updated 07/24/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 07/24/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Driven by love or lust, a need for publicity or simple altar ego, some celebrity marriages shatter our concept of propriety and knock our sense of credibility for a loop. But when we pick our jaws up off the floor, there's nothing more delicious to contemplate than the aftershocks of stars' outrageous pairings.
Not even the most fiendish publicist could have thought up the Presley-Jackson matchup. The couple first met when Elvis took his daughter to see the Jackson Five in Las Vegas back in 1975. Michael said that he never got over it. He said it "really tore me to pieces" when he heard Lisa was married. But 20 days after her Dominican Republic divorce from fellow Scientologist Danny Keough (father of her children Danielle, 6, and Benjamin, 2), Presley wed Jackson in a top-secret Dominican ceremony. Michael, in black, chewed gum throughout the 15-minute service in civil judge Hugo Francisco Alvarez Perez's living room. After exchanging gold rings and a single peck on the lips, the couple and their small party whooshed away. Cynics sneered that the pact between Neverland and Graceland would jump-start a musical career for Presley and help Michael right his crown, which was knocked askew by unproved allegations of his sexually abusing young boys. She wouldn't marry anyone except for love, Lisa Marie snapped on PrimeTime. "And they can eat it if they think anything different."
If anybody can sympathize with Lisa Marie, it has to be former Guess? model Anna Nicole Smith, 27. She also knows what it's like to defend her affection for her mate—frail Texas oil multimillionaire J. Howard Marshall II, 90. "I'm very much in love," Smith told an interviewer, flashing her asteroid-size 22-carat engagement diamond and her diamond-dusted wedding band after the June 27, 1994, nuptials. "I could have married him four years ago if I'd just wanted to get rich." Their interests spanned their half-century-plus age gap. The model has a reputation for partying hearty, and Marshall is no slouch either. His mistress of 10 years during his second marriage was a flamboyant Texas socialite named "Lady" Walker. (She died while undergoing cosmetic surgery in 1991.) After a ceremony in Houston's White Dove wedding chapel, Smith, wearing a dangerously low-cut gown, stooped to kiss her groom, saying, "Bye, darling, I'm off to Greece."
The destination was Marion, Ind., on June 27, 1993, when Julia Roberts, then 25, the vulnerable, fragile Pretty Woman, married Lyle Lovett, 35, composer and singer of dark, ironic songs, after a secret, three-week courtship. Roberts, who had dumped former fiancé Kiefer Sutherland just four days before their planned 1991 wedding, wasn't about to back out this time—she pulled the wedding together in 72 hours. The bride probably got cold feet anyway, but only because she went barefoot with the simple Comme des Garçons frock that Lovett picked out. "Welcome to the happiest day of my life," Lovett told a concert audience that night. But the happiness was to be short-lived. Separated by work and hounded by the press when they did meet up, the two announced an amiable end to the quirky marriage after 21 months.
Like Julia Roberts, Myra Gale Brown donned unconventional attire for her Dec. 12, 1957, wedding to her second cousin, rock star Jerry Lee Lewis, then 22, in a chapel in Hernando, Miss. Myra, who was just 13, kept on the shirtwaist dress she wore to her eighth-grade class that morning. "I was a typical 13-year-old—bubble gum, poodle skirt, ponytail," recalls Myra, now 51 and a successful Atlanta real estate agent. (She is remarried to real estate agent Richard Williams.) "I adored him. He drove me to school if I missed the bus." Months later, the news of the marriage—and Lewis's failure to divorce his second wife, Jane Mitcham—created a massive scandal. "He has basically been a marrying fool," notes music writer and critic Nick Tosches. "So in a way, he was answering to some sense of morality." Lewis, who lives near Memphis with sixth wife Kerrie McCarver, still smarts at the memory. "It hurt me bad," he recently said of his marriage to Myra. "It's very stupid for a person to flush $50 billion down the commode, which is probably what I did." Still, says Myra, "we fought the world off together, and those things don't get buried. Those are memories worth keeping."
Other rockers have done the May-December gig too. At age 52 on June 2, 1989, Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman married 18-year-old model Mandy Smith. The couple had been dating since she was 13. As a divorced man, Wyman could not be married in church, so they exchanged vows in a Suffolk, England, registrar's office; a ceremony to "bless" the union was later held at St. John's Church in London. "I hope this works out," said Wyman, who reportedly claimed to have bedded more than 1,000 women. "I tore up my address book." They divorced some 17 months later, after which Wyman said that he began having sex with her at 14 and that she took birth control pills when she was 15.
The bride may have been slightly older, but the mother of all May-December duets took place on July 19, 1966, in a four-minute ceremony at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. Waifish Mia Farrow, then 21, wearing a simple beige suit, held out her hand for 50-year-old Frank Sinatra's diamond ring. It seemed to a stunned public that two people could not be more unlike. She was a flower child; he was Chairman of the Board. She looked like a Vestal Virgin; he had been married to Ava Gardner. Mia called Frank "Charlie Brown," after Peanuts; he called her "my 22-year-old wife with the 45-year-old mind." Farrow had recently lost her own father; Sinatra enjoyed, for a while, playing indulgent daddy. But he wanted a stay-at-home mate; she refused to drop out of Rosemary's Baby. "We had a great amount of love between us," Farrow wrote years after their divorce, "but we lacked understanding in everyday life."
Crooner Eddie Fisher once joked that Sinatra "didn't buy Mia a diamond ring; he gave her a teething ring." But he wasn't laughing on May 12, 1959, when he became Elizabeth Taylor's fourth husband, divorcing Debbie Reynolds and setting off tremors in Hollywood. In 1955, Eddie, then 27, was the most popular singer in the land, and Debbie, 23, was everybody's girl next door. The couple were close friends with Taylor, 23, and her producer hubby, Mike Todd, 48. Eddie and Debbie spent hours consoling Liz after Todd was killed in a 1958 plane crash. But for Fisher and Taylor, comfort turned to something else. Liz was not quiet about the affair. Writes Reynolds in her 1988 autobiography, Debbie: My Life: "You can actually feel pressure when Elizabeth Taylor tells the world that you're depriving her of a lover...you can even feel Elizabeth should always have a lover...even if it's yours." Less than 4 hours after getting a quickie Nevada divorce, Eddie wed Liz, who had converted to Judaism, in a Las Vegas temple. Almost three years to the day after the wedding, Liz took up with Richard Burton—who would be husband No. 5—on the set of Cleopatra. He was also wed at the time.
No one can accuse Taylor of disloyalty, though. She recently rose to the defense of her pal Michael Jackson and came to the support of another famous friend on Oct. 20, 1968. "I find Ari charming, kind and considerate," she said. "I think Jackie made an excellent choice." Hardly anyone else did. When Jacqueline Kennedy, then 39, married second husband Aristotle Onassis, 62, headlines around the world blared, "Jackie, How Could You?" One theory: after the assassination of Robert E Kennedy in June 1968, Jackie wanted to get off her pedestal. "If they're killing Kennedys," she said, "my children are the No. 1 targets." She was perhaps the first celebrity to say her vows to the accompaniment of helicopters, which hovered protectively over the small, whitewashed chapel on Ari's private Greek island of Skorpios. Jackie wore a beige chiffon-and-lace Valentino gown, and John Jr. and Caroline stood by. But soon the union became a matter of money only. Ari tried to curb Jackie's flagrant spending; she spent as much time—and money—away from him as possible. Always gracious in adversity, however, after Ari's death in 1975, the twice-widowed Jackie would say, "Aristotle Onassis rescued me at a moment when my life was engulfed with shadows. I will be eternally grateful."