period of McCurdy’s life, she developed a genuine friendship with castmate Miranda Cosgrove. Her friendship with Cosgrove was “a source of camaraderie and emotional support … like sisters, but without the passive-aggression and weird tensions.”
The end of “iCarly” came as a relief to McCurdy — but also a source of pain, as she and Cosgrove ended up drifting apart over time.
“I don’t like knowing people in the context of things. Oh, that’s the person I work out with. That’s the person I’m in a book club with … I yearn to know the people I love deeply and intimately — without context, without boxes — and I yearn for them to know me that way, too. And as much as I think I know Miranda deeply and intimately, I don’t like that I know her through the context of ‘iCarly,’ because ‘iCarly’ is ending, and I don’t want our friendship to end with it.”
She explained why she didn’t return for the ‘iCarly’ reboot
In 2021, a reboot of “iCarly” premiered on the streaming service Paramount+. While Cosgrove and McCurdy’s former co-star Nathan Kress signed on for the nostalgic reboot, McCurdy was glaringly absent.
McCurdy reveals that Cosgrove encouraged her to join the reboot because it was an opportunity for the cast — many of whom took breaks from acting — to “get back out there.” However, McCurdy was firm about her decision to step back from “iCarly.”
“I don’t think a reboot could realistically lead to other opportunities because, if the performer in the reboot hasn’t done significant work in between, the reboot just serves as a reminder of that. It further entrenches the performer in the role that they initially got known for at least a decade prior, a role which likely keeps their career stuck—not flourishing,” she writes.
McCurdy wasn’t persuaded by a paycheck, either. “There are things more important than money. And my mental health and happiness fall under that category,” she announced.
She stopped acting to focus on healing from trauma
McCurdy took a break from acting to focus on healing and coming to terms with the trauma she experienced in the industry, working with therapists and loved ones to fully heal.
The healthier she becomes — she has committed to recovering from her eating disorder and substance abuse — “the more unhealthy a career in acting seems” for her, she writes.
“As an actor, you can’t control which agents want to represent you, what roles your agent submits you for, which auditions you get, what callbacks you get, what roles you get … whether you get famous, how the media portrays you, and so on,” she writes.
“So much of my life has felt so out of my control for so long. And I’m done with that being my reality. I want my life to be in my hands. Not an eating disorder’s or a casting director’s or an agent’s or my mom’s. Mine.”