Even with all the questions swirling about his marriage, Russell Brand didn’t seem like a man under fire seeing Hamlet at London’s Young Vic Theatre Dec. 28. He calmly walked around the venue, then sat with an unidentified brunette, stroking her back during the first act. Later, a theatergoer approached him, asking what was on many people’s minds: “Do you still have a wife?” The comedian, not wearing his wedding ring, “nonchalantly said, ‘Yes,'” says an observer, “then threw his arm around the brunette and walked off.”
Two days later, that was no longer true. “Sadly, Katy and I are ending our marriage,” Brand, 36, said in a statement Dec. 30 after citing “irreconcilable differences” in divorce papers filed the same day. “I’ll always adore her and I know we’ll remain friends.” A ringless Perry, 27-who wed Brand in a lavish four-day celebration in India just 14 months ago-spent the holidays 7,000 miles away, holed up with friends in a rental home in Kauai, Hawaii, and has remained mum.
While the announcement’s timing came as a surprise to many, breakup buzz has dogged the quirky pair since their early days. A few months after they got engaged, U.K. tabs claimed Brand was tiring of commitment, but he shrugged off the gossips, telling PEOPLE, “As long as she is happy, I am happy.” Rumors cropped up again in August, when Brand was seen kissing a friend on her head, and heated up when a U.K. paper claimed Perry had confided her marriage was in trouble to a musician on her tour in November-the same time Perry stopped gushing about him to friends. “She looked at her phone and rolled her eyes when it was him,” says her pal. “That was so unlike her.” Still, Brand and Perry defended their union to the end. “I am really happily married,” Brand told Ellen DeGeneres Dec. 1. ” ‘Until death do us part’ was the pledge. I’m still alive.” Perry also tweeted, “First I’m pregnant & then I’m divorced. What am I All My Children?!”
Their life certainly played like a soap opera. Perry first caught the attention of the bawdy Brit-a recovering sex and heroin addict almost 10 years older-by tossing a water bottle at his head at the 2009 MTV VMAs. He proposed four months later during a New Year’s trip to India. “She’d say, ‘He’s the One, the whole package,'” says a source who knew them in happier days. “They were deeply in love.” The pair got Sanskrit tattoos, tweeted photos of their cats and gazed lovingly on red carpets all over the globe. “He gave her jewelry, books by authors she liked, a pair of socks,” says Perry’s pal. “She talked about the socks like they were a Bentley.”
So what went wrong? One point of contention was their religious beliefs. (Perry was raised by strict Christian minister parents; Brand practices Transcendental Meditation.) “It bugged her when he’d say anti-Jesus things,” says Perry’s pal. “She’d ask him to respect her faith. He said he’d try.” (Counters a source close to Brand: “They were pretty in sync spiritually. He’s always accepting.”) Their lifestyles were also at odds. The sober actor shunned nightlife, says a Brand source, which led to spats when Perry wanted to party. They also only saw each other a handful of days a month when both were working. “Not being together all the time was their normal,” says the source who spent time with them, but an insider says distance took a toll as Brand filmed Rock of Ages in Florida last summer. “When Katy came to town, they were very much in love,” says the insider. “But the separation wasn’t good for him.” Adds a source with Brand during the shoot: “Russell needs constant reassurance that he’s funny and engaging. When she wasn’t around, he thrived on female companionship, romantic or not.”
Despite his flirting, the Brand source says he was faithful to Perry: “He’ll hold hands and put his arms around everybody. That’s just Russell.” Adds the couple source: “They took marriage seriously and wanted to prove people wrong.” Ultimately, says Perry’s pal, “it just cooled off. And when it did, they realized there wasn’t anything to stay married for.”
There likely won’t be anything to battle over either: While Brand is entitled to half of what they collectively earned while married (Forbes says Perry made $44 million last year) if there was no prenup, L.A. family law attorney Steve Mindel, who’s not involved in their case, says Brand could settle for less. “He’s not seeking spousal support, he made a statement about remaining friends, and both make a substantial amount of money,” says Mindel. They also have hot careers to bank on: Brand’s FX show airs this spring, while Grammy-nominated Perry has a new perfume and another album to write.
“It’s a sad situation-she needs time to deal with the loss of the relationship,” says the Perry pal. “But she’s strong and she’ll bounce back.” Adds the Brand source: “He was a great husband, and he’ll be a great dad someday. This isn’t about what he or she did. It just didn’t work out.”