Catherine Zeta-Jones appeared to enjoy something of an idyllic childhood in Swansea, Wales, free from the kind of tragedy and trauma that usually dominates the Hollywood star memoir. She’s often spoken about how strongly her candy factory owner father, David Jones, and seamstress mother, Patricia Jones, supported her acting, singing, and dancing ambitions, per Hello! magazine, and how much they sacrificed to ensure she got the best education possible. And even though she’s now an A-list, Oscar-winning superstar, Zeta-Jones will still often revisit her humble beginnings with her own family in tow.
However, the proud Welsh native’s adult life has been beset by various problems, ranging from mental health issues and relationship woes to court cases. As a result, Zeta-Jones has barely been out of the tabloids since she first shot to global fame in 1998’s The Mask of Zorro. With the acclaimed Hollywood actress, Tony Award-winning performer, and even short-lived pop star now in her early 50s, here’s a look back at the times Catherine Zeta-Jones’ private life courted press attention for all the wrong reasons.
Catherine Zeta-Jones struggled to cope with pressures of fame
Audiences outside the UK might not be aware of the fact that Catherine Zeta-Jones enjoyed acting success long before she displayed her sword-fighting skills in The Mask of Zorro. The Welshwoman shot to fame in Britain in the early ’90s thanks to her role as Mariette Charlton, the oldest daughter of the Larkin family in the cozy period drama, The Darling Buds of May.
But Zeta-Jones soon found that being beamed into millions of viewers homes every Sunday evening comes at a cost, namely having every part of your private life scrutinized by the nation’s tabloid press. It was something that the actress, then only in her early 20s, understandably struggled to deal with. While promoting Rock of Ages in 2012, Zeta-Jones told Express how the show’s end nearly two decades earlier had left her feeling adrift: “I lost faith in myself for a bit after that series finished. I was known more for being in the newspapers than anything else and I needed time away.”
Zeta-Jones added, “So I moved to Los Angeles. I only knew two people in the city — my agent and one friend. I got off the plane, phoned my friend and got a message machine which said: ‘I am going to be in Europe for four months, so please leave a message.'”
Did Catherine Zeta-Jones' first high-profile boyfriend break her heart?
Catherine Zeta-Jones’ love life first became a source of fascination for the British press in 1991, when she began dating John Leslie, a presenter on the BBC’s long-running children’s magazine show, Blue Peter. Unfortunately for The Darling Buds of May star, their love story didn’t get a happy ending.
After 18 months together, the golden couple split amidst reports that Leslie was afraid of commitment. In 2000, the TV host was asked by Hello! magazine whether he believed he’d been the heartbreaker as reported. He replied, “You’d have to ask her if I broke her heart, but I always draw a line at talking about things like that. When two people are personally involved I think it should never be discussed. I truly believe that trust between two people is sacred.”
Neither Leslie or Zeta-Jones have ever discussed what caused their split. But in 2003, Leslie once again opened up about how much the Chicago star meant to him, telling the Daily Express (via the Daily Mail), “It was the real thing alright. I was in love with her and she was in love with me, no question. She was lovely, we were together for 18 months, but in the end it didn’t work out.” Leslie also described Zeta-Jones as his “one true love,” but denied allegations that they’d gone their separate ways over the issue of marriage and children.
Catherine Zeta-Jones was jilted by her fiancé
After parting company with John Leslie, Catherine Zeta-Jones entered into a relationship with another Scotsman, Braveheart star Angus Macfadyen, in 1995. And once again, her love life became a constant source of fascination for the tabloids.
You could argue that the actress didn’t make things easy for herself. Shortly before she confirmed her engagement to the Glaswegian, Zeta-Jones was pictured kissing her married Catherine the Great co-star, Paul McGann. Per The Guardian, the pair would later claim that the smooch was nothing but an innocent greeting between two friends. But Macfadyen was reportedly left “humiliated” by the press attention, the Daily Mail reports. Zeta-Jones then appeared to jinx things in an interview (quoted by the Mirror), in which she gushed about her then-fiancé: “I’m so happy with Angus. I think this time I’ve found the love of my life.”
Sadly, the couple never made it down the aisle. In 1996, after just 15 months together, Macfadyen decided to call things off. But just like Leslie, it was a decision he seemed to later regret, telling WENN (via IMDb) in 2000, “I haven’t met a woman I really liked since being with Catherine. There hasn’t been anyone with the same good sense of humor I could have fallen in love with. I find now that I can only feel romantically attached for about a month and can’t take anything seriously any more. But when I was with Catherine I loved doing romantic things for her.”
The paparazzi gatecrashed Catherine Zeta-Jones' wedding
The tabloid media’s apparent obsession with Catherine Zeta-Jones’ private life reached new heights — or lows — in November 2000. And her glitzy wedding to Michael Douglas at New York’s Plaza Hotel was the scene of the crime, per BBC News.
