How to Handle a Woman? There's a Way, Said a Wise Old Man, but Richard Harris Never Learned with Wife Ann Turkel

updated 12/14/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/14/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

It began with the same blind love the King had for Guenevere in Arthurian legend. But last week 51-year-old Richard Harris, currently playing King Arthur in a hit Broadway revival of Camelot, and willowy model-turned-actress Ann Turkel, 34, rang down the final curtain on their tempestuous seven-year marriage. None too soon for Turkel. According to friends, she intends to wed 38-year-old millionaire record producer Richard Perry. He is the creative force behind the recent albums of Barbra Streisand, Ringo Starr and Carly Simon.

Actually, it was Harris who first filed for divorce two and a half years ago in the Bahamas, claiming his love for Turkel was so intense—and vice versa—that they were smothering each other. The judge demanded that the couple try to reconcile. They tried, but to no avail. "We're obsessed with each other," says Harris. "That's almost as unhealthy as living together without love. When Ann was around me her ambition died. I no longer want to feel guilty about holding her back." Perry notwithstanding, Turkel says of her ex-husband: "I love Richard Harris. If he ever needs me, I'll be by his side."

She did, in fact, visit Harris in the hospital after he collapsed onstage from exhaustion three months ago during a performance in Detroit. Harris has long suffered from hypoglycemia—low blood sugar—and spent three weeks at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami Beach. There he rested up from "the tremendous emotional commitment" to the show and adjusted to the new diet high in complex carbohydrates prescribed to help him cope with his medical condition.

It has also meant going on the wagon—precisely what the hard-drinking Irishman promised Turkel he would do when they met on the set of 99 and 44/100% Dead in 1973. Harris, who left his first wife, Elizabeth (she went on to marry Rex Harrison), had earned a reputation as a pub brawler. Turkel, the daughter of a wealthy Scarsdale, N.Y. clothing manufacturer, was engaged to David Niven Jr. "After 10 years of Rabelaisian drunkenness and boudoir folly," Harris explained after marrying Turkel, "I met somebody who said, 'Hey, stop!' " Easier said than done. At one point Harris was drinking up to two quarts of vodka a day; in frustration, Turkel once stood on a cliff near their Bahamas home and tossed every bottle of liquor she could find onto the rocks.

Nowadays Harris sips mineral water. Though his transformation came too late to save their marriage, he and Turkel are still an item professionally. Once Camelot finishes its run in January, Harris has agreed to star in The Indian Who Sold the Brooklyn Bridge, the first of three films to be produced by Turkel.

Will Harris—who, unlike Ann, apparently has no current romantic interest—be able to handle this unusual working arrangement? "He will be fine," insists Harris' attorney, Marvin Mitchelson. "He adores Ann, but he wanted the divorce because the marriage didn't work. It's a paradox. But as the song goes, 'I know it sounds bizarre. But in Camelot, that's how conditions are.' "

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