Breakfast is served just before noon on this brilliantly sunny day at Holly Madison’s house, as Las Vegas’ most famous mother-to-be pulls two boxes of cereal down from a kitchen cabinet. Rice Chex and Corn Flakes. Decision time? Nope. Holly will have both.
She dumps the Chex and Flakes together and pours nonfat milk into the bowl. Then she plunges a spoon into the mix, and you notice something off-kilter about the way she’s stirring her breakfast mashup: She’s going after it left-handed.
Madison is not left-handed. She throws right and writes right and has signed autographs for many years right-handed. But she’s using her off hand to dig into a bowl of cereal. What’s this about? Is this something people don’t know about Holly Madison? Is she, in fact, ambidextrous?
She is not.
“I always wanted to be ambidextrous, ever since I was a little girl,” she says, dabbing her spoon with the dexterity of a natural portsider. “I wanted to be able to use both hands, and I still use my left hand a lot.”
It seems an insignificant characteristic, unless you know Madison. She’s just slightly different, slightly askance. In terms of her decisions, and the timing of those decisions, she keeps you guessing. It’s expected she will produce the unexpected—all the time.
This spring, Madison and the producers of Peepshow, the adult revue in which she has starred as Bo Peep, announced she would leave the Planet Hollywood show on December 30. It was to be the end of an era, albeit a relatively short one, for the woman who arrived in town in the fall of 2008 and quickly embarked on a hard-focused campaign to become “Miss Las Vegas.” It’s difficult to argue that Madison, who debuted in Peepshow in June 2009, has met that lofty objective. When a Las Vegas tourism exec or elected official is seeking a model to promote the city, whether at the iconic "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign or as the new-generation Miss Atomic Bomb, Madison has been the first call.
Madison’s run as a Strip headliner in a topless production could not last indefinitely, of course. By the time she announced her plans to close what would be a three-and-a-half–year run in Peepshow, Madison was in a committed relationship with Electric Daisy Carnival founder Pasquale Rotella and talking happily of starting a post-Peepshow family.
But the timing of her departure from Planet Peep was something of a lefty curveball. On August 29, she disclosed that she was 12 weeks pregnant.
“We knew we wanted to try to have kids, but probably next year,” Madison says. “I don’t know why this is, maybe because I am 33 or what, but I didn’t think it would be that easy for me to get pregnant. But it was.”
Madison laughs at herself and adds, “We were really excited about it, happy, but we always kind of pictured getting pregnant after my contract was up.”
Madison had been adhering to her physician’s advice to keep her condition private, but signals that she was changing her daily routine became obvious—at least to her.
“I was just feeling awful and stressed and tired, and I couldn’t be drinking this huge-ass Starbucks that I used to drink every day. I don’t know how people who were around me every day didn’t notice I wasn’t carrying around this gallon-size drink. Maybe they were just being polite, but the doctors were saying, ‘Don’t tell anybody,’ because the risk of miscarriage during that time is pretty common.”
Friends of the radiant expectant mother marvel that her baby bump is perfectly symmetrical and looks not at all unusual on her petite frame. She has adopted a “smoothie-based” diet, blending such concoctions as a spinach-blueberry-banana-orange shake and serving it as lunch. Rotella says he has dropped 15 pounds since he and Madison got together.
Asked if she has consulted a dietician, Madison smiles.
“Nope, I’ve done all my own research.”
The new child’s health and safety has been on her mind, certainly, since long before she made her condition public. Producing a note from her doctor, she began opting out of one particularly risky scene in Peepshow, the opening moments when an inverted Bo Peep slides down a silk to the stage.
Even so, beyond those adjustments, Madison says, “I didn’t feel self-conscious, or feel I had to do too much differently.” The window of notification was just narrower than she had planned.
That was the case for the show producers, too. The announcement at the 12-week mark caught officials with BASE Entertainment, producers of Peepshow, off-guard (co-CEO Scott Zeiger recently recalled the acute surprise of opening the email from Madison stating that she was pregnant, as his jaw dropped at the news). Those officials, the cast and everyone connected to the show swiftly wished Madison well—and hastened the effort to sign a well-known star to fill the role of Bo Peep, settling on Coco Austin, the curvy and bubbly star of Ice Loves Coco on E!.
As Madison sees it, the new performer was essentially chosen using the same set of parameters that led producers to pick Madison as a replacement for Kelly Monaco, who opened as Bo Peep in the spring of 2009: a former Playboy model who is blonde and buxom and the star of a reality TV show.
Madison says, however, “I do wish they would have changed the look of the character in the marketing. What I’ve seen so far doesn’t really scream ‘new headliner.’ It just kind of looks like they slapped somebody else’s head over my body. Coco’s famous for her figure in a different way than I am, so I kind of expected them to switch up the pose or the costume a little.”
