Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, who on September 25 celebrated their 52nd and 77th birthdays, respectively, have been one of the most admired married couples in Hollywood for a little over two decades, although few people initially bet on it lasting. Over the years they have shown that neither crises, illness nor any other kind of hurdle can tear them apart. Zeta-Jones has made over 40 movies and won one Oscar, while Douglas has more than 70 films and two Oscars to his name: work has been one of the factors that has helped to keep them close.
Although it may seem as though the opposite should be true, the unpredictability of their professional calendars has been a huge benefit. Or at least that is what can be surmised from Zeta-Jones’ interview with the Wall Street Journal in April: “My husband and I spend a lot of time together because, unlike so many couples, we’ve never had a nine-to-five job where it’s consistent. I’m really working 16 hours a day, or I’m not. He’s doing the same, or not. So we’ve had in our relationship huge amounts of time where we’ve been just us.” Zeta-Jones added that she and Douglas continue to “have a lot of fun together,” and did not hesitate to address a subject that has been a constant talking point for the last 20 years: the age difference. “My husband is 25 years older than me. That’s not a secret. With any relationship, it wouldn’t be normal if there weren’t any ups and downs. The constant is love and respect. We’ve never, ever lost our sense of humor, and we enjoy each other’s company,” she said.
Zeta-Jones and Douglas’ love story began in September 1998, when their paths crossed at the Deauville American Film Festival, the second-most-important on the French calendar after Cannes. As she was in Deauville to promote The Mask of Zorro, her co-star Spanish actor Antonio Banderas and his then-wife Melanie Griffith organized a dinner to which Douglas, on the promotional trail for A Perfect Murder, was also invited. At first, it seemed that there was a connection between the two actors but later that evening Douglas made a comment that threw Zeta-Jones off. As he told The Jonathan Ross Show in 2016: “I said to her after about half an hour: ‘You know, I’m going to be the father of your children.’” A stunned Zeta-Jones brought a swift end to the conversation by saying she had to leave for Scotland the following day for filming on Entrapment. As she told The New Yorker earlier this year: “I went: ‘All right. I’ve read a lot about you. I’ve seen a lot about you. I heard a lot about you. Good night.’ And I went to bed and got up at 5am. I went to London, changed planes, went to Aberdeen, got on a ferry across to the Isle of Mull. And there was a big bouquet of flowers saying ‘I’m sorry if I scared you. Love, Michael Douglas.’ He always says whoever was the florist who got those flowers to the Isle of Mull saved his life. I will say if somebody says they’re going to father your children when you’ve just met them, it is a little scary. Unfortunately he was right, again.”
They spent the next few months speaking for endless hours on the telephone and seeing each other in secret when their filming schedules permitted. The relationship, to their surprise, was growing stronger in leaps and bounds, to the extent that on December 31, 1999, while on vacation in Aspen, Douglas asked for Zeta-Jones’ hand in marriage with a 10-carat Fred Leighton diamond ring worth $1 million (€855,000). “Both of us were as sick as dogs because we had [the] flu,” Douglas later told television presenter Ross King.
The year 2000 was a turning point in both their lives. On August 15, Dylan Michael was born, Zeta-Jones’ first child and Douglas’ second after Cameron, who was born in 1978 when the actor was married to movie producer Diandra Luker. On November 18, they were married at the Hotel Plaza in New York. The ceremony, attended by the Hollywood elite, cost $1.5 million (€1.28 million). Instead of embarking on a luxurious honeymoon, Zeta-Jones and Douglas retreated to a New York apartment with their baby. The next few years proved fruitful for the couple. In 2002, they moved to one of Douglas’ properties, in the Bahamas. In 2003, Zeta-Jones won an Oscar for her role in Chicago and a month later her second child, Carys Zeta Douglas, was born.
What the couple could not foresee during those times was that as soon as they returned to New York in 2009, they would face a range of misfortune that would test the foundations of their relationship. In August 2010, Douglas was diagnosed with advanced throat cancer. “We tried to keep it as private as possible, but because of what we do, it’s very hard. I didn’t talk to other people about it enough. That’s one thing I would do more of. Our children asking is Daddy going to die was really hard,” Zeta-Jones told Good Housekeeping magazine in 2016.
In January 2011, Douglas was given the medical all-clear. But after contending with the stress of those months, in April of the same year Zeta-Jones was admitted to a Los Angeles hospital for treatment on her until then publicly unknown bipolar disorder. “I hope I can help remove any stigma attached to it,” she told InStyle magazine. Two years later, in April 2013, she once again sought professional help. Unlike the first instance, when her representative stated that her hospitalization was a consequence of the illness Douglas had suffered, no reason was given for her admission. Since then, she has not sought further treatment, at least publicly.
The events of that period took their toll. Shortly after her second spell in hospital, Zeta-Jones decided to break from acting. In the summer of 2013, she and Douglas separated temporarily. They were reconciled later the same year but did not make any public announcement until later on. “I’m crazy about her. I think every couple has their difficult times. The only problem is, as you well know, we’re all in the public eye and it tends to get a little more exposed than most. But we’re back stronger than ever,” an ebullient Douglas said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2015.
With the bumps in the road behind them, Zeta-Jones and Douglas are in business again. He is enjoying a second youth in the role of Hank Pym in the Marvel saga Ant-Man. Since 2017, she has been mainly focused on Casa Zeta-Jones, her own line of fashion, beauty, footwear and lifestyle products. As Zeta-Jones said in her The New Yorker interview: “Casa Zeta-Jones is the umbrella of everything I love. My mother was a seamstress, and I sew. [...] I’m a phenomenal, crazy interior-design-architect wannabe. What was fun to me was to create a brand that really kind of embodies me as a woman, not Catherine Zeta-Jones walking in heels on the red carpet.”
English version by Rob Train.