Described as “the coolest country singer alive” by Vanity Fair, Lyle Lovett still couldn’t believe his luck when he booked a date with Julia Roberts. But he was little prepared for the speed with which this relationship would blossom.
Only weeks later, Roberts and Lovett shocked the world by tying the knot at a church in a quiet corner of Indiana. Their marriage would last only two years, and was surrounded by rumours of cooling affections and infidelities. Here is how their whirlwind romance grew in secret, and then fell apart.
From the moment she was born, Julia Roberts seemed destined to act. She was born in Smyrna, Georgia in 1967 to Betty Lou Bredemus and Walter Grady Roberts, former playwrights who ran a youth drama school. Her older sister is the actress Lisa Roberts Gillan, and her older brother is the actor Eric Roberts, whose daughter is the American Horror Story star Emma Roberts.
Roberts dropped out of Georgia State University to pursue a career in acting in New York. She became one of the world’s best-known leading ladies thanks to her celebrated performances in Mystic Pizza, Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman.
But by the early 90s, her career was overshadowed by rumours of a troubled personal life. Engaged to Kiefer Sutherland in 1991, she broke off the relationship days before the wedding. Director Steven Spielberg said that her relationship issues made her a difficult colleague on the set of Hook – a claim that Roberts denied. She was hospitalised with flu during the making of this film.
Her very thin figure triggered media speculation that she may be suffering from burnout or drug addiction, which Roberts likewise denied. She dialled back her leading roles in this period.
The press also linked Roberts romantically to stars like Dylan McDermott, Matthew Perry, Jason Patric and Liam Neeson, although she avoided discussing her dating life. So when the news broke that she had wedded the singer Lyle Lovett in a small ceremony in 1993, it came as a huge surprise to fans.
Ten years Roberts’ senior, Lyle Lovett was born in Houston, Texas in 1957. After studying Journalism and German at Texas A&M University, he became a country singer-songwriter, signing with MCA Records in 1986. Just three years later, he won the Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for his album Lyle Lovett and His Large Band.
In 1992, he had a cameo in The Player, a movie that pokes fun at Hollywood. Julia Roberts also had a cameo in this film, leading many to suggest retrospectively that the pair met on-set. However, Lovett’s then-girlfriend Allison Inman has confirmed Roberts and Lovett never met at that time.
“Lyle and I were looking forward to seeing her, we were like stargazing,” she has since remembered. “But we were gone the day she shot her scene.”
According to an interview with People Magazine, Lovett summed up the courage to ask Roberts on a date in May 1993, when she was filming The Pelican Brief in New Orleans and he was performing in the same city. “It felt extraordinary,” he said of their earliest meetings. “It just felt right. But I didn’t want to actually think it out loud, or even to myself, because of her being who she is. I knew I really liked this person. But I thought, ‘Don’t be stupid. She’s Julia Roberts.’ ”
Speaking to Barbara Walters in November that same year, Roberts declined to describe their first date – but she said that she received a call out of the blue from the singer. “We met, we had mutual friends in common, and he came to see me and was very nice and I had a very strong reaction to meeting him,” she noted, describing him as “perfect” and “really good-looking.”
Their blossoming romance evaded press attention for the most part – but one eagle-eyed fan recognised the pair in June 1993, on a date at New Orleans’ Café Brasil. As they swayed to the music of the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars, they danced the ‘hora’ and according to the witness: “They were nuzzling and dancing together. Everyone knew something special was happening between them.”
Before their wedding, Lovett and Roberts knew each other for under two months, and only ever spent a matter of days in each other’s company. Lovett later stated: “We’ve never gone more than a week without seeing each other since we got married. But before that we’d never spent more than seven days together.”
According to People Magazine, Lovett and Roberts quickly developed a set of private jokes. The touring Lovett would make references to a woman named ‘Fiona’ (Roberts’ middle name), while Roberts once disguised herself as a man to get onstage and introduce Lovett’s performance at the Paramount Theatre in New York.