Madison has plans that will take her out of town for Coco’s media premiere on December 17, but when asked if she’ll ever see the new star in her former role, she pauses.
“I honestly don’t know. I like Coco. She is super-sweet. But I’m not a big fan of going back to things I’ve left behind. When I left Playboy, I wasn’t loitering, trying to see who the new Playmates or girlfriends were.”
On this warm day, Pasquale Rotella is fighting a fever and leaves the house to hit a Quick Care for some quick care. There’s a hint of irony knowing that the man who is carried by helicopter over a hundred thousand EDC fans at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is forced to wait with a dozen other patients for a simple medical exam.
Rotella and Madison met at Las Vegas’ first EDC in 2011 but didn’t go out on anything that could be described as a date for nearly a year, when they met again at Marquee nightclub at Cosmopolitan.
“I have never seen anyone who has received as much praise as Holly be so grounded and so humble,” he says. “Personally, I’ve never been happier. She is my soul mate. It took us a long time for us to be as close as we are, but she is just so sweet.”
Rotella asks for some time to give a thoughtful response to how he feels about Madison and days later makes sure to add, “I have never been in love like this before, ever, in my life.”
The two have discussed marriage, but there has been no formal asking and answering. Pasquale has not dropped to a knee, in other words, but they do know their ceremony will be outside, somewhere sunny, sometime after the baby is born, so Holly will be slim and fit in her dress.
Madison says Rotella is the rare man who is largely uninterested in her fame or how he might be able to benefit from it.
“We have a lot of the same outlook on things, and we are in the same place in our lives.”
When Rotella is nearby, Madison’s disposition lightens, and there’s a lot of, “I love you!” tossed back and forth between the two, a lot of public displays of affection, a lot of obvious, shared love and admiration.
Days after the interview at her home, Madison sends a photo illustration in a text message. It’s a picture of a silhouetted couple holding on to two long ribbons shaped as hearts, as the sun sets behind them. The message reads, “Find someone who will change your life. Not just your relationship status.” Her note: “I found something on Instagram that illustrates how I feel about Pasq.”
Madison has been moving in a singular direction and with a consistent velocity—forward and fast—since she landed in Las Vegas. Suffice to say not every project has worked out. In an unexpected development, the E! reality series Holly’s World that would have chronicled her move from Strip performer to new mom didn’t make it past its second season. This, despite stable ratings. Madison was the star, naturally, and the show was set in Las Vegas, focusing on her life in Peepshow and featuring many of the cast members and a few of her new friends.
Prior to moving to Las Vegas, Madison had enjoyed success as a cast member on The Girls Next Door, the show spotlighting Hugh Hefner and his live-in girlfriends, which lasted six seasons. Holly’s World didn’t make it half that long. Madison says ratings for the show were strong, but through a complicated production schematic E! actually never made money on the show. As she described, after two seasons of The Girls Next Door, she and castmates/girlfriends Kendra Wilkinson and Bridget Marquardt signed contracts specifying that Playboy would get a cut from any spin-offs of the original series.
After two seasons, Madison recalls, Holly’s World was drawing strong audiences, and she expected the show to be picked up for a third season. But as the time frame for filming came and went (filming for a third season should have begun in September 2011), it was clear the show had ended. Madison also says the arrival of a new president at E! Entertainment, Suzanne Kolb, in the summer of 2011 hastened the dismissal of her show and the other Girls Next Door spinoff, Kendra.
“When the new president was put over E!, those shows weren’t her shows,” Madison recalls. “She said, ‘These aren’t my shows. They aren’t making me money. So, nuh-uh.’”
The person who likely gained the most from the Holly’s World experience was Angel Porrino, today the “bubble girl” in Absinthe at Caesars Palace. A virtual unknown outside Las Vegas (and, to be honest, in Las Vegas), Porrino quickly became an appealing presence on camera and was friends with Madison before filming ever started. In one of the show’s subplots, Porrino was cast in Peepshow as Madison’s understudy—and Holly was rightfully depicted as a rainmaker in her young friend’s budding entertainment career. They even lived together for a time, with Porrino moving her infant son, Roman, into Madison’s new home.
Today, the two do not speak. The rift has been widening since at least the second and final season of filming for Holly’s World.
“It wasn’t really that one thing happened. It was just about two years ago, she really started to change,” Madison says. “I tried to repair her friendship for a long time, and it just wasn’t happening. Things just kept getting worse and worse, so there just comes a time where you have to give up.”
Was it a case of Porrino not showing gratitude for the break she was given to perform in Peepshow—where she is now filling the Bo Peep role while Coco rehearses?
