An aggressive cancer diagnosis, depression and a horrific claim of sexual assault. This is the true story of Hollywood’s strangest couple.
After 18 years together, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas have one of the strangest and most enduring Hollywood romances.
With a 25-year age gap, the couple have endured, and they’ve done it on their own terms.
During their almost two decade marriage, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas have endured a life threatening cancer diagnosis, public airings of her mental health struggles and their own battles against a #MeToo allegation — from one of Douglas’ former employees.
AN ATYPICAL MARRIAGE
“Historically, older men and younger women have been together,” Zeta-Jones said, dismissive of the idea that their difference in age might be unusual. Michael Douglas is exactly 25 years older than his wife (the couple also share a birthday).
“When my mother was telling me about men and telling me the facts of life, she never actually put an age bracket on it. And it’s so funny, because Michael and my parents are the same age. So, my parents, whenever they see us together, never even question that there was a 25-year age difference.”
After they wed, the couple moved to Bermuda, (this is where Douglas’ mother was born) where they encouraged their relatives to begin moving with them. The family lived in a paradisiacal island enclave, surrounded by many of Douglas’ remaining relatives.
Over time, more of Zeta Jones’ Welsh relatives moved to the island, Douglas at one point describing the familial set up they had created, saying he had “probably 70 relatives” on the tiny island. He said returning there gave him “real solace”.
The family were cut off completely from the paparazzi that would have hounded them in the United States or Britain.
The family moved back to the USA in 2009, Zeta-Jones saying she wanted her children to have a “base”. The contrast was extreme, with the bold paparazzi following the family around Manhattan.
“I used to get really upset. They (photographers) would jump on the subway and sit right in front of me. I was, like, six. I was confused,” Carys said.
ROCKED BY CANCER FROM ‘CUNNILINGUS’
When Douglas was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, Catherine dropped everything to support him and removed herself from the spotlight. His cancer’s progression was aggressive; appearing on the David Letterman show he confirmed the diagnosis, explaining that he was at Stage IV, and Stage V is death.
“I am head and neck. It hasn’t gone down. The expectations are good,” he said.
“The big thing you’re worried about is it spreading,” he said, referring to the likelihood of cancers diagnosed at Stage IV of metastasising.
The candid way Douglas spoke about the rampancy of the cancer alarmed many, and conjecture about his chances of survival abounded.
“He’s a very matter-of-fact person,” Zeta-Jones said of Douglas’ head on tackling of the illness.
“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 b**tard. It was very intensive … but he still retained his sense of humour.”
Douglas went through a gruelling treatment of radiation and chemotherapy that caused him to lose 13.5 kgs.
Previous to diagnosis, Douglas had been a lover of earthly delights: a heavy drinker, a chain-smoker, an interviewer asked him if he felt guilty for years of hedonistic indulgence that may have caused his throat cancer.
“No,” Douglas retorted, before uttering words that would become infamous. “This particular cancer is caused by HPV (human papillomavirus), which actually comes about from cunnilingus.”
During Douglas’ illness, the gravity of the situation caused Zeta-Jones to become hugely stressed.
“When you get sideswiped like that (by your husband’s illness), it’s an obvious trigger for your balance to be a little bit off — not sleeping, worry, stress,” she said in 2013.
“It’s a classic trigger.”
Less than a year later, after aggressive treatment Douglas was declared cancer free, and Zeta-Jones was admitted to a psychiatric facility.
She described her husband’s cancer diagnosis as hugely stressful, feeling like she would have to be “wiped off the floor”. She described the period leading up to her diagnosis as “an intense time in good ways and bad”.
“You find out who you really are and who are you are married to. You find things inside yourself you never imagined were there,” Zeta-Jones said.
Bipolar II is a less severe form of the more commonly known Bipolar disorder, which is characterised by powerful mood swings, long depressive periods, feelings of euphoria and manic episodes. Sufferers of Bipolar II generally do not experience more intense symptoms such as hallucinations and violent episodes.
These different emotional mixed states can last for different periods and affect the sufferer for different periods of times. Outcomes are good when treatment is sought through therapy and medication.
“I hope fellow sufferers will know it’s completely controllable,” she said in an interview the following year. “I hope I can help remove any stigma attached to it.” Zeta-Jones reiterated she was somewhat uncomfortable with revealing her diagnosis, but hoped to remove the stigma for other sufferers.
