Tony Award-winning stage legend Ben Vereen allegedly spent 36 years illegally married to two women.
The Pippin star filed for divorce from his first wife, Andrea, whom he married 52 years ago and separated from shortly thereafter. The estranged couple appeared at Brooklyn Supreme Court on Thursday morning, where a judge urged the pair to settle their dispute outside of court, according to the defendant’s attorney, Harold Mayerson.
A rep for Vereen tells PEOPLE that the actor originally filed for divorce from Andrea back in 1972 – and that she filed her own divorce paperwork two years later in 1974. According to the rep, Vereen believed the divorce had been finalized, and notes the confusion could be a result of bad record keeping or an oversight by Vereen’s attorneys at the time.
Vereen’s attorney, John P. DiMascio, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier on Thursday, he told Page Six, “This is a personal matter, and nothing has been proven yet.”
Mayerson, who is representing Andrea, tells PEOPLE that his client believed she had been divorced for decades, and only learned that the marriage was not legally dissolved recently when she went to collect Social Security.
“Mr. Vereen told her years ago they were divorced,” Mayerson explains. “But when she applied for Social Security, she found out that not only are they not divorced, but that some other woman is collecting under his name.”
That woman, Nancy Bruner, married Vereen in Los Angeles in 1976. They ultimately divorced in 2012. However, according to Mayerson, Vereen would have had to mention the date of his divorce on his California marriage certificate. “That’s what’s fishy about this,” says Mayerson.
The attorney adds that after Andrea discovered she was still married, he contacted Vereen’s team to work out a solution. “We were negotiating with them, and they really didn’t want to give much of anything,” he explains. “And then they, inexplicably in my opinion, filed this lawsuit [for divorce].”
While Mayerson does not believe that Vereen is “a bad guy,” he hopes that the singer/dancer “will respect the fact that this woman raised his son and do the right thing.” He adds, “He left this young girl – she was 14 and pregnant at the time – to raise a child by herself in New York City, which was not easy at the time for an African-American woman, and life was tough.”
The attorney says that Vereen has a union pension, has not collected Social Security yet and earned as much as $400,000 last year alone. “It’s not as though he’s impoverished,” Mayerson explains. Andrea, one the other hand, he says, “has lived exceptionally modestly her whole life. She’s a religious women, was a pastor, worked in churches, sang in choirs and was scraping everywhere along the way with virtually no help from him.”
While Andrea’s lawyer is confident that the judge will rule in her favor, he is still hopeful the parties will reach a settlement outside of court. “We’re hopeful there will be a settlement before we go to trial and that Mr. Vereen will come to his good senses and get this settled and have a great twilight to his career.”
Vereen, now 69, won best actor in a musical at the 1973 Tonys for his portrayal of Pippin and has also appeared in numerous films and television series.