It is no secret that celebrity romances are on the rise, with Love Story topping the bestseller list for many years, and shows like Victoria Beckham: My First Summer highlighting the fashionable side of a celebrity relationship. While it is fascinating to see the highs and lows of a celebrity romance, it is important to remember that these are not always Hollywood’s greatest moments. In fact, many of the most prominent romances of the 21st century have been overshadowed by tragedy. When the world turns its gaze to Hollywood, these are the stories that they want to hear. But what about the more personal tales of romance that we rarely hear about?

The Tragedies

It is fair to say that the 21st century has not been kind to celebrity romances. From the tragic ending of Heathcliff and Cathy to the painful split of John and Yoko, these relationships have never been completely free of heartache. The most prominent tragic romance of the 21st century is Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s. After meeting while filming Mr. & Mrs. Smith in the early 2000s, the couple rose to prominence as celebrity journalists covering the foreign affairs of the Middle East. However, by the time they had both completed their PhDs, their research had taken them all over the world, including to the countries where they originally met. While on a visit to Uganda, where Jolie’s research was focused on refugee issues, both were attacked by a rebel group. The incident resulted in the tragic death of their driver and the permanent disability of Jolie’s right leg. The attack has been described as one of the most brutal in the country’s history. The story behind the couple’s eventual marriage was chronicled in the extraordinary documentary, What Happened to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? In a candid interview with Vanity Fair, Pitt revealed that the couple had discussed the possibility of a divorce since they met. “I’m not perfect, and I never will be,” he said. “But our relationship is as strong now as it ever was. We have more in common than we’ve ever had.”

Another tragic love story whose lasting impact is still being felt is that of Heathcliff and Cathy. One of the most beloved novels of all time, Wuthering Heights traces the story of Heathcliff, a proud Yorkshireman who, after inheriting a fortune from his uncle, feels that he has achieved “a station in life”, and decides to enter into society in style. Despite his newfound affluence, Heathcliff feels distant from the people around him. When he meets Cathy, an orphan who lives with her aunt, he is captivated by her “wild and passionate” nature. The two soon fall deeply in love, and move into a love nest on the moors. While Heathcliff’s wealth has alleviated many of his problems, he still feels unable to express how he truly feels about Cathy. “She is mine, and I am hers, and I will not give her up for any world,” he says in the book. “If any angel interposed himself between me and my darling, he should have been dashed to atoms.” The two lovers’ struggle to maintain their passionate bond in the face of the world is at the heart of Emily Brontë’s celebrated novel. The ending of the book is one of the most iconic scenes in English literature. As the rain pounds on the windows, and the wind howls outside, Heathcliff and Cathy embrace, completely oblivious to the outside world. It is a scene that still resonates with readers today.

Another tragic celebrity romance is that of John and Yoko. The former Beatle, who became famous for his socialite lifestyle and infrequent public appearances, met the model and artist in the late 1960s, when they both starred in a Levi’s commercial. Impressed by Yoko’s unconventional looks, and the fact that she encouraged his artistic side, John began to court her. However, due to Yoko’s ongoing drug use and the couple’s hectic schedules, their romance was difficult to maintain. After their daughter Annabel was born, John and Yoko’s problems worsened. In 1980, John secretly recorded a conversation with Yoko in which the two discuss their relationship. In the conversation, he reveals that she had initially agreed to marry him, but the plan soon fell through. “I think you’re the most extraordinary person I’ve ever met in my life,” he tells her. “And I know that, given the chance, we could have made something very beautiful together.” At the time of the conversation, Yoko was in the middle of a separation from her husband. The recording was eventually leaked to the press, and the resulting scandal caused Yoko to lose her modeling career, as well as her reputation. What’s more, the press coverage turned Yoko into a public figure, which further ostracized her from her family and friends. The couple’s relationship was further strained when Yoko became pregnant with John’s child, furthering his suspicion that she wanted to keep the baby. The result was a bitter custody battle, which was covered by the press and was watched by millions. The two eventually divorced, and Yoko went on to marry Michael Jackson in 1983. The singer’s death in 2009 was followed by an outpouring of grief, especially from John, who never got over the fact that Jackson had kept him as a “secret husband”. The two had rarely been photographed together, and most people only knew of their relationship from the many headlines about the struggle to be the best man that Michael could have. Despite the many trials and tribulations that these famous romances have endured, they have always been remembered for their extraordinary beauty and charisma, and have impacted the public’s perception of love and relationships forever. 

More Modern Romances

While some may argue that the last decade has dealt a major blow to celebrity romances, it has not been without its fair share of happy endings. Shows like HBO’s Succession represent the height of opulence in twenty-first century Hollywood, and even the most extravagant weddings can be enlivened by the right entertainment. What’s more, many of today’s most prominent romances began as a Facebook “crush” or a romantic novel whose impact was far greater than the Hollywood starlets of old could ever have imagined.

The story of Patrick and Kendall is perhaps the epitome of this trend. After meeting while working at an investment bank in New York, the couple fell in love while living in the same Brooklyn apartment. The attraction was immediate, but so was the difficulty in maintaining a relationship, since Patrick already had a son from a previous marriage. Patrick and Kendall’s battle to make their relationship work culminated in the emotional turmoil that was captured by photographers on the streets of New York City. The result was a dramatic series of photos that conveyed a sense of raw longing in the form of a black-and-white wedding-themed poster. The pair eventually got to grips with their differences, and went on to have three children together. Their story was chronicled in a wonderful piece by New York magazine, which described their relationship as being “more in tune with the twenty-first century” than that of their famous contemporaries.

Another example of a ‘grown up’ romance that transcends its celebrity status is that of Richard Simmons and Joyce Robbins. The celebrity entrepreneur and wellness coach met while covering the 1972 Munich Olympics as a freelancer for the New York Times, and the couple has been inseparable ever since. They have two grown up daughters and a grown up son together, and the family regularly appear in Simmons’ wellness videos. The love and respect that they have for one another is evident in every scene, whether they are roasting together as a couple in the summer, or sitting on a park bench, discussing family matters. This year will mark their 45th anniversary, and they continue to be a central part of one another’s lives.

Romantic relationships are a key part of an adult’s life, and celebrities have always turned to the media to comment on these relationships. From Elizabeth Taylor’s annual Christmas cards to the ‘will they or won’t they’ gossip columns, there is always something interesting to read. While tragedies may define some of these relationships, it should not take away from the fact that many others are worth celebrating, and often achieve a deeper level of intimacy than most people realize. These are stories that the world wants to hear, and that we will continue to read about for years to come. So rather than focus on the sadness, let’s embrace the uniqueness of these relationships, and let their celebrity stand for something more – the triumph of the human spirit.