“I never wanted to be the poster child for this (bipolar disorder) and I never wanted for this to come out publicly. It came out. And so I dealt with it in the best way I could, and that was just to say, ‘Look, hey, I’m bipolar!’”
Zeta-Jones’ career has been long and has included struggles and periods of difficulty. Earlier this year, she gave a bold interview, saying she is tired of being modest for her wealth, fame and beauty.
“One thing I’m not is humble anymore. I’m sick of being humble. I really am. ‘So sorry I’m rich. So sorry I’m married to a movie star. So sorry I’m not so bad looking.’ No sorrys. Enough. All that is important to me now is my work.”
THE COUPLE SPLIT AND MAKE UP AGAIN
Three months after Zeta-Jones’ second hospitalisation, the couple decided to separate, with their rep saying they were “taking some time apart to evaluate and work on their marriage.”
The couple separated without filing for divorce after 13 years of marriage.
During their break, Zeta-Jones, didn’t speak to the press bar the statement released via her representative. Douglas was much more open, giving a number of statements. He seemed a mixture of hopeful and realistic about the predicament of romance under the spectre of scrutiny.
“I’m crazy about her … I think every couple has their difficult times. The only problem is, as you well know, we’re all in the public eye and it tends to get a little more exposed than most,” he said at the time.
In an interview with The Guardian, Douglas suggested the couple have a different relationship with their acting careers: For him it’s creative release, while he described Zeta-Jones’ interaction with her profession as somewhat laboured.
“I think (acting is) an outlet,” he said.
“But Catherine’s situation is different to mine. Acting requires a lot of energy. It pumps you up and there’s a lot of bouncing between these different parts. And when you come home, you have to sit down, take a bath and let it go. I think that’s maybe the difference between us.”
After some months apart and much public speculation, it was reported that the couple rekindled and moved back into a New York City apartment together. It appeared they had spent less than a year apart.
“It’s a long road, and I think people today are so quick to throw in the towel on marriage. You have to give it your best shot and not give up when the first problem arises, because that won’t be the last problem.” Zeta-Jones told Good Housekeeping in 2016.
Her husband echoed her sentiments in the same year.
“It took work on both our parts,” Douglas said. “I don’t think there’s much chance of fixing a relationship if one of you is already out the door.”
MICHAEL DOUGLAS WAS ACCUSED OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
At the beginning of this year, The Hollywood Reporter published a detailed account of a former employee of Douglas’ claiming she was routinely exposed to inappropriate conduct, constant sexually charged conversations and, he once masturbated to the point of ejaculation in front of her while they were in his apartment.
His accuser was Susan Braudy, a powerful novelist and journalist, who had worked running Douglas’ New York outpost of his production company, Stonebridge Productions.
Susan Braudy’s account was damning.
She kept detailed notes at the time of her employment, as well as pay stubs. Three fellow writers who were her friends at the time also came to her aid and were willing to corroborate her story. She also had a time stamped letter from a local law centre where she inquired about sexual harassment in the workplace.
While working for Douglas, Braudy said she had to continually “shrug off the cloud of sexual aggression that Michael reflexively emitted”.
She recalled a number of incidents in detail where Douglas was inappropriate in the workplace, including him being regularly underdressed, or making lewd remarks about bananas.
The main assault took place as they were brainstorming a character in the vein of E.T. sometime in early 1989.
“Michael unzipped his chinos and I registered something amiss,” she said, as she described him continuing to talk about character notes about the imagined alien.
“I peered at him and saw he’d inserted both hands into his unzipped pants. I realised to my horror that he was rubbing his private parts. Within seconds his voice cracked and it appeared to me he’d had an orgasm.”
Douglas addressed the allegations to The Hollywood Reporter, calling them, “an unfortunate and complete fabrication,” in a written statement.
He also dismissed the idea that there was a power imbalance in place, referring to his accuser as “an industry veteran, a senior executive, a published novelist and an established member of the women’s movement — someone with a strong voice now, as well as when she worked at my company more than three decades ago”.
“At no time then did she express or display even the slightest feeling of discomfort working in our environment, or with me personally,” Douglas said.
“That is because at no time, and under no circumstance, did I behave inappropriately toward her.”
Douglas was 73 years old at the time of being accused.