The two A-listers had struck an exclusive million-pound deal with British magazine OK! to cover their nuptials, The New York Times reports. So the pair were left “devastated, shocked and appalled,” Zeta-Jones later said (via The Guardian), after seeing unauthorized snaps of the reception — including the actress tucking into a piece of wedding cake — in rival publication Hello!. Had one of their nearest and dearest betrayed their trust and cashed in on the occasion with a few sneaky pics? Well, no. It turns out that a paparazzi photographer had somehow managed to worm their way into the event.
Hello! magazine soon learned that you mess with the Douglases at your peril. The newlyweds subsequently filed a lawsuit for invasion of privacy, loss of income, stress, and — because of the “sleazy and unflattering” nature of the photos, the actress said (via The Hollywood Reporter) — damage to their professional careers. After a six-week battle at London’s High Court, which cost them approximately $5 million, they emerged victorious. In an official statement, the couple said (via People), “We deeply appreciate that the court has recognized the principle that every individual has the right to be protected from excessive and unwanted media intrusion into their private lives.”
Catherine Zeta-Jones faced death threats from a stalker
“We are going to slice her up like meat on a bone and feed her to the dogs.” It sounds like the kind of grisly statement of intent you’d expect from a Hollywood horror movie. Worryingly for Catherine Zeta-Jones, it was a real-life threat against her life sent by a woman obsessively jealous of her marriage to Michael Douglas, CBS News reports.
In 2005, Dawnette Knight was given a three-year state prison sentence after “plead[ing] no contest to stalking and threatening” the Welsh actress via several letters to some of her closest acquaintances. During her trial, the then-35-year-old had expressed remorse for her conduct, telling the court, “I hope one day the victim will forgive me. I am sorry. I think about it all the time.”
Understandably, Zeta-Jones wasn’t interested in any apologies. In a letter read out by the prosecution in her absence, the Oscar winner told Knight, “You have profoundly affected me in how I conduct my life … Your actions will be with me the rest of my life — how I will be constantly observing, looking over my shoulder. You will never be famous, you will never be infamous, you are just a criminal.” Having already served 600 days in jail, Knight was released less than a year after the verdict.
Catherine Zeta-Jones was forced to deny she was anorexic
Catherine Zeta-Jones was forced to deal with further unwanted press attention in the mid-’00s, when she was accused of being anorexic. Rumors emerged that the Entrapment star was battling an eating disorder after she was pictured looking significantly slimmer than in her early Hollywood career. However, the actress soon put the record straight.
In a 2007 interview with People, Zeta-Jones revealed how she first learned of the allegations: “Michael was laughing at me. He told me what [people had] said — that stories say I’m anorexic. Do I look anorexic? How could I ever, ever be anorexic?” The Welshwoman insisted that her change in appearance was simply down to her healthier lifestyle choices, adding, “I’m just working out and not chomping down what I usually chomp down.”
Zeta-Jones, however, does have experience of helping others with the problem — something she drew upon while starring as a bulimic beauty pageant coach in Queen America. When asked about playing a character with an eating disorder by Forbes in 2018, the Oscar winner replied, “Oh my God, it was really hard for me because I’ve been around it for so many years, you know? I was in 42nd Street: I was 17-years-old, I was a dancer; and so I’d been brought up with the image of a woman looking at herself in the mirror. I have seen it. I have been there. And I have helped other people go through a very serious issue.”
Catherine Zeta-Jones' husband was diagnosed with cancer
In 2010, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ husband, Michael Douglas, received the devastating news that he had stage-four tongue cancer, per CNN. The Hollywood veteran had to cancel several promotional appearances for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and postpone the filming of Behind the Candelabra, as a result. Thankfully, after an intense course of chemotherapy and radiation, the actor got the all-clear within the space of 12 months, as he revealed on the red carpet of the 2011 Golden Globes.
Talking to Stella magazine (via The Telegraph) in 2013, Zeta-Jones discussed how her husband dealt with the disease: “He’s a very matter-of-fact person. Once he was diagnosed he was like, ‘Okay, what do I do?’ He basically wanted that thing out of his body so he just blitzed the [sucker]. It was very intensive … but he still retained his sense of humor.”
Although Douglas had decided to tell the world that he’d been diagnosed with throat cancer instead tongue cancer, on the advice of his surgeon, his wife revealed that he’d hid nothing from his family. “He was very open with the children,” Zeta-Jones explained. “No secrets — they went and saw him having treatment. Together we all coped with everything. It did make us closer. But I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”
Catherine Zeta-Jones revealed she was bipolar
Shortly after husband Michael Douglas recovered from his battle with cancer, Catherine Zeta-Jones also found herself in need of treatment. In 2011, the Traffic star checked herself into rehab for a long-running mental health issue. And bravely, she decided to go public with the news of her bipolar diagnosis.
