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What Is an Unauthorized Biography?
Unauthorized biographies are books that detail the life of public figures without their consent. This type of life story is most often published while the subject is still alive. From Hollywood celebrities to White House families, the high-profile people featured in unauthorized biographies often do not approve of the book and do not sit down for interviews with the author. In many cases, the subject also requests that friends and family do not cooperate or provide any information to the author.
3 Examples of Authors Who Write Unauthorized Biographies
Even without the subject’s permission, writers are protected by law and still able to publish a book about a celebrity in the United States. Here are some of the most well-known unauthorized biographers and their most famous books:
- Kitty Kelley: One of the most well-known unauthorized biographers is Kitty Kelly. Despite the controversy her books have drawn, many of them have been on the New York Times bestsellers list. Her books include The Family, about the Bush family, His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra, and Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography. Kelly’s 2010 book, Oprah Winfrey: A Biography, faced backlash when media outlets and talk shows like Larry King’s talk show on CNN, refused to give her air time to promote the book as a sign of support for Oprah Winfrey. As a result, the book did not sell as many copies as hoped.
- Andrew Morton: English journalist Andrew Morton is another well-known writer of unauthorized biographies. His books include Diana: Her True Story about Princess Diana, Angelina: An Unauthorized Biography, and Madonna. One of his most famous books was Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography, profiling the actor and his well-publicized marriages to Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes.
- Monte Burke: In 2016, Journalist Monte Burke published Saban: The Making of a Coach. The book is an unauthorized biography of University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban. It profiles the man who rose through the ranks of college football coaching to become the only coach to lead two college teams to national championships. Saban publicly distanced himself from the book which still became a bestseller on the New York Times list.
Authorized vs. Unauthorized Biographies: 5 Key Differences
Aside from the issue of permission, there are several differentiating factors between authorized and unauthorized biographies:
- Origin: The idea for an authorized biography sometimes originates from the subject themselves who seek out a well-respected journalist or author to write their story. An unauthorized biography, on the other hand, is undertaken without the consent of the subject.
- Subject participation: When a subject of a biography is unwilling to work with the author on a book about their life and often does not approve, it is known as an unauthorized biography. When the subject does agree to be interviewed and involved in the research process, the biography is typically authorized. The subject of an authorized biography gives consent for a book to be written about their life, and they often participate by providing information to be included in the book. They might also include photographs from throughout their life.
- Friends and family participation: It can be difficult for the author of an unauthorized biography to find people who will share first-hand stories about the subject for the book. This is generally less of an issue with authorized biographies.
- Risk: Profiling celebrities and entertainers without permission comes with a fair amount of risk-taking. Authors often face the threats of legal action against them and their publishers even before their book is published. Authors in the United States are, for the most part, protected by the First Amendment
- Reception: Unauthorized biographies are seen by some as less reliable sources than officially authorized biographies.
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