Can a divorce in the public eye ruin your career?
Bitter celebrity divorces played out in public have toppled many of Hollywood's golden boys, and granted us warts-and-all access to the PR machine
There's only one thing the public loves more than a Hollywood romance - and that's a Hollywood divorce, particularly when it knocks a matinee idol off his pedestal.
From being everyone's first crush in 'Thelma and Louise', and regular stints on Favourite Actor lists, Brad Pitt will now be forever tinged with labels like 'bad dad', 'anger problem' and the (vague, but sinister) tag of endangering the health of his family.
"He's the Pitts!" screamed the headlines last week, after it was revealed the actor's wife of two years, Angelina Jolie, was suing him for divorce and sole custody of their six children. Then came a tidal wave of accusations: fights on jets, poor parenting decisions, a troubling relationship with booze and weed, rumours of affairs… The litany of woes was news to his legion of fans, and apparently the man himself, who was said to have been blindsided.
He should have known better because, when it comes to celebrity divorce, once the love is gone then someone's carefully stage-managed, perfect public image usually follows.
In May, Johnny Depp's wife Amber Heard filed for divorce, like Jolie, citing 'irreconcilable differences' and writing in court papers of enduring "excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse from Johnny" during their four-year relationship.
The 'Pirates of the Caribbean' star denied the abuse allegations. His lawyer, Laura Wasser (who also represents Angelina Jolie) said it was an attempt by Heard to secure a "premature financial resolution" and a host of celebrity character witnesses, including Depp's exes Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder, rushed to his defence. But in these days of trial by Twitter, mud has a tendency to stick - particularly when it's accompanied by photos and videos.
The fact that 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' tanked at the box office was widely attributed to its leading man's plunge in popularity. The tide of negative publicity was stemmed by a speedy, generous settlement, reportedly "just shy of $8m". But, Heard, now dating a billionaire, dealt a killer blow by donating her divorce settlement to charity, forever leaving a question mark over Depp's behaviour. If she's not a self-serving gold-digger, then is it just possible that she might have been telling the grim truth?
Trotting out the blockbusting names in a bid to clear one's name has a tendency to reek of desperation anyway. The fact that Whoopi Goldberg and Jodie Foster rushed to assure us that Mel Gibson wasn't a racist but rather an "honest", "loyal" and "kind" guy didn't carry a whole lot of weight after hearing those recordings where the actor allegedly (Gibson admits the tapes were him but maintains they were "edited") rants at his ex Oksana Grigorieva, using the n-word and berating her for falling asleep before he could have sex. The 'Braveheart' star swiftly went from being one of Hollywood's most bankable assets to starring in 'The Beaver'.
Audio recordings - which made their timely way into the public domain during bitter court proceedings - similarly tarnished the images of Hollywood golden boys, Alec Baldwin and Charlie Sheen. Let's face it, no amount of PR spin can make it cool to call your 11-year-old daughter "that rude, thoughtless little pig" (Baldwin) or telling your "sad, jobless pig" of a wife to "go cry to your bald mom" (Sheen's voice mail to ex Denise Richards delivered at a time when Richards' mother was undergoing cancer treatment).
Of course, the big question has to be that, if these heroes of the silver screen have always been bad guys behind the scenes, why have we had them up on a pedestal for so long? Why does it have to take the end of a marriage for the truth to come out?
John Oxley, a barrister with leading divorce law firm, Vardags, says it can be because the PR machine that protected a couple's 'brand' is no longer on the same page.
"Celebrities have a great deal of control over the image they project. They employ top PR teams and leading lawyers to protect and advance their public persona; they craft photo opportunities and cultivate column inches," says Oxley.
"When a marriage breaks down, someone who was previously on-side and saw the unseen, can become a loose cannon with their own agenda. That makes it easy for the perfect images to be dispelled."
And let's not forget what wounded feelings and rage can do. "For most of us, that would be done over a few drinks with close friends, but celebrities have the sort of access to the press which means that their mudslinging can go that much further, in an instant," says Oxley.
"For some, of course, it can be a more cynical ploy," he adds. "Celebrities rely on their reputations to gain publicity and get work. Unfortunately, in order to protect their 'brand', they can want to come out looking all innocent and so seek to blame the other side."
"Most of the good family law attorneys will work with each other and figure out a way to protect their clients," Wasser recently told 'Vanity Fair', "but there are always family law attorneys who feel like there is some way for them to benefit by getting their name mentioned or being caught on film with their arm around their client."
But sometimes there's a feeling that the wave of negative stories unleashed during a break-up is like a dam breaking. "There had actually been unconfirmed reports that Brad Pitt and Angelina had been fighting for months," reveals 'Hollywood Life''s Bonnie Fuller, speaking exclusively to the Irish Independent.
"In the past couple of years they had also been photographed having arguments a couple of times. However they are a couple that has been extremely private for many years, so it was only when Angelina Jolie filed divorce papers that the world found out the rumours were true."
It might sell papers but, in Bonnie's extensive experience, mudslinging (justified or not) rarely does either celebrity any good.
"It always benefits a celebrity's public image in a divorce to make it appear as mutual, co-operative and amicable as possible. When divorces are negotiated quietly and quickly between celebrities and their lawyers, with public statements about putting their children's best interests first, they can come out of the situation with their images fully intact."
Only those directly involved will ever know how much of what we're reading is true. But then only those directly involved - and their publicists - really care. The rest of the world is already casting around for the next bad romance starring a Hollywood golden boy with feet of clay.
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Four divorces didn’t stop the job offers (or wives) rolling in. But would the Hollywood great have got away as easily in today’s news cycle?
Remember when he divorced Scarlett Johansson? No? That’s because it barely made a whisper in the headlines. “Thankfully I was in a relationship where two people chose to remain on the high road in every regard,” he later said.
The actor told ‘The Ellen Show’ that he and his ex Jennifer Garner were “good friends” and doing their best for the kids and refused to be drawn on her ‘Vanity Fair’ interview on the split, saying “It’s fine. She’s allowed to talk about it.”
“Divorce never has to be ugly,” says Oxley, “and Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s ‘conscious uncoupling’ serves as a perfect example of this.” The secret? “By focusing on the bigger picture and building a new independent life rather than petty recriminations against their partner, they preserve their own reputation and dignity.”