Marriage in the fast lane: Short-lived celebrity unions

Two weeks after a lavish island wedding ceremony, Eddie Murphy is splitting up with his latest wife. And if you think that's short for a high-profile marriage, think again. John Walsh celebrates an inglorious tradition
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The Independent Online

Eddie & Tracey: 2 weeks

It seems only yesterday – 1 January, to be precise – that Eddie Murphy, fast-talking star of Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places and the Shrek films, walked barefoot (but in a cream suit) down the aisle at sunset with the lovely film producer Tracey Edmonds, to the strains of Gladys Knight singing "Makings of You". The setting was a private island off the coast of Bora Bora in French Polynesia, the bride and bridegroom exchanged vows beneath a gazebo made from 6,000 shells, and the cake was a four-layer monstrosity with hand-made sugar orchids. A shame then that, just two weeks later, it's all over.

In fact they may never have been married: it's unclear whether the Bora Bora ritual was legally binding. The couple had planned to renew their vows on American soil but, as the day approached, they went right off the idea. "After much consideration and discussion," ran their joint communiqué, "we have jointly decided that we will forgo having a legal ceremony as it is not necessary to define our relationship further. While the recent symbolic union in Bora Bora was representative of our deep love, friendship and respect that we have for one another on a spiritual level, we have decided to remain friends." Not a complete waste of all those shells, then.

Jason & Britney: 55 hours

Britney Spears and Jason Alexander were old friends from the same small town, Kentwood in Louisiana. They started dating in the late autumn of 2003 and spent Christmas Eve together. On the night of 2 January 2004 they had a few drinks at the Ghostbar in the Palms Casino Hotel, Las Vegas. (What is it about Las Vegas?) Seemingly on a whim, they took a limo to the Little White Wedding Chapel and requested that someone marry them. After a quick trip to the Clark County Marriage Bureau for a licence, they were married at 5.30am.

The next day, though, they evidently repented their urgent union and arranged for an annulment. It became official on 6 January 2004.

Dennis & Michelle: 8 days

Michelle Phillips was the pretty blonde one in The Mamas and the Papas. In 1970, two years after the band split up, she divorced its leader, John Phillips; the same year she met Dennis Hopper on the set of his film The Last Movie. Michelle fell in love with her director, attracted by "this Florence Nightingale instinct". They were married in Taos, New Mexico, on 31 October 1970. In the next few days, Hopper behaved towards her in a way she described as "excruciating", though she never gave details. She fled to LA, where she filed for divorce on 8 November. It can't have been all bad; she later said: "I will say this about Dennis Hopper: we were married for eight days and truly, they were the happiest days of my life."

Gregg & Cher: 10 days

Cher and Sonny Bono were the TV-friendly face of mixed-race hippiedom in the 1960s, but by the early-70s their marriage was in trouble. Sonny was a womaniser – and a friend of his wife's found that 95 per cent of "Cher Enterprises" belonged to Sonny (and 5 per cent to his lawyer.) She filed for divorce, which came through in 1975. Three days later, she married the hard-drinking Gregg Allman, of the Allman Brothers Band in Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas. The bride wept all the way home. Ten days later, she filed for divorce, but by then she was pregnant. The birth of Elijah Blue Allman brought the couple back together, but they split in 1977.

Drew & Jeremy: 6 weeks

Child prodigy, pre-teen stoner, pre-pubescent wino, rehab veteran, gossip-column fixture, film star and slightly improbable UN ambassador, Drew Barrymore, 32, does not do lengthy marriages. At 19, clean, sober and out of rehab, she celebrated her return to health in some shockingly physical ways: posing for Playboy, stripping on stage at a New York "performance space" and flashing her breasts at David Letterman on his talk show, with her back to the audience.

Perhaps it was in the same spirit of what-the-hell larkiness that she married Jeremy Thomas, a 32-year-old Welsh bartender turned LA bar-owner, declaring: "He's the love of my life".

They'd known each other for only six weeks.

They were married at 5am on 20 March in Jeremy's bar, The Room, on Cahuenga Boulevard.

The minister was a clairvoyant from a psychic hotline. They paged him andhe arrived, impressively, within half an hour. On 28 April they were divorced.

Barrymore fared only slightly better at her next marriage attempt. She married the actor Tom Green in a private ceremony in Malibu in July 2001, but there was tension from the outset: the groom was upset by the way Barrymore's glamorous showbiz friends stayed aloof from his family. The couple spent their honeymoon in Ireland, but by December she was filing for divorce, which came through in February 2002. green, a Canadian, blamed her "increasingly neurotic behaviour" for the brevity of the union.

Zsa Zsa & Felipe: 24 hours

The jewel-festooned Hungarian actress, clothes-horse and serial wife Zsa Zsa Gabor was arguably the first celebrity to be famous only for being famous. She was a regular on television talk shows, where she flirted and made little jokes about her wealth in a heavy Budapest accent: "Oh darleeng, zees are chust my verking diamonds!"

She was married nine times and divorced seven, with one annulment, so it wasn't surprising that she should become confused.

In 1982, she married husband No 8, the Mexican film star Felipe de Alba. It was on board a ship; the captain officiated; it was all very romantic. The only trouble was, Gabor had misread the date on which her divorce from husband No 7 (Michael O'Hara, the lawyer who had helped her part from husband No 6, Jack Ryan) would be finalised; in other words, she and Felipe were bigamously spliced.

Everything might have worked out if the ship had been in international waters, but it hadn't quite left the territory of US jurisdiction. Whether from embarrassment or pique, she had the marriage annulled the next day. But she conquered her grief sufficiently to marry husband No 9 four years later.

Ethel & Ernest: 32 days

Ethel Merman, a grande dame of the Broadway stage, announced her engagement to bullock-browed Hollywood tough guy Ernest Borgnine at the bar of the Manhattan nightspot PJ Clarke's. They were married in June 1964. It was her fourth marriage, a final triumph of faith over experience. After a month, she could stand it no longer and filed for divorce. On the Tonight show, Johnny Carson remarked sarcastically: "And they said it would never last!" Merman was philosophical about her marriages. "We all make mistakes," she observed, "That's why they put rubbers on pencils." In her autobiography, a chapter entitled "My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine" gets a single page. And it's blank.

Renée & Kenny: 4 months

Renée Zellweger and Kenny Chesney met at a Concert of Hope tsunami relief benefit in January 2005. He was a 37-year-old country singer with a hit record, "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy"; she was 36, a global movie superstar. He was singing at the concert, she was answering telephones. Their romance was a four-month whirlwind, and so, coincidentally, was their bust-up. In the middle was the wedding in May 2005, a romantic affair in the Virgin Islands. Zellweger cited "fraud" as the reason for the split, but said it was only a technical term. A joint statement assured a sceptical world that "the miscommunication of the objective of their marriage at the start is the only reason for this annulment." Uh-huh.

Rudolph & Jean: 6 hours/3 years

A relatively long union, strictly speaking; nonetheless, this one really takes the biscuit. The bride, Jean Acker, was a lesbian, on the run from a problematic love triangle with two other actresses, Grace Darmond and Alla Nazimova. Unaware of her sexual preferences, the actor Rudolph Valentino offered her an escape route, but Acker had no interest in him. She even locked him out of the hotel suite on the first night of their honeymoon in 1919. She then ran back to the arms of Darmond and refused all Valentino's pleas to give it another go. The marriage was never consummated and was effectively over within six hours; yet it lasted, in its pointless way, until 1921, when Valentino filed for divorce.

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