Since 2007, Kaley Cuoco has provided laughs playing Penny on the hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory, a show with a colorful cast of characters. While Cuoco's Big Bang Theory role is one of her most notable TV and film appearances, she has a long history in the industry. Cuoco began her showbiz career at age 5, starring in national advertisements before making her big break on the final season of Charmed.
Cuoco has remained transparent about her mildly tumultuous personal life. She married tennis player Ryan Sweeting after a whirlwind romance, but divorced him two years into their partnership after allegations of drug abuse surfaced. She's also made controversial comments about feminism, which garnered considerable public backlash. Cuoco married fellow equestrian Karl Cook in June 2018, and the animal lovers share a few pets. In addition to acting, multi-talented Cuoco continues to pursue her passion for horse racing.
Few could imagine The Big Bang Theory without Penny, Cuoco's bubbly character, but the show's unaired pilot didn't feature her as the female lead. The original pilot episode stars a character named Katie, an unsuccessful salon employee who moves in with Leonard and Sheldon.
With her "street smarts," Katie would supposedly school the bookish Leonard and Sheldon, but test audiences didn't love the dynamic. Show creators later revealed the audience enjoyed the nerds, but weren't fans of Katie's attitude, which was harsher than Penny's. Thus, they scrapped Katie and replaced her with Penny.
Lifelong equestrian Cuoco was always passionate about horses. In 2010, she fell off a horse, and the animal trampled her underfoot. The accident injured one of Cuoco's ankles so badly, she nearly lost the foot to amputation.
After two surgeries and two weeks in the hospital, she survived with both feet intact, thanks to metal implants.
In 2014, the stars of The Big Bang Theory - Cuoco, Jim Parsons, and Johnny Galecki - negotiated three-year contracts establishing each actor's pay at $1 million per episode. It's similar to the sum negotiated by the cast of Friends. With her agreement, Cuoco stands to earn a whopping $139 million.
She was one of TV's highest-paid actresses in 2017, making $26 million that year alone.
In a 2014 interview with Redbook, then-newlywed Cuoco announced she wasn't a feminist. She explained she hadn't experienced discrimination:
Things are different now, and I know a lot of the work that paved the way for women happened before I was around... I was never that feminist girl demanding equality, but maybe that's because I've never really faced inequality.
Cuoco received flack from the interview. She's since changed her tune, telling Cosmopolitan in 2016:
Of course, I’m a f*cking feminist. Look at me. I bleed feminism. I get equal pay to my male costars on a big show; I have my own home; I’m as independent as you could possibly be. Maybe I didn’t understand the question, but for me that’s feminism. I’m killing the game, man.