“I don’t know what it is,” Madison says. “I think there is just a lot of change in her life that maybe I don’t know anything about.”
For her part, Porrino says only that she wishes Madison the best in her new role as a mother.
Madison says, “Sometimes you wonder about people. You wonder, ‘Did this person change because a little bit of fame went to their head? Or was this person just always fake to me the whole time and just wanted to use me for opportunities?’ I have no idea. You never know, even when you look in hindsight.”
Asked if she feels she has misjudged her friendship with Porrino, Madison pauses and says, “I don’t think so. You know, I miss the old Angel. I miss the person she used to be. She used to be a really delightful person who everybody liked.”
Madison is finished with breakfast and is calling out to her dogs—Louis, Josephine and Napoleon—as they torment her pet ferrets, Sid and Nancy. The talk turns to the future—Madison’s and Rotella’s, the baby, everything.
The two plan to split their lives between Las Vegas and LA. They haven’t decided on a name for the baby, though they agree it will be something unusual. That has led to some oddball suggestions, including “Snow” from Holly’s father, though Madison says that’s “too hippie.” She prefers names that are sort of left-field, names of things or places or last names as first names. “Hayes” elicits a chuckle of approval. “Glitter” has been sent via text to tepid response.
Madison’s friends are throwing name suggestions as fast as gifts, and as Madison revealed she was expecting a girl, she was hit with a tide of stuffed Disney characters and other figures dressed in the same pink hue her Porsche is painted. The couple says they’ll arrive at an informal, short list of names—and choose one upon birth.
Though neither Rotella nor Madison can say exactly what type of parents they will be, “protective” is a strong likelihood. When the couple were looking for a new house in the prestigious Rancho Circle luxury home subdivision in the core of Las Vegas, Madison dismissed some potential properties because the front lawns were too close to the sidewalks and streets.
“It wasn’t even that I thought the area was not safe, but I wouldn’t want to live in a house that people might find out is mine and be able to walk into the front yard and see my kid playing, and just lift the kid out. You know what I mean? I want to live in an area that is protected.”
Madison says the couple want a big family. Big, as in, eight is enough?
“I want six kids,” she says. “We’ll see how it goes, but I want a big family.”
While Rotella is not entirely comfortable talking about his personal life, or his feelings for Madison, he does talk business and, at least generally, the legal problems he faces in his hometown of LA, the former site of EDC before the festival moved to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In a case still unresolved, Rotella has been charged with several counts of conspiracy, bribery and embezzlement related to the event when it was held at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Specifically, Rotella and another promoter are accused of paying $1.8 million to a former employee of the Memorial Coliseum in exchange for an uncommonly low rental for the facility to stage the festival.
“I don’t plan on going anywhere,” Rotella says. “I have confidence everything is going to work out the way it should and the truth will prevail.”
Despite the fever, he comes across as totally unflappable. It’s for good reason, he says.
“As relaxed as I sound, I take it very seriously. But it’s hard to stress too much when you haven’t done anything wrong. … The facts need to be gone through, and I have a great team representing me. I’m taking it seriously, but I’m not thinking it’s going to take me away.”
So Madison and Rotella are looking forward. She’s selling the Vegas home in Southern Highlands she purchased soon after opening in Peepshow, and she plans to move the pink, human-sized doghouse built for her three canines—to the new Rancho Circle abode.
And Madison, as always, has plans “in development.” She says she enjoyed her year and a half as a Las Vegas correspondent for Extra and hopes to pursue that form of entertainment coverage at some point. She’s careful about reviewing TV projects, rejecting anything that would be an epilogue to The Girls Next Door or even Holly’s World. She recently saw the musical Rock of Ages on Broadway and was “blown away” by the talent onstage. She says she hopes to be a part of a “legitimate musical” in the not-too-distant future.
Madison also has talked of producing a stage show that would hearken to the more inspired qualities of burlesque, and says she has long been a fan of Dita Von Teese and Crazy Horse, both in Paris and its just-closed offshoot at MGM Grand.
“My main motivation for staying in the spotlight at all is, I don’t want to just be known for being involved in Playboy, or having been Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend—I hate that,” she says. “I like to show I can do other things and take on other challenges. That’s my main motivation. I’m not taking just any TV offer just because I think, ‘God, my clock is ticking; I’m not going to be relevant next year if I don’t do another TV show.’”
She laughs a little and shoos her dog away from the counter. Could she live a normal life? Give away all the fame she has accrued over the past decade?
Holly Madison thinks she could.
“I could live a normal life,” she says. “My motivation is only to take on new challenges.”
But normal? We might need to redefine the word, at least as it applies to Madison. It doesn’t quite fit a woman who can be counted on to cause a stir.