When Celebrities Divorce
Americans Fascinated By Public Failure of Marriages of the Rich and Famous
Reese and Ryan. Denise and Charlie. Pamela and Kid Rock. Britney and K-Fed. Their names are familiar, and so are the stories of their divorces. Divorces of the rich and famous are always big news, but interest has increased in recent years, driven by coverage on the Internet, according to those who work in the celebrity arena. “I think there’s a wild public interest,” said Raoul Felder, chairman of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct and a celebrity divorce attorney. “It has every element of attraction.”
Last year, actress Reese Witherspoon made headlines after she told Elle magazine that she suffered panic attacks after her breakup with actor Ryan Phillipe, whom she had been married to for seven years. She pulled herself out of it, she told Elle, by thinking about how many Americans — about half U.S. marriages end in divorce — suffer the pain of splitting up. The story was posted on websites around the world.
Several days later, Phillipe countered by saying he was so depressed by the breakup that he wanted to die. Again the story made the rounds on the Internet. Felder said celebrity divorce battles like these were a wild cocktail for voyeurs. “It’s a peek into celebrity lives,” Felder said. It’s better than your neighbors getting divorced because you learn even more.”
Felder represented former New York City Mayor-turned-candidate-for President Rudolph Giuliani in his second divorce. He also represented actress Robin Givens in her divorce from boxer Mike Tyson, and he represented Larry Fortensky in his divorce from actress Elizabeth Taylor.He is also the author or coauthor of eight books, and he leads his own firm, Raoul Felder and Partners, PC, in New York City.
The plethora of public information about a celebrity divorce can make it difficult for Felder to do his job. For example, when the Givens-Tyson split was big news, Felder felt like the public sided with Tyson, because he was a sports hero that they could easily forgive for his transgressions. Felder said he sometimes got yelled at by people because he was representing Givens.
And when he was representing Giuliani, the media was camped in front of his home trying to get information. It was very, very difficult to deal in an appropriate level,” Felder said. And for their celebrity clients, it’s difficult enough to go through the normal elements of a divorce: division of assets, what to do with the home, custody agreements. They also have to worry about their image. Their whole livelihood, persona, is how they appear as a celebrity,” Felder said.And the information that arises during a divorce will have a direct effect on public perception, he said.
With Internet coverage and its immediacy, the public knows the moment the break-up happened, who moved out when and how long the separation has been in place, Felder said. It’s a blow-by-blow. Like a prize fight,” Felder said. You’re present at every round.”
CONNECTING WITH CELEBRITIES
Public fascination with all of the details that come out of celebrity divorces provides not only a voyeuristic thrill, but a way for fans to feel closer to their favorite celebrities, according to Stacy Phillips, a certified family law specialist who handles mostly celebrities and high-net-worth clients.Phillips has handled celebrity clients such as singer Bobby Brown, the former husband of singer Whitney Houston; Corina Villaraigosa, the estranged wife of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Darcy LaPier, the ex-wife of actor Jean-Claude Van Damme; Erin Everly, former wife of Axl Rose of Guns ‘n Roses; and Charlie Shahnaian, actress Tori Spelling’s ex-husband.
Some like to feel sorry for their favorite celebrities, others are reassured that those who are adored and celebrated have problems just like them, and still others enjoy watching an icon fall,” said Phillips, who is also the author of Divorce: It’s All About Control – How to Win the Emotional, Psychological and Legal Wars,” and a managing partner of Phillips, Lerner, Lauzon & Jamra, LLP in Century City, Calif.
Phillips said she doesn’t think celebrity divorces are on the rise, though it may be perceived that way.Instead, she said, celebrity divorce is on a trend much like everyone else. “Celebrity divorce goes along with the same statistics as the general populace divorce rate, but our perception is that more celebrities get divorced,” Phillips said. That is because we see the divorce played out in public.”
Watching the divorces play out can be a benefit to those in the general populace who are facing divorce themselves.Watching how celebrities handle themselves can be a lesson in itself. Since they have emotions just like everyone else going through a divorce, it is sometimes difficult to keep their emotions in check. They also have to go to great lengths to keep certain information, such as custody issues and money matters out of the public eye,” Phillips said.
She said that celebrities have to conduct themselves with the knowledge that there are members of the media on the hunt for as many details as possible about their private lives, and sensitive details sometimes emerge from court documents. This is highly embarrassing to many celebrities, who like regular folk, just wish to keep their private affairs private,” Phillips said. Although, as we know, it appears as if some celebrities love the publicity even if it is bad and embarrassing.”
