7 Most Infamous Hollywood Divorce Scandals
Liz Taylor and Richard Burton (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Infidelity, drug use, Scientology: These are only a few of the reasons why these famous Hollywood couples decided to split.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard by now that Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Regardless of whether you were a fan of the Hollywood couple or not, their separation has hijacked entertainment headlines and shocked the masses. The seemingly levelheaded couple was routinely praised for their activist natures, family dynamics and open communication. Like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, they seemed solid.
But celebrity divorce scandals are hardly new—in most cases, they’re even expected. However, it often takes a high-profile split, rife with malicious gossip and wild speculation, like the one between Jolie and Pitt, to cause us to look back at other headline-grabbing divorces that also shook the foundations of Tinseltown.
So we take a look at some of the more, shall we say…acrimonious…celebrity splits.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton
Liz Taylor had a wildly successful film career, a penchant for fine jewelry and was a ravishing beauty, yet a large part of her public identity will forever be entwined with her eight high-profile marriages—two of which were to the same man, the volatile Richard Burton.
The couple first met on the set of 1963’s disastrous flop Cleopatra while both were married to other people—Taylor to fourth husband, Eddie Fisher, whom she “stole” from friend Debbie Reynolds, and Burton to Welsh actress Sybil Williams. The pair made no secret of their attraction for one another: director Joseph L. Mankiewicz had to repeatedly yell “Cut!” multiple times at one point during a kissing scene because the duo would not separate from their passionate embrace.
Taylor and Burton shocked Hollywood by divorcing their spouses soon after, marrying each other in March 1964. Their fans were dismayed—at least at first. Even the Vatican weighed in on the affair, condemning their actions as “erotic vagrancy.”
Despite a 10-year union (they divorced in 1974 after Burton’s affair with a young costar), the marriage was always marred by vicious verbal fights and alcoholism. When the couple finally split, Burton dived straight into his next marriage a mere three weeks later, this time to actress Suzy Hunt. Not one to waste time nursing a broken heart, Taylor quickly wed millionaire John Warner. But the pair stayed in touch: Burton even showed up to Taylor’s 50th birthday bash.
Paul Newman and Jacqueline Witte
One of Hollywood’s original Golden Couples, the 50-year union between Newman and actress Joanne Woodward was heralded as a rarity—and it certainly was. The love between them was palpable, yet we often forget that it was a marriage that began in adultery.
In 1953, while an understudy for the lead role in William Inge’s play, Picnic, Newman met the 22-year-old Woodward. Years later, Newman told reporters he’d found her “modern and independent” and he was struck by her beauty. But Woodward knew he had a wife and rebuffed his advances—at first. By this point, Newman had been married since 1949 to Jackie Witte and the couple had three children together.
“Paul and I were good friends before we were lovers,” Woodward once said. “We really liked each other…there was trust.” It wasn’t long before their attraction to one another became apparent to others—including Jackie. It was during a party for the success of Newman’s 1956 TV movie, Somebody Up There Likes Me, when everything came to a head. That night, Jackie hired a babysitter to look after the kids so she could join her husband for the celebration, but Newman bailed on the party and took a long, intoxicated drive through the city and found himself in handcuffs by the end of the night. He’d started turning to alcohol to subdue his guilt over his feelings for Woodward. But, after eight years of marriage, Newman finally confirmed to Jackie his love for Woodward and, even though she begged him to stay for the sake of their kids, Newman left his wife.
“I was probably too immature to make a success of my first marriage,” he later said.
Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio
In 1954, actress Marilyn Monroe and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio exchanged vows during a quiet ceremony in San Francisco. It was the second marriage for both. And, only nine months later, Monroe stood in front of cameras to announce she was divorcing DiMaggio on grounds of “mental cruelty” and his controlling, possessive nature. It appeared that while DiMaggio enjoyed the fact that he was married to one of the most beautiful women in the world, he also wanted her to downplay her sexuality and dress more modestly. Monroe refused.
DiMaggio didn’t take the news lightly and he drowned his sorrows with buddy Frank Sinatra, himself recently dumped by his bombshell wife, Ava Gardner. The two concocted a plan to make Monroe’s life as difficult as possible; Sinatra had her phone bugged (he’d done the same to Gardner) and DiMaggio would randomly show up at Monroe’s house to see if she was with a new man.
Eventually, DiMaggio’s harassment abated and, while he still pined after his former wife, he moved on, only to reappear in her life after Monroe’s 1961 divorce from playwright Arthur Miller. DiMaggio noticed Monroe was spiraling out of control, prone to drinking, drugging and spending too much time with John F. Kennedy. He tried to bring some stability to her life, inviting some of her old friends over for little get-togethers and helping her distance herself from the toxic Kennedy connections.
Sadly, only a year and a half later, on August 5, 1962, Monroe died of an alleged drug overdose. A grief-stricken DiMaggio was the one who went down to the coroner’s office to identify the remains. He handled all the funeral arrangements, from the private ceremony to the design of the headstone. He recalled how Monroe once told him she’d want fresh flowers delivered to her grave each week; DiMaggio did her one better—he had bouquets delivered twice a week until the day he died on March 8, 1999.
Sonny and Cher
In 1962, in a tiny café in Los Angeles, 16-year-old high school dropout Cherilyn Sarkisian met Salvatore Bono, the 28-year-old assistant to music producer Phil Spector. The two embarked on a whirlwind affair and rapidly rose to fame as singing duo Sonny and Cher after their hit “I Got You Babe” because a pop sensation in 1965.
But the couple eventually went through a nasty, highly publicized divorce after an 11-year union that produced their daughter, Chastity. By 1974 their careers had foundered and Cher filed for divorce citing “involuntary servitude.” The split was anything but amicable—she accused him of withholding money, and he took her to court over custody of Chastity. The results played out in the tabloids.
He was a “terrible husband” Cher later revealed to Vanity Fair in 2010. “But he was [also] a great mentor, a great teacher.”
Humphrey Bogart and Mayo Methot
It was 1943 and it was an instance of love at first sight—for Bogie, at least. The married actor found himself love struck when he first met Lauren Bacall on the set of the adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not (1944). Bacall was less than enthralled by her costar, a hard drinking man who was 25 years her senior and had a wife back home. But the two developed a respectful working relationship, until Bogie kissed her on a whim one day while on set. Bacall gave him her phone number.
Bogart started writing Bacall love letters: “You are my last love and all the rest of my life I shall love you,” said one. When Bacall’s mother visited the set she was outraged that her 19-year-old daughter was encouraging the advances of an older married man. Right after filming wrapped the duo teamed up again for The Big Sleep and Bogie’s wife, suspicious of an affair, filed for divorce.
Bogie’s marriage to actress Mayo Methot had always been fraught with tension; the pair were even dubbed “the Battling Bogarts.” Their Hollywood residence was a known battleground and it was common knowledge that the pair got into physical altercations with one another. Methot once stabbed Bogart in the shoulder, but Warner Brothers intervened to suppress the story.
But when Methot caught wind of her husband’s philandering ways—with a woman young enough to be his daughter—she began to visit the film set to keep an eye on him. We can only guess that she didn’t like what she saw and sent him packing (some sources claim it was actually Bogart who initiated the divorce proceedings).
Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (and Nicole Kidman)
Where do we even start? Tom Cruise, arguably the world’s most famous Scientologist (err, actor), has been divorced three times now (he split from actress and fellow Scientologist Mimi Rogers in 1990)—and each has escalated into the ultimate tabloid fodder, complete with astonishing accusations and conspiracy theories.
Back in 2013, Nicole Kidman gave a revealing interview to Harper’s Bazaar Australia about the demise of her 11-year marriage to Cruise (the couple were together from 1990-2001). She called the split a “shock to [her] system” and described how it left her feeling “damaged.” The couple, who have two adopted children together, largely steered clear of the media while the divorce papers were filed.
But have you seen Alex Gibney’s fascinating HBO documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief? It appears that current chairman David Miscavige was concerned about Kidman’s dad being a psychologist (aka “a Suppressive Person”). To Miscavige and other Scientologists, Kidman herself was viewed as a “Potential Trouble Source” (PTS) for the mere fact that she wasn’t buying into the Church’s teachings. In addition, he was angered by Kidman’s attempts to remove Cruise from the Church. But try as she might—including encouraging him to film movies out of the country, such as Eyes Wide Shut—she couldn’t pry him loose.
According to outspoken former Scientologist Leah Remini, Cruise and Kidman’s children no longer speak to their mother and refer to her as a Suppressive Person. It’s been suggested that it was Miscavige who forced Cruise to divorce Kidman and had her phones tapped. Kidman was allegedly caught off guard and devastated by the divorce.
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard
Before Brangelina parted ways, Johnny Depp’s divorce from actress Amber Heard was the biggest Hollywood split of the year.
After a mere 15 months of marriage, 30-year-old Heard filed for divorce from the 53-year-old Depp citing verbal and physical abuse throughout their marriage. Despite reports that Heard was demanding $50,000 a month in alimony, the two reached a settlement that saw Depp pay Heard a one-time $7 million settlement—which the actress proceeded to donate, in its entirety, to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I know these organizations will put the funds to good use and look forward to continuing to support them in the future,” she said. “Hopefully, this experience results in a positive change in the lives of people who need it the most.”
Right from the start Heard claimed she was a victim of domestic violence—a widely circulated photo of her sans makeup revealed what appeared to be a reddish bruise on her cheek. She said it was the result of Depp throwing an iPhone at her.
So, was he an abusive husband during their marriage? Did he try to smother her, as she’s also claimed?