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Who Was Debra McCurdy? Jennette’s McCurdy’s Mom Pushed Her into Acting

Milla Sigaba
Aug 09, 2022
04:28 A.M.
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The child-star Jennette McCurdy opened up about her dark and abusive relationship with her mother, Debra McCurdy, who forced her into acting. She felt 'free' after the death of her mother.

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Jennette and Debra had a toxic and abusive mother-daughter relationship. With hopes of becoming an actress that never materialized, Debra saw a chance to live vicariously through her youngest child, Jennette.

Debra forced Jennette into an acting career that her daughter did not want. Years after her mother's death, Jennette sought therapy for her years of emotional abuse endured by her mother and finally felt 'free.'

Jennette McCurdy poses for a picture in Croton, Connecticut on January 11, 2012 | Source: Getty Images

Jennette McCurdy poses for a picture in Croton, Connecticut on January 11, 2012 | Source: Getty Images

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WHO WAS DEBRA MCCURDY?

Debra was married to Jennette's father, Mark; often, their rocky marriage would cause a chaotic home life for Jennette and her siblings. Debra would have erratic mood swings, making Jennette feel like she had to walk on eggshells.

As a child, Jennette shared that her parents would physically fight in front of her and that her mother's daily outbursts sometimes turned violent. Debra and her family lived in Garden Grove in Orange County, California. Jennette grew up living with her grandparents, her three brothers, Dustin, Marcus, and Scott McCurdy, and a bunch of animals.

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Jennette McCurdy and her mother, Debra McCurdy, at the 16th Annual EIF Revlon Run/Walk for Women in California on May 9, 2009 | Source: Getty Images

Jennette McCurdy and her mother, Debra McCurdy, at the 16th Annual EIF Revlon Run/Walk for Women in California on May 9, 2009 | Source: Getty Images

Debra had dreams of becoming an actress but was never able to accomplish those dreams. Instead, Jennette says her mother became fixated on making her daughter a star. Even though she was "cripplingly shy," she would go on auditions and pursue an acting career. She said:

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"I felt my job was to keep the peace, and I wanted to make my mom happy."

Jennette was two years old when her mother was first diagnosed with stage IV mammary ductal carcinoma, also known as breast cancer, in March 1995. Her brothers were 5, 7, and 11.

Jennette McCurdy at the Los Angeles Zoo in California on 29, 2009 | Source: Getty Images

Jennette McCurdy at the Los Angeles Zoo in California on 29, 2009 | Source: Getty Images

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She spent her whole life fearing that her mother might die; when her mother was first diagnosed, she needed a bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy, breast surgery, and multiple radiation treatments.

Jennette recalls her mother telling her that her worst fears were that her younger children would not remember her after being diagnosed.

Her mother's diagnosis worsened over the years; during surgery in February 2010, doctors found breast cancer cells in her sinuses. They also found cancer cells in her skull, lymph nodes, ribs, sternum, thoracic and lumbar spine, and pelvis. When more cancer cells were found in her brain, she had to resume chemotherapy.

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Jennette McCurdy at the W Hotel in California on November 22, 2008 | Source: Getty Images

Jennette McCurdy at the W Hotel in California on November 22, 2008 | Source: Getty Images

DEBRA MCCURDY PUSHED HER DAUGHTER INTO ACTING

After successfully kick-starting an acting career at a young age, Jennette felt the pressure start to mount. At the age of ten or eleven, she was the primary financial provider for her family; despite feeling uncomfortable during her auditions, her family did not have much money, so she kept acting to help her loved ones.

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As much as she was controlling, her mother was also supportive. She was always on set with Jennette; she started getting acting gigs as young as six. She would drive Jennette back and forth from sets to their home. She said:

“She was my biggest cheerleader, my biggest supporter, and also my harshest critic. She was very hard on, me but I always knew that she came from a place of love and that she wanted the best for me.”

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Debra's controlling behavior began to take a toll on Jennette's health; at eleven, she developed an eating disorder. Debra would portion her meals and count her calories, comparing her body and weight to other girls. While playing her role as Sam on "iCarly," Jennette was privately suffering from anorexia which later led to binge eating and bulimia.

Debra also struggled with an eating disorder when she was a teenager; she was hospitalized for anorexia on multiple occasions. Growing up, Jennette rarely saw her mother eating more than a plate of steamed vegetables.

When Jennette was seventeen, she began to perform vaginal as well as breast exams on her daughter; Jennette was also not permitted to shower on her own.

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DEBRA MCCURDY'S DEATH HELPED JENNETTE QUIT ACTING

Jennette spent years uncomfortable and unhappy as an actor, admitting that she felt ashamed about some of the work she had done and the parts she had played:

“I’m so ashamed of the parts I’ve done in the past. I resent my career in a lot of ways. I feel unfulfilled by the roles I played and felt like it was the most cheesy, embarrassing [thing].”

Jennette starred in Nickelodeon's widely successful TV show "iCarly" from 2007 until 2012, with Miranda Cosgrove as her co-star. The show was so successful that it received a spinoff, "Sam and Cat," co-starring Ariana Grande.

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Jennette McCurdy and Ariana Grande at the UK premiere of “Sam and Cat” in England on October 12, 2013 | Source: Getty Images

Jennette McCurdy and Ariana Grande at the UK premiere of “Sam and Cat” in England on October 12, 2013 | Source: Getty Images

After Debra's cancer diagnosis worsened and her death in 2013, Jennette took a break from acting, reevaluating what she wanted to do with her own life.

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JENNETTE MCCURDY HAD MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT HER MOTHER'S PASSING

In her memoir, "I'm Glad my Mother Died," Jennette shares that she has found a sense of liberation since her mother's passing. But she also felt pain and missed her mother. Discovering her identity without her mother was a complicated process, but she eventually arrived at a place in her life that she never thought she could.

She recalled a story where she turned to her partner and said, "Oh my God, I miss my mom so much." But she knew she would still struggle with an eating disorder if her mother remained alive. It was the distance from her mother that allowed Jennette to get healthy.

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