Regular folk watching celebrity divorces play out can pretend they are in the same situation “ and it might improve the divorce process.Phillips said she wishes more people would behave as reporters and producers were watching their every move. If that were so, people might behave a little more rationally and appropriately, especially in front of their ex and the children,” Phillips said. Also, study what it is that breaks up these marriages — money, infidelity, control issues –and try not to get caught up in some of the same traps.”
BECOMING MORE ORDINARY
One reporter who writes about the comings and goings of the celebrities said he thinks the public’s appetite for information about divorces of the well-known is due to the fact that people like to see their human side. We Average Joes like to be reminded that the rich, powerful and famous go through the same things we do,” said Ivory Jeff Clinton, who write the Passages column for People” magazine.
The column publicizes divorces, births, deaths, legal matters and other celebrity news. And it’s not just the similarities that readers like about celebrity divorces.The disparities come into play, too. People of modest means are often amazed at the massive amounts of cash and high-end properties — such as insanely expensive houses, yachts, cars, etc. — divvied up between couples who make more money in a year than many of us seemingly make in a lifetime,”Clinton said.
The most popular celebrity divorce stories for People” readers? According to Clinton, Britney Spears vs. Kevin Federline, Denise Richards vs. Charlie Sheen, and Paula Zahn vs. Richard Cohen. Over at WashingtonPost.com, the online version of The Washington Post,” Britney and K-Fed are also leading the pack in reader interest. The divorce is finalized, but the continuing child custody hearings have kept us dialed into this train wreck,” said to Liz Kelly, author of the Celebritology blog for the Post.”Readers are also tuning into the antics of Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen. A poll in June showed that readers were most surprised by the Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Phillipe split, according to Kelly. She chalks that up to the fact that no one knew they were in that much trouble until it was all over. Also of interest to Kelly’s readers are Anne Heche vs. Coley Laffoon, Pam Anderson vs. Kid Rock and Heather Mills vs. Paul McCartney.
Kelly thinks her readers enjoy reading about celebrity splits because it gives them a sense of superiority watching the foibles of the rich and famous. We’re fascinated by celebrities — and their divorces, fashion slips, arrests and general bad behavior — for a few different reasons. One of the leading ones, I’ve found, is schadenfreude,” Kelly said. As a society, we take a certain amount of pleasure out of building up heroes in order to knock them down.”
The more salacious the details, the more popular with the public, Kelly said. But, she said, there may be something to be learned from paying attention to celebrity divorces. Not specific legal advice, but identifying with a celeb going through a split similar to one’s own probably serves as a virtual support system,” Kelly said. Again, letting us know that we’re not alone in the failed marriage boat and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”Michele Bush Kimball has a Ph.D. in mass communication with a specialization in media law.She has spent almost 15 years in journalism, and she teaches at American University in Washington, D.C. She recently won a national research award for her work.
2007 CELEBRITY BREAK-UPS
Ann Robinson: Host of “The Weakest Link,” announced in October that she is divorcing her husband after 27 years of marriage.
Shiva Rose and Dylan McDermot: Announced their separation in early October after 12 years of marriage.
Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillipe: Reese filed for divorce in November 2006, citing irreconcilable differences.She and Ryan had been married since 1999.
Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen: Their divorce was final in November 2006 after two years of marriage.
Britney Spears and Kevin Federline: Spears filed for divorce after two years of marriage.Their divorce was finalized in March of this year.
Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock: Both Anderson and Rock filed petitions for divorce in November of 2006. Their marriage lasted just less than four months.
Jenna Fischer and James Gunn: Announced their separation Sept. 5 after seven years of marriage.
Shaunie O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal: Shaq filed for divorce from Shaunie Sept. 4.They were married for five years.
Mandie Brady and Wayne Brady: Announced in July that they are divorcing after seven years of marriage.
Padma Lakshmi and Salmon Rushdie: Were married for three years and together for a total of eight years before calling it quits.
Catherine Keener and Dermot Mulroney: Divorcing after 17 years of marriage.
Shelby Roos and Tom Arnold: Almost made it to the five-year mark before deciding to end their relationship in May.
Anne Heche and Coley Laffoon: They have spent most of 2007 in contentious divorce negotiations.They announced the end of their marriage in January after five years.
Dita Von Teese and Marilyn Manson: They had just made it past the one year mark when Von Teese filed for divorce in January.
Sara Evans and Craig Schelske: This couple’s contentious divorce was finalized in September.Evans filed for divorce in October 2006.The couple had been married since 1993.
Brad Garrett and his wife of seven years, Jill Diven, finalized their divorce in November. The couple separated in April 2006.
Carlos Santana’s wife Deborah, filed for divorce in October 2007, saying the couple has irreconcilable differences after 34 years of marriage.