Vicki Sheff was born and raised on the Mississippi Delta in Arkansas. Writing is part of her DNA, and storytelling a birthright.Her father, a cotton farmer, had a passion for poetry and music, while her mother held a managerial position for General Motors Company.
When she wasn’t borrowing peaches from the orchards of surrounding neighbors, she would interview them about the emigration of their ancestors and about surviving the Great Depression.
She loved turning these stories into musicals, casting her cousins in starring roles.
Sheff majored in psychology at the University of Tennessee, but fate had another course. She visited San Francisco in 1977 and never left.
She met and married David Sheff in 1978. Subsequently, they became a freelance writing team, and profiled celebrities for People and Playboy magazine.
In 1988, concurrent with the court awarding the Sheffs joint custody of their six-year-old son, Nicolas, People Magazine’s substantial job offer relocated her to Los Angeles.
During her 23-year tenure at People, she covered the spectrum of celebrity culture. In her last decade as senior staff writer, Sheff joined the Human Interest team, covering stories with themes of mercy, grief, and giving -- a much-needed change from the world of Hollywood's elite.
Her assignment on the first stand-alone children’s hospice in the country not only had a profound impact on her but also on readers.
She covered the murder trials of O. J. Simpson and Scott Peterson.
Other stories included animal heroes, a subject she is passionate about. Fortune the horse was her favorite cover. She suggested and helped launch the People Pets digital site that is now a popular mainstay.
In 2009, Sheff and her son, Nicolas, were featured in People after his book, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, reached The New York Times bestseller list.
The publication parallels his father, David Sheff’s, bestselling memoir, Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction.
That spring, Nic and David traveled the country on book tour. Their itinerary included an evening at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
As Sheff watched Nic share his experience, she didn’t think about how poised he was or that he’d written a top seller. She marveled in the fact that, despite several brushes with death, he was there at all.
Afterwards, women surrounded her. Some sought guidance while others wanted a mother’s perspective. However, the collateral damage from Nic’s addiction, including lamenting her own part in it, left her nearly mute.
The next day, Sheff’s wobbly knees took her to Al-Anon. After years of unwavering support, unraveling misconceptions, and understanding forgiveness, she found her voice and was guided by the Al-Anon mantra: Awareness, Acceptance, Action.
Her son, Nicolas Sheff, continues his work as an author and Hollywood screenwriter. He lives in Beverly Hills.
Eldest son, Joe Gilmore, an entrepreneur based in Rosemary Beach, Florida, owns Gilmore Industries Inc., with branches nationwide. Joe’s open-heartedness and wisdom shine on his family, in good times and bad.
Sheff and her husband, Emmy Award winning producer, Christopher Cahan, live in Pacific Palisades, California.
Sheff is writing a book of nonfiction essays. The following is an excerpt:
“My childhood was embroidered with Southern characters: Grandfather Dewey was a sheriff who went on annual benders, streaking naked down Main Street and ending up in his own jail. Uncle Dick claims he hypnotized a shark while fishing on the Mississippi and mind-bent a tornado away from his house. Great-great-great grandfather William, had two wives at once, both named Sally. He fled bigamy laws in Kentucky and settled in Arkansas where the three could live legally ever after.” Vicki Sheff