Looking back now, Sherry Hollingsworth says she did notice something unusual in Billy Bob Thornton's behavior when the two longtime friends had dinner in Little Rock in May. "Billy's always the happy-go-lucky type," says Hollingsworth, 47, an elementary school principal. "That little spark wasn't there. I kept thinking he's tired or doesn't feel well."Still, Thornton, 47, put on a good show, trotting out photos of wife Angelina Jolie and their infant son Maddox, whose adoption they had announced just two months earlier. One showed the happy trio lounging on a bed. It was, says Hollingsworth, "just, you know, a simple family moment."

Things have just gotten a lot more complicated. On July 17, just two months past their second wedding anniversary, Jolie, 27, filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. "My daughter is very sad," says her mother, former actress Marcheline Bertrand, 52. "It's a really tough time for her." Thornton sounded a similar note in his brief public statement: "It is a sad thing." For Jolie, this is a second divorce, for Thornton his fifth; three of his prior marriages, like this one, lasted just two years.

While the court papers filed by Jolie date the couple's separation to June 3, they effectively have been apart—whether by design, happenstance or both—since December, when Jolie took off to Canada, Africa and Thailand for the six-month shoot of Beyond Borders, in which she plays a philanthropic socialite. Thornton visited Jolie on the set in Namibia in March, then the next month caught up with his Oscar-winning wife in Thailand. But Jolie and Maddox no sooner returned home to California in May than Thornton hit the road to promote his rock album Private Radio. One source who spent considerable time with Thornton during the tour describes the actor's behavior: "It wasn't like Billy Bob was having affairs on the road, but he was doing his rock-and-roll thing, letting the girls get up real close. He was not shooing anyone off."

Jolie has asked the court for custody of 11-month-old Maddox, whom she first met in a Cambodian orphanage last November while on one of her trips as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations. Though the couple announced together the adoption of Maddox on March 12, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington, D.C., says, "Only her name is on the [adoption] papers." Thornton, who has two young sons and a grown daughter from prior marriages, can adopt Maddox in California, but family law experts point out that the process typically takes six months.

For the time being, both Jolie and Thornton have abandoned their $3.8 million mansion in Beverly Hills. When not on the road, the actor reportedly has been crashing at the West Hollywood hotel where the pair began the whirlwind courtship that led them to elope to Las Vegas in May 2000. Jolie, who has been shuttling between several L.A. hotels while toting Maddox, quietly slipped into London with him in July for preproduction work on the sequel to her hit 2001 film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. "She is really keeping to herself," says an observer at the Metropolitan Hotel, where Jolie briefly stayed before moving on. "It's not party time for her."

Jolie plans to have Maddox in tow for the entire months-long overseas shoot when work on the film begins in a few weeks. "I heard Angelina is going to be riding a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China," says Bertrand. "She loves challenging herself. And it's going to be a good distraction at the right time."

Jill Smolowe
Lorenzo Benet, Todd Gold, Maureen Harrington and Frank Swertlow in Los Angeles, Steve Barnes in Little Rock and Pete Norman in London

  • Contributors:
  • Lorenzo Benet,
  • Todd Gold,
  • Maureen Harrington,
  • Frank Swertlow,
  • Steve Barnes,
  • Pete Norman.