Most married couples would have called it quits by then, at half past midnight after a long night on the town. But not Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman — they still felt the need for speed. And so at 12:30 last Dec. 28 the couple called security at the Stratosphere Casino Hotel and Tower in Las Vegas and asked for a turn on Big Shot, the mind-blowing, stomach-churning thrill ride located atop the hotel’s 1,149-ft. tower. After officials closed the roof deck to the public, Cruise and Kidman strapped themselves into a 12-seat car and were hurled 160 feet in the air in 2.5 seconds. “Tom Cruise just had a huge grin on his face,” says Brad Sakoff, the ride supervisor who arranged the late-night adventure. “They rode it about three times. They kept screaming, ‘One more time!’ They had a blast.”
Over the top and fun while it lasted: The same could be said of the 10-year marriage of Cruise, 38, and Kidman, 33, a dynamic coupling which, they announced on Feb. 5, has finally run out of steam. “Citing the difficulties inherent in divergent careers which constantly kept them apart,” their spokeswoman Pat Kingsley said in a statement, “they concluded that an amicable separation seemed best for both of them at this time.”
Friends and family of the pair only learned of the split on the morning it was announced. They were distressed — “We are all very upset,” Kidman’s mother, Janelle, a nurse educator, said at her Sydney home — and startled by the news. So, apparently, was Kidman. The Hawaii-born, Australian-bred actress was “broadsided” by the announcement, says a friend. Though trouble had been brewing between the pair for some time, according to this friend, “Nicole was surprised by the timing of the announcement more than the idea of the separation,” says the source. “It came much sooner than expected.”
What went wrong?
Few doubt that the couple’s careers, which often saw them globe-trotting between three continents in as many months with their children — Isabella, 8, and Connor, 6 — put pressure on their relationship. But friends say other reasons contributed to the marriage’s demise. “One of the problems was that Nicole wants to spend more time in Australia and Tom wants to spend more time (in the U.S.),” says her friend. What’s more, the source adds, Cruise, a devoted Scientologist, and Kidman “couldn’t agree on religion. Nicole’s background is in Catholicism, and she did not like the idea of the children being raised in Scientology.” Kidman has referred to her “mishmash” of beliefs, telling Newsweek that she incorporated “a little bit of Buddhism, a little Scientology. I was raised Catholic, and a big part of me is still a Catholic girl.” Assertions that Scientology played any part in the breakup are unequivocally denied by Kingsley. “Scientology had nothing to do with this,” she says. “They are not being controlled. They are not being counseled.”
Indeed, the intensely private couple, who have members of their staff sign strict confidentiality agreements, have always fought for control of their image. In 1998 Cruise and Kidman won a libel suit against the British tabloid Express, which had suggested that they were gay and their marriage was a ruse. (They donated the $330,000 judgment to charity.) In 1999 they sued the U.S. tabloid the Star for claiming sex experts had to coach them in the art of lovemaking for scenes in the 1999 Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut, leading to a retraction and another donation to charity. Cruise addressed speculation about his marriage in an impassioned interview with Talk magazine last April. “Basically, people are saying, ‘That’s a lie, it’s a sham,’ ” said the actor. “At a certain point, I said, ‘Fine. Go ahead and prove it.’ . . . Now I want an apology, because my kids are going to school. Prove we’re liars.”
The couple’s Los Angeles attorney Bert Fields dismisses all such allegations as “just nuts. These are people who for 10 years were very much in love.” If you had spotted them in public, you would have had to agree. In Sydney, where Cruise was shooting Mission: Impossible 2 in 1999, he and Kidman partied at the local nightclub Soho and struck club owner Andrew Lazarus as “either very much in love or terrific actors.” The pair were similarly cozy on the red carpets at premieres for M:I-2 in Los Angeles and Sydney last May. Two months later they moved with the children to a luxury villa in a posh neighborhood in Madrid, where Kidman spent four months filming the supernatural thriller The Others, which Cruise coproduced. True to their commitment never to be apart for more than three weeks (though both claimed they’d never gone more than two), Cruise “left on a couple of occasions for business,” says Spanish film executive Eduardo Chopero, “but always came back to the family. When they were together, there was nothing amiss between them.”
