In the six years they've been on television, the Kardashian-Jenner clan has thrived on drama—from a sex tape to unplanned pregnancies, a drawn-out divorce and a DUI. But ask Bruce and Kris Jenner what's to blame for their separation, following 22 years of marriage, and their answers seem uncharacteristically pedestrian for a family that has parlayed frequent tabloid appearances into a multimillion dollar industry. Talking to PEOPLE on Oct. 9, a jovial Kris chirped, "We're just happier living apart. It's a modern-day family!" Her estranged hubby, contentedly ensconced in the Malibu pad he's openly occupied since June, had a similarly puzzling reaction to the demise of his decades-long relationship. "There is no animosity," said Bruce, laughing off a question about the possibility of dating again. "Life is good!"
Healthiest separation ever or some seriously good acting? After multiple seasons of filming E!'s reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians
, it's clear that Kris, 57, who manages the careers of her three daughters, Kourtney
, 34, Kim, 33, and Khloé Kardashian Odom, 29 - as well as her two daughters with Bruce, Kendall, 17, and Kylie Jenner, 16—has mastered the art of spinning negative news into ratings and endorsements. (This is, after all, the woman who wet her pants on television, then signed an endorsement deal for leakage pads in 2011.) But multiple sources confirm that her drive for power and fame has taken a very real toll on her family and ultimately destroyed her marriage to Bruce, 64. "Everything in Kris's life is about ratings," says a source in the family's inner circle. "Bruce was never her priority and he was totally sick of it."
From the start, the pair had their differences - socialite Kris was flashy; Bruce, an Olympic gold medal decathlete, was more conservative - but after a whirlwind romance and their April 1991 wedding, just one month after Kris's divorce from attorney Robert Kardashian was finalized, "it seemed like they were best friends. They were good to each other," says Pam Behan, a former nanny for the family. But over time, sources say, the Jenners' relationship grew more businesslike, with Kris managing her husband's career and eventually pushing the entire family in front of the cameras when their reality show premiered in 2007. Having already experienced the spotlight after his initial fame as an athlete in the '70s, "Bruce never wanted the circus that came with the show," says a source involved with the series, which brought the girls - and Kris - near-instant tabloid notoriety. "He just went along with it. It was fun at first, but then it started to run their lives."
Common storylines on the series involved mocking Bruce, and sources say he eventually grew tired of playing the role of the put-upon house husband as he and his wife squabbled over everything from his wardrobe to his penchant for toy helicopters. "Sometimes he would mention it bothered him, but most of the time he wouldn't say anything, so Kris just went about living how she was and treating him that way," says a family source. Eventually, other show plot lines, like their daughters' educations and her relationships with his older children with exes Chrystie Crownover and Linda Thompson (see box), gave way to real tensions. During filming, one production source says the crew was divided into Team Bruce and Team Kris. "Team Bruce was stronger," says the source. "Fewer people could identify with Kris."
As Kris's own potential as a TV star grew - her talk show The Kris Jenner Show
had a trial run this summer, though ratings were not stellar—sources say her behavior began wearing on those around her. "She is obsessed with her looks, fussy about makeup and would refuse to film in certain light," says the production source. Whether her husband was there or not, "she has acted single for a while," says the source. "There was a lot of flirting." All the while communication with Bruce was reduced to an afterthought. "He lost his voice when it came to Kris. It's not that Kris didn't love Bruce," says the family source, "she was just more focused on other things."
In the last year, sources say, their relationship began rapidly deteriorating. "It was awful to see how Kris treated Bruce. She was critical of his looks, she'd complain about his clothes, and she'd never call him loving names, only referring to him as 'he,'" says the production source. "Bruce got tired of Kris's ambition," says a Kardashian source. "She was so hungry, hungry, hungry all the time." While Kris generally declined to comment on specific claims of marital strife or misbehavior, on this point, she is quick to tell People that she didn't call all the shots. "Bruce is a strong man," she says. "I do run a tight ship, but he is no pushover!"
Yet according to the inner-circle source, a final straw for Bruce came when Kim and boyfriend Kanye West
moved into the Jenners' Hidden Hills, Calif., home to raise their new baby North this June amidst a media frenzy. "It got crazy," says the source. "It became all about Kim and North, and no one paid Bruce any attention - especially Kris." Bruce "felt like he was being shoved into a corner. He needed to get away." He packed up and left for Malibu; on the show the move was explained away as a summer rental.
Away from the fray, Bruce "is catching up on time he didn't have with his boys before and spending time with Kendall and Kylie," says the inner-circle source. Adds his oldest son, Burt: "He seems to be getting back to the things he enjoys in life." And now that the family is no longer hiding the state of Bruce and Kris's relationship, they plan to use it as material. True to form Kris herself confirms that the separation will feature prominently on the show's upcoming season: "That's the way it goes around our house." For now at least, both Kris and Bruce have said there are no imminent plans to divorce. "Let's be honest," says the inner-circle source. "Kris is very aware of the fact that all of this makes for good television."
- Additional reporting by Jennifer Garcia,
- KC Baker,
- Pernilla Cedenheim,
- Melody Chiu,
- Raha Lewis.