Holly Madison Reveals Why Girls Next Door Is "Triggering" to Her

Now the host of ID's The Playboy Murders, Holly Madison talked to E! News about why she wouldn't change anything about her past—but why she wouldn't want to relive it, either.

By Natalie Finn Jan 20, 2024 2:30 PMTags
Watch: Holly Madison Admits 'Girls Next Door' Scenes Are "Triggering" to Rewatch

For anyone who figures the women associated with Playboy knew what they were getting into, so why be surprised if the experience goes terribly wrong, Holly Madison would like people to know that's not how it works.

"I was 19 when I moved to L.A. and didn't know anybody," Madison, who dated Hugh Hefner for 10 years, told E! News' Francesca Amiker in an exclusive interview. "There's some dicey moments when you're trying to make it in the entertainment industry. I definitely made some fear-based decisions."

And though her life took a different turn, the 44-year-old can't help but feel a connection to the stories told in the Investigation Discovery series The Playboy Murders, which explores the dire fates of some of the women who posed for the famous magazine.

"I definitely as a 22-year-old woman got in way over my head," Madison, the host and an executive producer of this show and ID's upcoming Lethally Blond, explained. "The tragic things that happened to people, it can really happen to anybody. People go forward with the best intentions and sometimes the worst thing goes wrong."

Secrets of Playboy Bombshells

In her 2015 book Down the Rabbit Hole, Madison detailed the dire financial straits she was in when she moved into the Playboy Mansion in 2001 to be one of then-75-year-old Hefner's live-in girlfriends. She spent 10 years at the storied Holmby Hills residence, during which she starred in five seasons of E!'s Girls Next Door with Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson.

And because there's no airbrushing the past, Madison suspects that her choice to enter into that situation in the first place was at least partially influenced by aspects of her personality she now attributes to being on the autism spectrum, a diagnosis she received last summer.

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

"I think feeling like I could be in love with an older man," she explained, "part of that was because I hadn't really connected with boys my own age my whole life. Being on a different social wavelength than other people can happen when you're on the spectrum. But I didn't know that at the time and I thought, Well, maybe I'm just destined to be with somebody older!"

Which she theoretically was, at least temporarily. It was a period of her life that Madison wouldn't necessarily want to relive, but she also wouldn't change a thing.

"I learned so much," she said, "and I feel like my purpose here on earth is to share my story and help open people's minds to different perspectives."

That being said, going back down the rabbit hole with Marquardt for their rewatch podcast Girls Next Level has caused her to relive it a little, and some parts have been tougher than others.

The Girls Next Door: Then and Now

There were "triggering scenes" that were hard to watch, Madison acknowledged. "The show was pretty lightweight, but sometimes something will hit me that I'm not really prepared for. We used to have to do these fake scenes where we would all be in bed together in matching pajamas, and I'm like, '[ugh] I can't talk about it, I'm gagging.'"

She smiled, continuing, "I have to work through that as we're talking about it, and sometimes Bridget will be talking about it and I'm like [cut-it-out]. I don't know, these feelings come up out of nowhere."

At the same time, "It's fun to talk it through," Madison added. "It's kind of like therapy to get it out there. And of course we're reliving the good times, as well."

Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Meanwhile, her 10-year-old daughter Rainbow (with ex-husband Pasquale Rotella) knows that her mother has a podcast, but "she doesn't know what it's about," Madison said, "or really seem to care."

And that's fine with her, Madison—who's also mom to son Forest, 7, with Rotella—admitting that she has "no idea" what she'll tell Rainbow if the subject of her earlier life comes up.

"Every phase [of childhood and parenting] is so different," she said, "and I never know how I'm going to handle each phase until it's right in front of my face."

On-Screen Playboy Bunnies

But for now, Madison—who marveled over the fact that she used to say she wanted six kids—has her hands happily full with Forest's antics ("he's super-crazy, attention hog, hilarious") and getting Rainbow to finish her homework. "Other than that, she's a really gifted surfer," Madison gushed, "and she's finally into reading, which I love because I was a big bookworm as a kid."

She's also been dating her current boyfriend on and off for about four years, Madison shared, and one of his finest attributes is how secure he is—unlike some guys who asked her out knowing full well who she was but then gave her grief about it.

This man is "not jealous or weird about anything I've done in the past," she said. (And when asked if there might be an engagement in her future, she said she didn't need it but would not be opposed to it.)

