We’ll never know for sure if the reason was lust—or greed, envy, sloth, or any of the other deadly sins. But when it was announced June 16, 1997, that Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow were calling it quits after 2 1/2 years, it was certainly news. Their uncoupling led off 6 o’clock newscasts nationwide and landed them on the cover of People.
On the surface, the pair — who met on the set of 1995’s sinful Seven— seemed to be sprinkled with stardust. Accepting a Golden Globe the next year for 12 Monkeys, Pitt, then 32, melted hearts when he thanked Gwyneth, his ”angel, the love of my life.” And when he walked the red carpet for his Monkeys Oscar bid with the 23-year-old Paltrow, it was clear great expectations were on the horizon.
So what happened to the perfect pair? ”People are, like, obsessed with knowing why,” Paltrow said a year after the split. ”I think, What do you mean, why? When two people aren’t supposed to be together, they’re not supposed to be together.”
Perhaps it had something to do with growing up worlds apart. Pitt, son of Bill, a former trucking exec, and Jane, a high school counselor, was reared on mac and cheese and educated at Springfield, Mo.’s Kickapoo High. Leaving the University of Missouri just two credits shy of a degree, he set out for Burbank in a beat-up Nissan. Before revealing his six-pack abs in 1991’s Thelma & Louise, the two-time Sexiest Man Alive covered them up in a chicken suit hawking El Pollo Loco restaurants.
Paltrow was reared on New York’s Upper East Side by producer-director father Bruce and actress mother Blythe Danner. On breaks from the tony all-girls school Spence, she often acted with Danner at the Williamstown, Mass., summer Theatre Festival, and, after a short time at UC Santa Barbara, she decided to join the family business, getting her big break in Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991).
Nevertheless, when Pitt popped the question in December 1996 while Paltrow visited him in Argentina during the Seven Years in Tibet shoot, the answer was a resounding ”si.” But just six months later, the union had soured. ”I think there were a lot of things,” hinted Jean Black, longtime makeup artist and friend of Pitt, ”that made Brad feel as if Gwyneth probably wasn’t ready for marriage.”
The actor proved HE was, however, when, in July 2000, he wed Friends’ Jennifer Aniston. Paltrow, who has vowed to keep relationships out of the limelight and who recently dated her Royal Tenenbaums costar Luke Wilson, last year offered this description of her ideal man, one that likely doesn’t apply to Pitt: ”He doesn’t have to grab all the attention in the room.”