IN SOME CELEBRITY RELATIONSHIPS, the beginning is clearly the beginning of the end. But some star marriages seem to flow so naturally that when they stop it's with a widely felt jolt. I he tumultuous seven-month union of Shannen Doherty, 23, and part-time rock musician Ashley Hamilton, 19, fell squarely into the former category; when the Beverly Hills, 90210 star filed for divorce April 7. about all the world could muster was a knowing shrug. But the news about Billy Joel, 44, and his onetime "Uptown Girl, Christie Brinkley. 40, is something else again. The rock star and the supermodel revealed last week, in a statement to Mitchell Fink of PEOPLE, that they are ending their nine-year marriage and have in fact been separated since Thanksgiving.
For a couple asunder, Joel and Brinkley have been awfully together of late. Two weeks before the announcement, Joel flew out to Telluride, Colo., to whisk Brinkley back home to New York's Long Island after she survived a terrifying helicopter crash (PEOPLE, April 18). It was Brinkley who painted the portrait of Joel that graces the cover of his latest album. River of Dreams, which contains a song, "All About Soul," inspired by her. Late last year, before their separation. Brinkley told one interviewer the couple was considering having more kids. And Joel, explaining why he wasn't singing the blues, had said in July, "I've got a successful career, a beautiful wife."
But now they are hammering out a final agreement that will probably include joint custody of their 8-year-old daughter, Alexa. The breakup, their written statement says, was kept quiet to protect her and is totally amicable: "We have been there to support each other during critical times and expect to be there for each other in the future. When Billy was stricken with kidney stones in February, Christie helped nurse him back to health. And when Christie was inolved in [her] hellish skiing accident, Billy came to her rescue."
What, then, is wrong with this picture? One person who has watched Brinkley closely suggests that Christie is ending the Mrs. Piano Man phase of her life. "She was happy to be in his world," says the source, "but I get a feeling she's just going to go for it. She's still got a great body, great looks, great confidence."
By all accounts, the Doherty-Hamilton honeymoon was somewhat more tempestuous than the Joel-Brinkley estrangement. Their courtship. which began days alter Hamilton, the son of actor George Hamilton and his first wife, Alana Stewart, got out of drug rehab, was all of two weeks long, and their marriage, beginning with a spur-of-the-moment BYOB ceremony Sept. 24, was a noisy three-ling circus that reached a peculiar high point a week later when Doherty—who'd gone through two fiancés in the previous two years—pushed her spouse into a wedding cake on Saturday Night Live.
From there things went quickly south. By February the couple was separated and in counseling. In a TV interview at the time, Hamilton claimed Doherty had threatened him with a pistol. But friends of both apportion blame equally. "He was moody," says one, "and she didn't have time to spend with him." Says another: "What it comes down to is they just didn't get along." Hamilton's mother, Alana, gives them credit for trying. ""Despite all the hoopla," she says, "they took their relationship very seriously."
Still, Shannen does not appear to be mourning her failed marriage. Since the separation, she has been seen around L.A. with her old flame Judd Nelson—through whom she'd met Hamilton in the first place. On April 9, three days before her 23rd birthday, she threw herself a party at L.A.'s Club Maxx. "She was more at ease and happier than I've seen her in some time," says a friend. "She almost seemed relieved."
CRAIG TOMASHOFF and NANCY MATSUMOTO in Los Angeles and BRYAN ALEXANDER in New York City