Instagram/Holly Madison

Looking back at where she's been and how far she's come, Madison attributed her current state to something within her that never let her get irreversibly down even in her darkest moments.

"No matter how low my self-esteem was, just having this core faith in myself and the faith that things can get better—I was blessed with that," she said. "I don't know where I would have been without that feeling."

Wilkinson having recently shared some harrowing details about her battle with depression, Madison felt for her former housemate, whom she hasn't been in contact with in more than 10 years but is forever bonded to nonetheless. 

Denise Truscello/WireImage

"I hope she's surrounding herself by people who she's close to and she can trust," Madison said. And she knows from experience how hard it can be dealing with that struggle in the public eye, which, she said, "adds an extra layer to it. I hope she's focusing on the joy in her day to day life."

Having dealt with depression and body dysmorphia—conditions she manages, Madison noted, because neither ever goes completely away— she said she tries to be gentle with herself.

"But for the most part I'm really thriving and really happy," Madison said, "so I'm very grateful for that."

Season two of The Playboy Murders premieres Monday, Jan. 22, at 10 p.m. on Investigation Discovery, with episodes also streaming on Max. Lethally Blonde premieres Monday, March 25, at 10 p.m. on ID.

And when you're finished catching up with Girls Next Level, keep reading for a comprehensive guide to the many TV rewatch podcasts there for the listening:

The Real Housewives

The podcast: ReWives
The host: Bethenny Frankel
The gist: The Skinnygirl founder is ready to mention it all when she rewatches iconic episodes from the Bravo franchise, including "Scary Island" from The Real Housewives of New York, the "Dinner Party from Hell" from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills  and the iconic "Table Flip" from The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

While the RHONY alum left the series in 2019, Bethenny is still involved in the drama, with her former costars Luann DeLesseps and Carole Radziwill recently taking a shot at B for starting the podcast.

"I think she's trying to grab the fame of Housewives to keep her storyline going," de Lesseps said on the Everything Iconic podcast. "It's pretty sad and pathetic that she has to resort to Housewives because of all of her failed pivots since the Housewives,." 

Radziwill, meanwhile, tweeted, "Oh lordy…how original. But she did build her brand by trashing & mocking women specifically the HWs & Betheny always returns to what she does best."

Laguna Beach

The podcast: Back to the Beach
The hosts: Kristin Cavallari and Stephen Colletti
The gist: The early aughts' most famous teen exes reunite for an episode-by-episode rewatch, breaking down every argument, making fun of their high school antics and revealing what was really in those red Solo cups. 

For their season one finale episode, Colletti and Cavallari welcomed Lauren Conrad, with the love triangle reuniting for the first time publicly to come clean and reveal major secrets about the MTV reality series. It was epic. 

The O.C.

The podcast: Welcome to the OC, Bitches!
The hosts: Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke
The gist: Nostalgia, here we come! Bilson and Clarke, who played Summer Roberts and Julie Cooper respectively, break down each episode of the Fox teen drama to divulge what was really going down in Orange County. Since its debut in May 2021, the pair have welcomed series creator Josh Schwartz, co-star Peter Gallagher and, most notably, Adam Brody, Bilson's ex-boyfriend of three years who played emo icon Seth Cohen

Friday Night Lights

The podcast: It's Not Only Football: Friday Night Lights and Beyond
The hosts: Scott Porter, Zach Gilford and Mae Whitman 
The gist: The Dillon Panthers' two beloved quarterbacks huddle up with the Parenthood star and FNL superfan to relive the critically acclaimed NBC drama's glory days.

Recently launched on Nov. 10, the podcast will feature guests—including fellow cast members and celebrity friends—and fun segments, in addition to Porter and Gilford sharing their stories about making the show. 

Friday Night Lights

The podcast: Clear Eyes, Full Hearts
The hosts: Derek Phillips and Stacey Oristano
The gist: The show so nice it's been podcasted about twice! Oristano and Phillips, who played the fan-favorite couple Billy and Mindy Riggins, welcome their former co-stars and crew members to break down every play of the NBC series.

One Tree Hill

The podcast: Drama Queens
The hosts: Bethany Joy Lenz, Sophia Bush and Hilarie Burton 
The gist: They don't wanna be anything other than they've been trying to be lately! The trio, who played best friends Haley, Brook and Peyton, don't hold back while dissecting every episode of the longrunning CW drama. The actresses have discussed the drama and misconduct that allegedly plagued the set, which included internal politics and alliances, feelings of discomfort over certain sex scenes, and the reported sexual harassment by creator Mark Schwahn (allegations he's never addressed publicly).

