High-profile couples tend to have the most famous marriages, but they also share the most infamous relationship break ups. Regardless of social status, these folks are only human. They go through the the same emotional stages, insecurities, and anger we all experience during the trauma of a break up. The harshly-uttered unkind words! The secret vulnerabilities poked and pinched! The scorched earth left behind! The wounds! The feeling of loss that never goes away! The tender moments you replay over and over and over in your head! (A dramatic introduction seemed appropriate.)
The rise in social media has only made it worse. In the past, Mia Farrow had to hand deliver Woody Allen a dark and ominous Valentine's Day card. Today, a double tap from Calvin Harris on a photo of Taylor Swift and her new boo is like the shot heard round the world. Either way, a break up is hard to handle.
Relationship break ups are a major human trauma. They reminds us of when we were first severed from what made us feel safe—that original yank out of the womb and slap on the ass when we were ten seconds old! We’ve all been through it—well, almost all. And if you haven’t been through it, you should try it. Better to have been torn in half than not torn apart at all!
Cleopatra and Marc Antony
This one ends with one of the most melodramatic of all break up drama-queen moments in world history: Cleopatra, simply unable to take it any more, clutched an asp to her breast in perhaps the sexiest assisted suicide in world history! You remember that in the Elizabeth Taylor (see later) version, she had all sorts of premonitions of gloom and doom before the little serpent ever unveiled himself… in any case, it was a classy way to go, far outstripping vodka and pills.
Medea and Jason
I think a contemporary audience watching the tragedy of Medea would diagnose her with a disorder and suggest she try a whole slew of psychotropic pills. Her man is gone—she knows he’s got loving on his mind. He wants to exile her from the country because he’s heard she’s a little unstable, and he really doesn’t need that right now. Okay, okay, Medea says, just hang on one second—let me get the kids ready for my trip, all right? At which point—yep—she murders all her kids. As ways of winning your man back go, it makes a powerful statement, but it’s probably not gonna get you the desired outcome.
Ellen Barkin and Ronald Perelman
From the sublime to the ridiculous! One must wonder exactly what it is that a superrich guy like Perelman is thinking when he hooks up with the Barkin. They got on together at first. According to Barkin, she was really bewitched by the Rothkos hanging on the wall. (I’m sure that was the cornerstone of it all.) In the end, as with all of Perelman’s previous marriages, it ended in bitterness, with Barkin being escorted out of Perelman’s fancypants digs by rent-a-cop. She collided with a New York Post reporter outside and threatened to kick him in the nuts. All told, Barkin came away from the marriage with $20,000,000 in hard cash—which seems pretty paltry to me as Perelman’s fortunate is now estimated at 14 billion. I guess Ron had some groovy lawyers from back in his hostile takeover days—handy for hostile unhitchin’.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burkin
Now here’s some codependency! This is the kind of bipolar affair that makes you feel people who were born to gnaw each other’s skin off have it much better than “nicer” couples. The sodden, hard-drinking, velvet-voiced, melancholy Welsh actor; and the world-class violet-eyed MGM beauty turned vulgar bawd of the sixties—they were like ham and eggs, weren’t they? They fought, they tortured each other with other lovers and other potential lovers, but can you really imagine either of them with anyone else? I think Liz missed Dick to his untimely end. Liz’s ability to needle got under Dick’s skin, as he wrote, "Liz gave me a savage mauling, coldly accusing me of virtually every sin under the sun. Drunkenness (true), mendacity (true), being boring (true), infidelity (untrue), killing myself fairly quickly (true), pride, envy, avarice (all true), being ugly (true), having once been handsome (untrue), and any other vice imaginable except homosexuality and being ungenerous.”
Marilyn Monroe and Johnny Hyde
Sure, you could peg Marilyn as a heartbreaker with a whole number of dudes. But I have always found the Johnny Hyde story particularly poignant because of the way Ron Rifkin played the sharkskin-suited agent in the great HBO movie Norma Jean and Marilyn. The film cleft “Marilyn Monroe” into two characters: the breathy blond persona (Mira Sorvino) and the real, brown-haired, small-town girl (Ashley Judd). Rifkin’s Johnny gave me new sympathy for a guy generally portrayed in Marilyn biographies as an opportunistic douchebag. Well, maybe he was—but Hyde was genuinely smitten with Marilyn. When she got what she needed from him and moved on, Johnny had a bunch of heart attacks and died an untimely death. Wouldn’t you likely kick the bucket if you had cinematic history’s leading piece of arse ripped from your grasp!
Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato
Man! This is a great story, which Hollywood has grappled with several times. Harold Robbins’ Where Love Has Gone hinted at it and Woody Allen’s September spun it in some weird directions, but the real story is juicier. Big time Hollywood movie star marries greasy gangster slash gigolo. Gangster-gigolo slaps her around. In a spasm of violence, Lana’s daughter, Cheryl Crane, 14, stabs Johnny Stomp to protect her mother. Or was it, as some have surmised, that the kid took the rap for Mom, knowing no jury in the world would convict a young child for defending her mother from an abuser? We’ll never know the truth… but Cheryl’s later, bitter memoirs paint her as no fan of her mother, whom she accused of “always playing Lana Turner.”
Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky
The notion of William Jefferson Clinton as a gonzo yahoo swinging from the White House chandeliers while twirling his boxer shorts is given the lie by this official report, which depicts the “affair” between the sad, lonely intern, and the sad, lonely POTUS as something akin to a late John Updike novel. Neither of them was having that much fun. And the “break up?” Takeaway: young women—don’t tell your older-woman friends about your peccadilloes. They may be more than a little jealous of your still turbo-charged sexual powers.
James Woods and Sean Young
Jimmy Woods seems like the kind of guy who would be really into crazy women. Remember when he was dating that twenty-year-old girl when he was sixty-something, and the end came when she texted during his brother’s funeral? God bless him. Jimmy is an appetitive man, libidinous and freewheeling. That led him straight to screwball Sean Young, memorable for terrifying Tim Burton by showing up on the Warner Brothers lot dressed in a catsuit, ready for her closeup. A jilted Sean apparently perpetrated a “jihad of terror” on Woods, in his words, including sending him a doll representing a corpse and, in one moment commemorated in urban legend, supergluing his dick to his thigh while he slept. Speaking of which, reminds me of…
Woody Allen and Mia Farrow
The less said about this the better. Let’s just remember—since we are still tabulating the score on this one to this day—the Valentine’s card Mia sent Woody right after the Soon-Yi of it all was exposed. Yep! It came with the blade attached.
Moral: Go easy on your partner and, before unplugging, think of giving it one last college try.