How times haven’t changed. The Pamela Anderson of the Roaring Twenties, Mae West, once quipped: “Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution.”

In 1938 gossip columnist Sheilah Graham calculated that the average “Hollywood marriage” lasted four years, eight months, 14 days, 19 hours and 45 minutes. Some of these glamour matches lasted only weeks, even before no-fault divorce was introduced. Her statistical methods are seriously flawed and would not pass peer review nowadays, but you get the idea. Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy fame, was married five times (but only to four women, as he married one of them twice).

The celebrity lifestyle is as toxic as ever today.

According to a new report from the UK’s Marriage Foundation the divorce rate among celebrity couples is 67 percent higher than other couples during the early years of their marriage.

Its researchers examined the experience of 484 celebrity couples whose marriages were covered in glossy magazines such as Hello, Take a Break, Woman’s Weekly, OK! and Cosmopolitan between 2001 and 2010. During the first 16 years of marriage, just over half (52 percent) ended in divorce, compared with 31 percent for non-celebrities.

from the Marriage Foundation’s report ‘Celebrity Divorce: First and Second Marriages’

Surprisingly, celebrity first marriages fare worse than subsequent marriages with 57 percent ending in divorce within 16 years, compared to just under half (47 per cent) of second and subsequent marriages.

Harry Benson, research director of the Marriage Foundation, commented: “We look up to celebrities because they have achieved fame and success. And we love their glamorous weddings because it’s love and it’s forever and it’s the dream. But the harsh truth is that in their marriages, most celebrities are not good role models.

“This study shines a spotlight on the ‘Hello’ style wedding. Our study shows that these glitzy and expensive weddings that we all like to read about are much more likely to fail than those of ordinary people. Unrealistic expectations created by these fairy tale weddings, a failure to understand the work, commitment and compromise it takes to make a marriage work, long periods of separation, and frequent opportunity may all play a part.

“But I suspect ego and opportunity are the main culprits. Being constantly told how wonderful you are is bound to boost ego, undermining the need to put others, your husband or wife first — a pre-requisite for a successful relationship. Being surrounded by attractive starlets presents an obvious opportunity.

“As a consequence, the divorce rate among celebrity couples is significantly higher than ordinary people, during the first 16 years of marriage making them very poor role models.”  

The report found that some kinds of celebrity are more toxic than others. The highest celebrity divorce rate for first marriages was among musicians – 69 percent. Actors and actresses fare marginally better, divorcing at an overall rate of 52 per cent. While sporting and other celebrity marriages fare best at 39 per cent, though still substantially worse than the rest of us.  

Mr Benson continued: “The lesson from the report is clear. If you are looking for a celebrity couple to follow, look at those who have been married for a long time such as Sarah Lancashire (19 years), Tina Fey (19 years), Gabby Logan (19 years) and Alexander Armstrong (17 years), rather than Katie Price (4 years to Peter Andre), Britney Spears (55 hours to Jason Alexander) and Katy Perry (2 years to Russell Brand).”

Of course, the term “Hollywood marriage” is a a bit unfair — there is a long list of stars whose marriages lasted more than half a century. Kirk Douglas and Anne Buydens were married for 65 years. Stan Lee, the creator of Marvel’s superheroes, was married to Joan Boocock for 69 years. And, surprise, surprise, country & western star Dolly Parton is still married to Carl Dean, who used to run a road-paving business in Nashville, after 54 years. “We’re really proud of our marriage,” she said on her 45th anniversary. “It’s the first for both of us. And the last.”

So sanity and celebrity are possible – but, sadly, not probable.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet