PERHAPS it is my imagination, but it seems as though we are in the midst of a full-blown summer funk. While trend writers and editorialists will have you believe this is related to the anticlimax of the war on terrorism or the free-falling Dow, astute culture vultures know what is really ailing us: the dissolution of the marriage of Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton.
Since Jolie filed for divorce earlier this month, citing irreconcilable differences, I, like most Americans (especially those who get paid to feed on human folly), have taken it rather hard. When I'm not drinking to make the pain stop, there's the dyspepsia, the dysphasia, the dysphoria--all the dys-'es really. When I sleep, if I sleep, it is fitfully, until I'm roused by my own involuntary cries in the night of, "Why, God, why?"
While it lasted, the Angelina/Billy Bob union was one that seemed to exist outside of time. Their connection was cosmic, as they had any number of things in common: Both had bizarre physical appearances. She had the feline, Bride-of-Satan eyes and lips like over-filled hot-water bottles. He had the head too big for his gaunt, hillbilly body, and choppers that looked retrofitted from the skull of an ape. Both actors did their best work "playing" mental patients, she in "Girl, Interrupted," he in "Sling Blade." Both seemed genetically incapable of making it through an interview without proclaiming their undying love ("I know it will be forever," said Jolie), or without sharing an embarrassing bedroom aside ("Sex for us is almost too much," said Thornton, adding that he once had to restrain himself "from literally squeezing her to death").
We hoped it might go on forever, like the sky, or the "Law & Order" television franchise. But if we could not foresee its end, we could certainly mark its beginning. Like most star-crossed lovers, these two had plenty of obstacles to overcome. Having met on the set of "Pushing Tin," a film about averting terrible aerial disasters, the two were married in 2000 in a jeans-clad ceremony at the Little Church of the West Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas.
Their joyous day, however, was marred by others' hurt feelings. For at the time of their nuptials, Thornton was engaged to actress Laura Dern, and Jolie had been romantically linked to her brother, with whom she made out publicly after receiving her Best Supporting Actress Oscar. (Jolie couldn't understand why so many incest speculation stories followed. Perhaps it was because during her acceptance speech, she said, "I'm so in love with my brother." Or maybe it was just the tongue-kissing.)
None of this really bothered them, however. They liked getting married so much, that they did it again--in their Beverly Hills home. "We want to get married in different countries, in different ways, different customs," Jolie told the Los Angeles Times. "We love getting married," seconded Thornton. Indeed, both of them seemed to get married as often as possible. Jolie had tied the knot once before with another actor in a quaint, romantic ceremony in which she wore rubber pants and a t-shirt with the groom's name scrawled on it--in her own blood.
As for the 46-year-old Thornton, Jolie was his fifth wife. The fourth one, Pietra Dawn Thornton, didn't work out so well. In court papers, she accused him of going off his lithium because he said it made him "feel like a piece of driftwood." He also allegedly punched her in the eye while she was holding their 3-month-old son, told her she was pathetic, and threatened to kill her. Likewise, according to her complaint, he repeatedly pushed her, hit her, choked her, and, in an extremely bizarre twist, bit her eight times over a one-year period, "most frequently on my cheeks."
Such allegations might be enough to give a prospective new bride pause. Not Angelina Jolie. To Thornton, it must have been a relief to find out he wasn't the only one with a taste for human flesh. "I have this thing about his earlobe," Jolie told a reporter. "I just want to bite it off so many times." (Soul mates!)
Over the years, Jolie has proven to have a taste for things slightly more exotic than Billy Bob's earlobes. Most celebrities strive to portray themselves as the gosh-golly-stars-next-door. Jolie, too, would fit into this category--if you lived next door to the Manson Family. She is the girl you went to high school with--the one on the outer fringes, who would smoke Raid-laced cigarettes behind the bleachers, or who would maybe ask to borrow your pen knife so she could carve Morrisey lyrics into her leg.
The daughter of actor Jon Voight (he split when she was little), Jolie has cultivated a unique set of interests. She aspired to be a funeral director, read widely about Vlad the Impaler, and nursed a crush on Spock (the Vulcan, not the pediatrician). Reality was always something of a let-down. As Jolie told one interviewer, "I remember being very upset that I wasn't crazy, that I wasn't a vampire."
It seems she sold herself short on both counts. By any pedestrian definition, Jolie would pass as plenty nuts. As a teenager, she experimented with purple hair, lesbianism, and a surfeit of tattoos. But her true passion was collecting spears, battle axes, and knives (she has a weapons room in her home). Without much opportunity to play with her toys, Jolie began carving herself up for sport. "You're young, you're crazy, you're in bed, and you've got knives. So s--- happens," she explained.
On the Nosferatu front, Jolie is also no slouch. Not only did she buy Billy Bob his'n'hers burial plots, but also matching necklace vials in which they wore each other's blood. If you believe her press clippings, Jolie's bloodlust is insatiable. Not only has she claimed to cut herself before sex, but she's played down her blood drives as "corny romantic" foreplay ("If there was a safe way to drink [Thornton's] blood, I'd love to," she told Rolling Stone). While most celebrities throw hissy fits over imagined atrocities, like PA's forgetting to extract the vanilla from their Vanilla Coke, Jolie reportedly went ballistic at a photo shoot in which an assistant asked her to remove her ghoulish pendant. "That's my husband's blood!" she screamed.
Make no mistake, Billy Bob has plenty of his own eccentricities. Over the years he has been dogged by either rumors or admissions that he: eats nothing but orange food (pumpkins, papayas, etc), likes the taste of squirrel, and has deep, abiding fears of ferries, metal spoons, and antique furniture. In 1998, after having dropped from 197 to 138 pounds, he admitted he was anorexic. "For a while there," he said, "I think I had a little mental problem."
Together, these two put the "crazy" in "crazy love." Angelina loved Billy Bob so much that when she played Lara Croft in "Tomb Raider," she insisted her character needed an electric chair in her room because "Billy got electrocuted in a movie this year, so it was romantic for me to have it." Billy Bob loved Angelina so much that he admitted to wearing his wife's pink panties: "I like having her close to me, you know?"
There is, of course, an immutable law of celebrity: The more nauseatingly and insistently two stars proclaim their togetherness, the closer they are to coming apart. (Witness Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, Jennifer Lopez and Puffy, or America's Sweetheart, Julia Roberts, who has declared her eternal devotion to everything that moves, and several things that don't). Meanwhile, celebrity couples that evidence staying power, like Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, tend not to conduct interviews with their legs coiled around each other's heads. A stable marriage is about more than wearing each other's panties and draining each other's blood. Sure, that's part of it. But these things are no substitute for the things that really matter: responsibility, fidelity, mental stability.
Now Billy Bob and Angelina's marriage-as-performance-art has come to an abrupt halt. Earlier this year, they adopted a Cambodian baby that they named "Maddox," nicknaming him, appropriately enough, "Madness." "We'll never be apart," Thornton vowed. "We'll both be with the child. All the time, see." But a few days later, he'd taken off with his hobby band to tour behind his album, "Private Radio." As reports dribbled out that the two split up after having not seen each other for weeks, Thornton's publicist initially chalked it up to a scheduling conflict. According to the tabloids, it was indeed: Thornton had scheduled lots of noogie with slutty waitresses and groupies. Jolie hadn't. Whatever the truth, Jolie formally confirmed to US Weekly that, "It's clear to me that our priorities shifted overnight."
Now, serious Angelina/Billy Bob watchers (are there any other kind?) are wondering how exactly she'll handle this. I'm not proud to say it, but while some offices have college basketball pools, ours has a celebrity death-watch over/under line. If Jolie cashes out in the next three years, either by her own hand or the hand of fate, America will mourn. And so will I--over a 32-ounce porterhouse at Morton's, courtesy of my web editor.
Cavalier as that sounds, I'm not the one with the death wish, Jolie is. She once said, "I live by the creed that I might die tomorrow. In fact, I'm surprised I'm still here." In fact, she almost insured she wasn't. As she told the Internet Movie Database, "This is going to sound insane, but there was a time I was going to hire somebody to kill me." (Jolie, insane? No way.)
Let's hope she never follows through, for the sake of Maddox. But what about poor Baby Madness, plucked from his perfectly good third-world shantytown to be dropped into this maelstrom of Hollywood neuroses? Sure, he came from Cambodia--home of abject poverty, political killings, abysmal working conditions, and former capital of the Khmer Rouge. But faced with that, or the terrifying alternative of calling Angelina Jolie "mommy," I'd take my chances in the killing fields.
Matt Labash is senior writer at The Weekly Standard.