Not a summer of love for celebrities

The plethora of divorces among the rich and famous amplifies marital problems of the average Joe

August 17, 2006|By ABIGAIL TUCKER | ABIGAIL TUCKER,SUN REPORTER

Not even an ice statue of Michelangelo's David (one that squirted vodka, no less) could save Dennis Kozlowski's marriage.

The Tyco International CEO convicted of pillaging his own company - and who used corporate funds to throw his wife the infamous $2 million birthday bash, with the alcoholic ice sculpture and toga-clad models - filed for divorce last month. Apparently, Karen Kozlowksi will not stand by him as he pays $167 million in fines and restitution and serves his eight to 25 years in jail.

The Kozlowskis join the parade of high profile and supposedly happy couples that have called it quits this turbulent summer: Kate Hudson and Chris Robinson; Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro; Christie Brinkley and Peter Cook. Paul McCartney and Heather Mills recently pulled the plug, and Everybody Loves Raymond star Brad Garrett and Jill Diven did so a year ago, although word just now got out. Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen settled this month.

Their pretty faces and fat checkbooks may seem far removed from the marriages of average Americans; indeed, headliners have long played fast and loose with their nuptial vows, and the circles of the rich and famous always seemed to be exempt from the censures associated with divorce. But, increasingly, their marital world both influences and reflects, though in an exaggerated way, the domestic troubles that afflict the rest of the country. It turns out that the fault may be both in our stars and in ourselves.

"Celebrities are a caricature," says Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage (2005). "They have some of the same dilemmas we have in a fast-paced, winner-takes-all, consumer-driven society."

They succumb to the same pressures.

Perhaps above all, they bow to what has become the saving grace and the curse of modern marriage: the notion that romantic love is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Celebrities and the fabulously wealthy used to exist "in a different moral universe," says Steven Mintz, co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families. "We could not aspire to have many of the things they have, and we could only kind of gawk at the world they lived in."

But times have changed since Elizabeth Taylor shocked the work-a-day world with her eight marriages.

In the past 30 years or so, American culture has become much more affluent, and marriage is no longer a matter of survival. Women work and can afford to live alone. There is effective birth control and less pressure to have children. In a sense, the average Joe can conduct his affairs like a leading man; marriage is viewed less as a necessary commitment than a pleasure trip.

Consequently, Coontz says, divorce rates have skyrocketed. Though the numbers have fallen from their all-time high around 1980, experts estimate that anywhere from 35 percent to 50 percent of American marriages end in divorce, and the rates are the highest for the youngest newlyweds.

"Love turns out to be less of a strong adhesive than financial need," Mintz says. "The great irony is that what has weakened marriage is love. People just have much higher expectations."

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of the rich and powerful, who pursue wedded bliss in the most extravagant manner.

But with luxury comes new kinds of pressure. In the case of celebrities and the growing ranks of the upper middle class, a cushier lifestyle complicates love. Studies show that people who make a lot of money in a short time are more likely to divorce, Coontz said; she hypothesized that the same goes for those who lose it quickly.

The fact that these divorces are occurring in the dog days of summer suggests how much more stressful daily life has become, says Sharyn Sooho, a longtime divorce lawyer who is the co-founder of divorcenet.com, a conglomerate of online divorce resources.

Twenty years ago divorce courts practically shut down in the summertime, Sooho says, mostly because of a lack of air conditioning and because summer was traditionally when families took time off to vacation.

Now "if people go away for a week it's extraordinary, and even then they are plugged in, cell phones, BlackBerries, staying in work mode," she says. "That diverts emotional energy from family."

And adding to personal stresses are those troubles that couples have no control over.

"You pick up a national newspaper, war in the Mideast, hunger in Africa, violence in the streets of America. We get scared, and instead of embracing our families, we take it out" on our spouses, she says.

The rich merely exemplify the extreme end of this behavior, she says.

Yet no matter how readily ordinary people are divorcing, plain old Americans can never truly split like stars, says Andrew Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins University professor who studies the sociology of families and public policy.

"Movie stars and other celebrities have always gotten divorced more than the average person," he says.

Yet some say we should look to the luminaries for lessons about divorce and its protocols. Dan Couvrett, CEO and publisher of Divorce Magazine, takes heart in the fact that celebrity divorces don't seem as vicious as they once did.

"The celebrities aren't bitterly fighting the way they used to," he says. There are fewer Donald and Ivana Trump- style throw-downs, and Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson have no contemporary peer. Perhaps because of its casual nature, celebrity divorce seems more civilized, he says.

If nothing else, the machinations of the tycoons and starlets stir the imagination, says Jennifer Gaboury, a board member of Alternatives to Marriage Project, which advocates for unmarried and single people.

"Someone in an unhappy relationship can see People magazine with a break-up splashed across it, and it helps them imagine a different life," she says.

abigail.tucker@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.