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Hollywood infidelity a plague on populace?

Cassie Belek | Friday, November 17, 2006

Diamonds are forever – celebrity marriages are not. Often times when celebrities tie the knot, that sparkling rock on the ring finger is nothing more than a fleeting symbol of a doomed union under the scrutiny of paparazzi and adoring fans. The divorce rate in the United States has reached 50 percent, and while an exact statistic is not available, the divorce rate in Hollywood is certainly higher. When celebrities marry, the question is always “How long is it really going to last?”

The recent weeks and months have brought a slew of high-profile celebrity divorces, the most recent being that of Britney Spears and the newly christened “FedEx.” The message that these celebrity divorces is sending is that marriage is temporary, happiness can be found with someone else and moments of hardship can be evaded instead of confronted.

This message is most evident among those celebrities with short or multiple marriages. Spears’ short-lived first marriage to the non-“Seinfeld” Jason Alexander lasted a mere 55 hours. The childhood friends wed in Las Vegas as a joke only to get it annulled shortly thereafter. The pop princess, a role model to thousands of young girls, showed a blatant disrespect to the institution of marriage and displayed little regret for her actions.

In a slightly longer marriage, Renee Zellweger and Kenny Chesney married after a four-month courtship, but Zellweger annulled the marriage 128 days later, citing “fraud” on Chesney’s part. The marriage between the Oscar winner and the country superstar is an example of celebrities marrying too quickly, only to go for the easy fix when they realize they do not know each other as well as they thought they did. This irresponsibility in choosing a spouse often leads to multiple marriages. Think Jennifer Lopez (three marriages), Nicolas Cage (three marriages), Billy Bob Thornton (five marriages) and most infamously, Elizabeth Taylor (eight marriages).

Of course, the death knell of many Hollywood marriages is a cheating spouse. Infidelity is sad, tragic and unacceptable. However, celebrity couples rarely stay together when one is caught cheating. Nick Lachey, Ali Landry, Denise Richards and Jennifer Aniston all left their respective spouses after reported infidelity. Most recently and shockingly, Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe announced their separation after reports surfaced that Phillippe carried on an affair with Australian actress Abbie Cornish on the set of their upcoming movie “Stop-Loss.”

Witherspoon and Phillippe may be amicably sharing their children, but the nation is about to observe a bitter custody battle between Spears and Federline. Celebrity divorces are perhaps most tragic when children are involved. They become the victims of the faults of their celebrity parents by being pushed into the limelight as their parents appear in weekly tabloid cover stories.

Are there cases in which divorce is beneficial for a celebrity? Perhaps there may be. Few will argue that Whitney Houston’s decision to finally leave Bobby Brown will harm her more than help her. After 14 years of marriage scattered with drug abuse, Houston seems to be reclaiming her career and her health.

Others will argue that Spears is also justified in leaving her spouse, who is perhaps the most embarrassing man on the planet. Kevin Federline has spent his two-year marriage with Spears squandering her fortune, getting her pregnant and using her fame to launch a “music career” that culminated in the sale of only 6,000 copies of his debut album during its first week. Spears is now in the process of staging a glorious comeback and career resurrection by ending her toxic marriage to her former back-up dancer.

The celebrity divorce mystery is indeed a difficult one to solve. Why do celebrities divorce with such ease and frequency? Perhaps it is because they can afford divorce. Celebrities do not have to rebuild their savings accounts after their wedding day and they could most likely bounce back financially from divorce rather quickly.

Maybe divorce is prominent because celebrities live by a different moral code than the rest of the United States. Vice is a part of everyday life of Hollywood and scandal and gossip are expected by the masses. The media and celebrity watchers pounce upon the details of the latest Hollywood divorce and savor the juiciness of a good scandal. Celebrities have often blamed the media for the demise of their relationships. Whether they use the media as a mere scapegoat or not is much debated, but being under the public gaze does not make maintaining a private life any easier.

Perhaps the rampant failure of marriages is the reason many celebrity couples choose not to marry, but to remain committed partners nevertheless. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are the most current couple to take this route. The two will most likely not marry, even though Pitt has officially adopted Jolie’s children and they now have created little Baby Shiloh. The arrangement works for them, much like it works for Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis. After one divorce and four broken engagements, Depp remains in a successful eight-year relationship with Paradis and they share two children to prove their happiness.

Despite the consistently high rate of celebrity divorces, Hollywood love is not impossible. Success stories exist, like those of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman and Warren Beatty and Annette Benning. However, notice the exclusion of young couples because, as Phillippe and Witherspoon and taught us, forever is not a guarantee. The exception to this cautionary tale would be Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who married in 1997. That union appears impenetrable and their doubtful divorce would surely be categorized as one of the trials and tribulations preceding the Apocalypse.

Overall, celebrities can marry happily, but the length of that happiness varies, sending a negative message to the American public. More often than not, it seems, celebrity marriages are doomed from the beginning. However, in typical Hollywood fashion, as one marriage dies another one is born.

The impending nuptial of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes is the latest internet obsession, but TomKat would do wisely to re-write their vows to take each other “for better or for worse as long as we both shall live or until we get lazy and stop trying.” Perhaps their vows would contain something resembling the truth, instead of the broken promises made by so many divorced celebrity couples before them.