The minute Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie gave a lengthy joint interview rubbishing claims that they weren't getting on, the amber light turned to full-on red. They laughed off the rumours, plighted their troth all over again in print -- and convinced celeb-watchers the marriage was doomed. That's what those denial interviews always do.
Most of the time, when film star couples split up, the main reaction is curiosity, rather than care. Will it be a break-up filled with allegations of drink, drugs, sex or violence? Who will get which property? Who's the hidden lover of one or the other?
In this case, though, it's different. The reaction is informed, first and foremost, by concern for the children. Those of us who had never seen Angelina Jolie in a movie and who suspected her father might not be 100pc wrong in his allegations that she was a little loopy, had begun to like the woman when she adopted her first little boy, Maddox, abandoning every frivolity to be with him night, noon and morning.
We already liked Pitt, who seemed -- in addition to being a good actor -- to have a mind and external interests.
That the two of them met when cast together in a world-class stinker called Mr And Mrs Smith was not a good omen. The movie was fast-moving, filled with explosions and utterly lacking in logic, charm or chemistry between the two stars. But, according to legend, that's when they fell in love and he ditched the 'girl next door', Jennifer Aniston.
Anybody with the capacity for critical thinking would have predicted the worst. But the overwhelming majority of their joint fan base decided, instead, to hope for the best, and to rejoice when they adopted and reproduced naturally. Jolie went from being the weird woman who wore her lover's blood in a vial around her neck to being SuperMom, arriving in different locations carrying one child, holding the hand of another and pushing a third in a buggy.
Nor did she abandon her humanitarian work, travelling on her own to deprived locations and spending time with children suffering disease and malnutrition. The aid organisations all said the same thing: this star is different. She's prepared to sleep on the mud floor, live in the same clothes for a week, do whatever she's asked to do uncomplainingly and well.
Against that background, the first emerging stories of fights between the elements of what became known as 'Brangelina' were read with fascination, but wilfully disbelieved, as were the accounts of Pitt lashing off on his motorbike for week-long holidays with the lads.
Then came accounts of him drinking way too much and of conflict over his insistence on visiting architectural developments when she wanted him at home caring for the kids.
The tabloids, spotting emotional heat in the making, added Jen to the mix. She was consulting Brad over her love life in long phone calls, they said, and Angelina REALLY didn't like it. This was invariably accompanied by pictures of Jen looking like a happy 20-year-old, and Angelina looking grim and thin, with close-up shots of her skeletal hands. Neither the tabloids nor the magazines nor the radio/TV gossip columnists would have spent as much time on any other celeb marriage in trouble. They knew their consumers were emotionally involved with Brangelina in a unique way. Because of her threatening beauty and balancing of motherhood with high glamour film roles. Because of his unkempt good looks, easy wit and willingness to take on so many kids so quickly. And above all, because of the children. The children who -- according to rumour -- now face the end of their two-parent family life.
Brangelina packed more excitement and more children into five years than anybody thought possible.
What an infinitely sad summary of a marriage in which they -- and their fans -- invested so much.