"For us, this was really about reclaiming our show," Bush explained in an interview on CBS Mornings in January 2022. "It was about taking all of the joy and the power back and taking out the trash." Looking at the experience "as grown women, as producer, directors, creatives," she added, "We just said, 'You know, there's clearly something special here. What if we went and found it? What if we mined for the gold and throw out the rest of it?'"

Gilmore Girls

The podcast: I'm All In
The host: Scott Patterson
The gist: Unlike his iconic Gilmore Girls persona, Luke Danes, the actor embraced technology when he began his rewatch podcast in May 2021, a decision that would likely cause the somewhat charming curmudgeon to roll his eyes and point to his diner's "No Cell Phones" sign. And the endeavor marked the first time that Patterson would be watching the beloved series.

"I make the sausage, but I don't eat it. I'm with it 12 to 14 hours a day, I don't really want to consume it," Patterson told E! News at the time. "I just don't like watching myself, it's a nauseating experience for me."

But his desire to interact with Gilmore Girls' "ravenous" fanbase ultimately proved more potent. 

"It was really a good idea to engage the fans because they are hungry to take about it and still sort of be in the deep end, if you will, of the Gilmore-sphere," Patterson explained. "It's a very rich environment where they are very well-versed and they want to talk about it. This platform is giving them another opportunity to discuss it."

Boy Meets World

The podcast: Pod Meets World
The hosts: Danielle Fishel, Rider Strong and Will Friedle
The gist: TGI-Fishel, Strong and Friedle reuniting to break down every episode of the classic sitcom! And the trio isn't shy about sharing some seriously good scoop, with Fishel revealing her childhood crush on Strong and that she was almost fired during the first season.

Beverly Hills, 90210

The podcast: 9021OMG
The hosts: Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth
The gist: Thirty years after graduating from West Bev, Spelling and Garth return to pop culture's most famous zip code to share all of the juicy secrets about the iconic soap. 

The podcast, which launched in 2020, even gave Spelling to opportunity to introduce BH, 90210, with Spelling telling E! News that her daughter Stella "loves" the fashion on the show.

The Office

The podcast: Office Ladies
The hosts: Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey
The gist: Pam and Anagela are IRL besties! Fischer and Kinsey teamed up for their popular pod in October 2019 to offer behind the scenes commentary (aided by meticulous note cards and a fast fact formula) and banter that only best friends can provide.

Inspired by their podcast, the duo released their book, The Office BFFs: Tales of The Office from Two Best Friends Who Were There, in May 2022.


The podcast: Fake Doctors, Real Friends
The hosts: Zach Braff and Donald Faison 
The gist: As the show's name suggests, Braff and Faison have remained close since Scrubs ended 13 years ago, and, when the coronavirus pandemic had sent the world into lockdown in March 2020, they did what any bored pair of friends would do: They started a hit podcast.

In addition to offering insight about the making of the medical sitcom, the actors take calls from fans and offer life advice, all while shooting the s--t and building up their own vocabulary, like when Faison memorably used the word "deservant" in an early episode and became canon for loyal listeners.

 "Scrubs created all of these sayings—whether it be 'Eagle' or 'Chocolate Bear,' and now through this podcast, the show lives on," Faison told E! News in September 2020. "'Deservant,' which is a word that I made up, is now in the Scrubs vernacular but was never in Scrubs. This show is like, alright, so you were a fan of Turk and JD and you really enjoyed hanging out with them? You can hang out with them for another hour and a half every Tuesday and Thursday!"

New Girl

The podcast: Welcome to Our Show
The hosts: Zooey Deschanel, Hannah Simone and Lamorne Morris
The gist: The co-stars and real-life friends return to Apartment 4D each week to offer behind the scenes secrets about the sitcom with guests such as creator Liz Meriweather and fellow cast members Jake Johnson, Justin Long and Dermot Mulroney. Because sometimes people aren't the worst.

Gossip Girl

The podcast: XOXO
The host: Jessica Szohr
The gist: Spotted: Szohr welcoming guests—which have included co-stars Ed Westwick, Chace Crawford and Taylor Momsen, as well as the show's creators and costume designer—to share on-set memories and break down the pop culture phenomenon that was GG. You know you love a deep-dive.