Though they agreed to wed soon into their relationship, the couple never planned to marry so quickly. But Roberts felt hounded by the press and wanted to avoid the kind of frenzy that had occurred around her planned nuptials to Sutherland.
“We were going to get married later, like now [November 1993],” Roberts said in her interview with Barbara Walters. “And I was sitting in my kitchen in DC, where I was working, and suddenly I started thinking about it, and I could picture the months going by, and I could picture the wolves coming in close, and I got panicked.. the press, and people that would dig around in trash… It just seemed like the smartest way to do it so it could be ours, as opposed to everybody’s.”
They didn’t share a home or introduce their romance to the public. In fact, Roberts even kept their relationship a secret when she was interviewed by Vanity Fair 36 hours before her wedding. When the interviewer addressed rumours that she was dating Lovett, she said: “I do know Lyle. He played here in D.C. and a whole bunch of us went. We went on this big bus because there were about 25 of us from the crew.”
Speaking to the same reporter after her wedding hit the news, she described it as “spur-of-the-moment”: “We both were just giddy and wanted to get together and get married. Certainly, as an afterthought, you go, Let’s do it now! We love each other. We want to spend our lives together. This way things are calm and quiet and we can do it the way we want to do it without any influences from anybody else.”
The couple married on June 27th 1993, while Roberts had a weekend off filming The Pelican Brief. The ceremony, planned in the space of 72 hours, took place at St. James Lutheran Church in Marion, Indiana, a small city between two of Lovett’s tour destinations. Locals were astonished to see five tour buses and three limos arrive that morning, with celebrities pouring out.
Roberts wore a simple slip dress from Commes des Garçons and went barefoot, with a bouquet of white roses. Her mother attended and her sister Lisa was her maid of honour, but Eric Roberts was absent. Roberts’ father died when she was ten years old, so she walked down the aisle with her friend Barry Tubb. Roberts was 25 years old, while Lovett was 35.
Susan Sarandon was among Roberts’ five bridesmaids, who wore mismatched outfits due to the short notice. “We were coming from everywhere, like Noah’s Ark,” she would later comment. The local court clerk was completely taken aback to see such a famous celebrity at her workplace, signing the marriage license. “I’m afraid I’m going to wake up, and this will all be just a dream,” Roberts reportedly told a friend once the wedding was over.
Lovett went on to perform at a gig in Nobelsville that evening. Fans at that concert were the first to know of his wedding, as he introduced his bride and said: “Thank you very much, and welcome to the happiest day of my life.”
This surprise wedding earned the couple a cover of People Magazine, but once the media furore died down, the couple settled into a more domestic routine. Roberts knitted clothes for Lovett and cooked food for him, although he was in charge of their morning oatmeal. After setting up homes in New York and Hollywood, they hosted Lovett’s family for Thanksgiving that year, and went on holiday to Paris the following spring.
“He’s really a tremendous man, and he’s shown a great deal of courage in marrying me,” Roberts would later tell the New York Times. “… We’re pretending to be a normal couple. We get up in the morning and go to our jobs. He goes to the studio to cut a record, I go to the studio to make a movie.”
She recalled with humour the mixed reception that the news of their sudden wedding received. “We can be walking down Sixth Avenue early in the morning and people will come by and say, ‘Hey, congratulations!’,” she said. “But then there are people who talk about my wedding dress looking like a tablecloth, too.”
The duo co-starred in the comedy Pret-a-Porter in 1994, with Roberts playing a journalist and Lovett playing a cowboy boot designer.
In another New York Times interview in January 1995, Lovett sounded slightly wistful about how their fame as a couple was fleeting. “I think I have definitely peaked in terms of pop culture,” he said. “I don’t think anything I’ll do in my life on a public level will be as newsworthy, and maybe that’s a good thing because all I’m interested in doing is what I’ve always done… write about my life.”
