Earth Angel

The MTV girl who became an environmental activist

Published September 25, 2023

From time to time, Questionist publishes profiles of interesting people who are turning 60. We have not discussed this internally, but it must be true, or else why does this article exist? Happy birthday, Keely!

When Keely Shaye Brosnan showed up for her first-ever Met Gala this May, she did so as a winner of multiple awards for environmental advocacy. She did it as the director of a documentary, Poisoning Paradise, that won several film-festival audience and jury awards. And she did it on the arm of James Bond. 

Ever since she fell out of Huey Lewis’s boat in 1986, Brosnan (née Smith) has been sort of on the edge of stardom. She had a 10-episode arc on General Hospital in 1989 before turning to TV journalism, doing location segments for Good Morning America, The Today Show, and Entertainment Tonight – and, weirdly, two seasons of Unsolved Mysteries in the mid-’90s.

But a couple of developments in that phase of her career would point the way toward Smith’s future: She produced and hosted a short-lived PBS show about sustainable gardening, called Home Green Home. And, while visiting Mexico to interview a post-Cheers Ted Danson for The Today Show in 1994, she randomly met a 40-year-old Irish widower named Pierce Brosnan. The pair married in 2001 – which is to say, their courtship spanned Pierce’s entire four-movie turn as 007 – and made homes with their two sons in Malibu and in Keely’s childhood home, Hawaii.

Hawaii is the subject of Poisoning Paradise, which we’ll still get to in a minute. But first let’s check out Bored Panda, which has probably the internet’s most thorough compilation of what an effing adorable couple the Brosnans are. Mind you, the internet has many such articles. As Keely once told People magazine in a bit of an understatement: “I understand why women find him sexy, because he is an appealing man.”

As a team, the Brosnans have made ocean ecology their especial passion, working to stop projects near their homes that might harm whales and dolphins. Eventually she became aware of projects that harmed her neighbors, too, which led to Poisoning Paradise in 2017. The documentary follows the history of agribusiness’s open-air pesticide testing on Kauai, and the story of islanders pushing for legislation to curtail it. According to the film, Hawaii has more such test sites than anywhere else in the U.S.

“I really tried to share the story of these indigenous people that live in Hawaii, that are on a daily basis unable to stop these chemical companies from using these heavy restricted-use pesticides, general-use pesticides, right up against where they live,” she told a Sedona Film Festival audience. (Thanks to a disclosure law that passed in 2018, activists have more tools to scrutinize pesticide testing, even as the other side defends its practices. )

The next time you’re on Kauai, think of Keely Shaye Brosnan’s role in the fight. And if that’s today, wish her a happy birthday!