According to the New York Post, Zeta-Jones’ publicist declared that the Welshwoman had decided to seek help following a particularly stressful year. Once she checked out of the facility, the Oscar winner opened up further to People magazine: “This is a disorder that affects millions of people, and I am one of them. If my revelation of having bipolar II has encouraged one person to seek help, then it is worth it. There is no need to suffer silently and there is no shame in seeking help.”
Zeta-Jones also returned to a mental health facility in 2013 to “manage her health in an optimum manner,” her rep disclosed (via Reuters). Later that same year, the mother-of-two explained to Stella magazine (via The Telegraph) how her first stint had been triggered by her husband’s health scare. “When Michael was diagnosed with cancer I really thought, ‘You are going to have to wipe me off the floor,'” she said. “… When you get sideswiped like that, it’s an obvious trigger for your balance to be a little bit off — not sleeping, worry, stress. It’s a classic trigger.”
Catherine Zeta-Jones briefly split with her husband
The turbulence in Catherine Zeta-Jones’ personal life continued in 2013, when she briefly split with her husband of over a decade, Michael Douglas. Alongside the stresses of their respective health issues, the latter’s headline-grabbing interview with The Guardian was rumored to be instrumental in this decision. While discussing his battle with tongue cancer, the Basic Instinct star wondered aloud whether a sexually transmitted disease could have been responsible: “Without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes about from cunnilingus … And if you have it, cunnilingus is also the best cure for it.”
These comments were said to be the final straw for Zeta-Jones, with her rep confirming in a statement to CBS News just two months later that the pair had decided to “take some time apart.” While promoting Behind the Candelabra at a press conference, Douglas seemed pretty sure that this was just a blip. As quoted by the Daily Mail, he responded to a question about his marriage with, “I have a crisis at home? No, I think the press has a crisis. We, we are fine. My wife and I are, are fine. We take a temporary separation, but the press, it gives you stuff to write about.”
This confidence proved to be founded as, by the following April, Douglas and Zeta-Jones were back on the red carpet together.
Catherine Zeta-Jones was left 'devastated' by #MeToo allegations against her husband
In January 2018, Michael Douglas became the latest high-profile celebrity to find himself embroiled in the #MeToo movement. Pre-empting an article in The Hollywood Reporter, in which his former employee, Susan Braudy, made claims of inappropriate sexual conduct, the Disclosure star gave an interview with Deadline to strongly deny any wrongdoing: “I’d confess to anything I thought I was responsible for. And it was most certainly not masturbating in front of this woman. This reeks.”
Catherine Zeta-Jones revealed to The Times later that same year that she was left both conflicted and “profoundly devastated” by the accusations leveled against her husband, admitting that “it put her in a really nasty position.” With their two children, Dylan and Carys, by her side, the Welshwoman subsequently asked Douglas outright whether Braudy’s claims were true. However, he insisted that there was “no story here, and that time will tell.”
With no other allegations emerging since, Zeta-Jones seemed convinced of Douglas’ honesty by that November. She told The Times, “There was nothing to back it up at all. For any accusation that comes out that isn’t backed up, that knocks the movement back 20 years.” Around that same time, the Intolerable Cruelty actress revealed to Today that she was proud of the way her family handled the speculation: “I’m a big European kind of family girl, and so everything is shared around the table … I think you clear the air and everyone knows what’s going on, there’s no big surprises.”
Catherine Zeta-Jones lost two family members in the space of a few weeks
Catherine Zeta-Jones suffered the loss of two family members within the space of a few weeks in early 2020. Firstly, her father-in-law, actor Kirk Douglas, passed away at the grand old age of 103 at his Beverly Hills home, per People. The America’s Sweethearts star later paid tribute to the Hollywood icon on Instagram, captioning a black-and-white photo of the pair, “To my darling Kirk, I shall love you for the rest of my life. I miss you already. Sleep tight…”
Zeta-Jones had always enjoyed a close relationship with one of the longest-surviving stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The pair were often pictured smiling while enjoying each other’s company, and the Welshwoman referred to the Spartacus lead affectionately as “Pappy.” Sadly, the actress had to deal with another death in her family shortly after.
On this occasion, it was her cousin, Seward Johnson Jr., who’d lost his life at the age of 89 following a battle with cancer, according to The New York Times. Zeta-Jones took to Facebook to pay her respects to the esteemed sculptor, posting images of his two most famous works with the message, “RIP our cousin Seward Johnson Jr., sculptor and great human being. Like his iconic sculpture ‘Double Check’ that survived 9/11, [his] work, love and inspiration will live on.”
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