The media sometimes noted how their busy schedules kept them apart – with Lovett touring internationally and Roberts working on I Love Trouble. “You have to keep focused on the reality of this relationship and not on the publicity,” Lovett commented. “I’m married to this girl and I am in love with her. We have a relationship that doesn’t get played in the tabloids . . . what you hear about is a fictionalized version.”
For Julia Roberts, married life was a major adjustment. She went from a life of whirlwind romances and dates to a quieter existence – with a noticeable withdrawal from Hollywood. In 1994, she described her mixed emotions about her marriage to Lovett: “It’s that final sense of knowing that you’re married. You’ll never be asked on a date again. Well, you might be asked, but certainly you shouldn’t go.”
“Decisions aren’t just your own,” she elaborated. “You should probably tell somebody if you’re not going to be home until 12 midnight. You should tell somebody that you’re spending four months in Australia. You should fill them in.”
All was not well in this period, and the press latched on to rumours that the couple were unhappy. For the most part, Lovett resided in Texas while Roberts lived in her New York apartment. While she was visiting London to film Mary Reilly, fans noticed Roberts wasn’t wearing her wedding band. The paparazzi often caught photos of Lovett and Roberts apart in the company of other men and women, fuelling the idea that the couple were slowly breaking up.
In July 1994, Roberts was seen dancing closely with her Reality Bites co-star Ethan Hawke at a Manhattan restaurant. When a Rolling Stones reporter raised this with her, she retorted: “I danced. Is that a felony?”
In response to the rumours that she or her husband had been unfaithful, she said: “It doesn’t make me laugh — it’s stupid. If anyone thinks that [what’s in the papers] is going to cause me to blink for a second and doubt my husband or where he’s been or his integrity or loyalty — not even for a split second.”
As late as November 1994, Lovett was entertaining the prospect of starting a family with Roberts. “Julia wants children and so do I,” he told the press. “Of course, it’s pretty difficult for us to get together at all at the moment, let alone start having babies.”
Nevertheless, the marriage was not to last. Roberts and Lovett, at the ages of 27 and 37, split up in 1995. They gave no reason for their legal separation, announcing in a joint statement: “We remain close and in great support of one another.”
Roberts likewise refused to elaborate on the end of her marriage in a 1995 interview, saying: “I can’t offer you all the things that make it intriguing and mysterious and scandalous, you know, because it just is what it is. We’re pals, and we will be, regardless of our status.”
When the interviewer quizzed her on any similarities between her marriage and her upcoming movie, Something To Talk About – the tale of an unfaithful husband – she replied: “The only similarity is that they’re both ultimately positive experiences for all people concerned… we’re very good friends, I talked to him this morning before I came here.”
Meanwhile, those close to Lovett were always surprised at his sudden romance with Roberts – and were perhaps less surprised at their split. When they married, his ex-girlfriend Allison Inman told People: “I’m proud of the old guy because I’ve never seen him do anything spontaneous. I have to applaud a woman who can get him to do something like that.”
Contrary to fan speculation, Lovett never wrote a song about Julia Roberts, even after their break-up. In a 1996 interview with the LA Times, Lovett said that every song on his latest album I Love Everybody was composed before he even married Roberts.
“The truth is, this record is not a record about my relationship with Julia Roberts,” he said. “None of the songs address anything specific in that relationship, though some of the songs are based on feelings that came from it. What you hope to do as a songwriter is to make people feel something . . . genuine emotions. That’s really the only way I know how to work. If you go back over my albums, you will find I have always written about relationships. This isn’t a new direction.”
Julia Roberts later wedded Daniel Moder, in a marriage that has lasted two decades and produced three children: Hazel, Phinnaeus and Henry. Lovett, meanwhile, met April Kimble in 1997 and has been with her ever since, with a wedding in 2017. In their separate marriages, Lovett and Roberts both happen to be parents to twins.
According to all reports, the pair remain on friendly terms. Along with many other stars, they collaborated on the 2017 Hand to Hand hurricane relief telethon, a one-hour special that raised $14 million for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.