Certainly the pair didn’t appear estranged at a November bash at the Manhattan nightclub Float, celebrating the impending wedding of Sony Music CEO Tommy Mottola and the singer Thalia. “They were all over each other,” Float publicist Lori Brown, who was there, says of Cruise and Kidman. “They were dancing together and grinding up against each other. It was very much like Eyes Wide Shut. It was very sexy.” Nothing unusual about that, says Australian director John Duigan (Sirens), who cast Kidman in her Down Under TV breakthrough, Vietnam, in 1985 and has remained a close friend ever since. “They were genuinely a very close couple,” he says. “For the duration of their relationship they were enormously supportive of each other and remarkably happy. People will probably read into (the split) that somehow the relationship was flawed from the beginning. But people would be wrong in thinking that their parting was somehow inevitable.”
Things were far less complicated for Cruise and Kidman when they met during casting for Days of Thunder in 1989. Raised in Glen Ridge, N.J., by his mother, Mary Lee, after his father, Thomas Cruise Mapother, left when Tom was just 12, Cruise was coming off the megasuccess of 1988’s Rain Man and in the process of splitting from his first wife, actress Mimi Rogers (Austin Powers). Enter Kidman, the stunning 22-year-old Aussie newcomer who would make a splash in the 1989 stranded-at-sea thriller Dead Calm. At her audition for the stock-car-racing drama Days of Thunder, “there were five men in the room,” Kidman recalled to a BBC reporter in 1998. “I walked in and (Tom) was the one that stood up and shook my hand. And I just remember . . . electricity going through me.” A little more than a year later she became his bride in a small private ceremony held in a woodsy rented home in Telluride, Colo., on Christmas Eve, 1990. “I was lucky at 22,” Kidman said later, “that I met somebody who fascinated me, amazed me, who could keep me interested.”
Within months the pair moved into a sprawling ranch in Billings, Mont., to film Ron Howard’s Irish adventure Far and Away, which failed to capture the offscreen chemistry the newlyweds were apparently generating. “When they were together there was a lot of kissy face,” local resident Terry Keating said at the time. “They carried on like a couple of teenagers.” Open displays of affection became a staple of their high-profile romance. “He is the best husband,” Ren e Zellweger, Cruise’s love interest in Jerry Maguire, said after observing them on-set. “I mean, you see him with his wife and they are so in love.”
Yet rarely did they let their marriage get in the way of careers. When Kidman signed up to go naked in the London and New York stage productions of the racy drama The Blue Room in 1998, Cruise turned up at several performances in both cities, beaming and telling friends how proud he was of his wife. What’s more, the couple survived the test of shooting Eyes Wide Shut for nearly two years under the probing direction of Stanley Kubrick, the reclusive filmmaker who became a close friend. In fact, Cruise told Vanity Fair last July, “our marriage is stronger because of it. And our friendship is deeper.”
Still, they were both constantly mindful of the destructive effects that one high-profile career, much less two, can have on a marriage. Making 12 movies in the 1980s had helped sink Cruise’s three-year marriage to Rogers; the couple divorced in 1990. “The first 10 years, that was it, work, work, work,” Cruise told Vanity Fair in 1996. “And then I met Nic, and it was like, ‘Oh my God.’ ”
Aware of the dangers, Cruise and Kidman, who adopted Isabella in 1993 and Connor in 1995, scaled back their workloads enough to ensure that one parent was always there to tuck the kids in each night. Whether in Australia, where the family keeps a house overlooking Sydney Harbor, or at their sprawling estate in Los Angeles, both are hands-on parents. Other mothers and fathers are accustomed to seeing Kidman or Cruise at events at the private school the children attend while in Sydney, and Cruise, who often drops the kids off, has even sat at the back of the classroom to help Connor through the transition to a new Santa Monica preschool. “He seemed like a great father,” says Angela Crickman, the mother of one classmate there. “His son was always smiling and he seemed really happy to see his dad when he picked him up.”
By all accounts, Kidman is also a devoted parent. Yet, by and large, their twin commitments — to be a close and loving family while barely throttling back their movie careers — apparently proved incompatible. “Tom is the most ambitious, driven perfectionist I have ever seen, and Nicole is second,” says Julian Senior, a marketing executive who worked closely with the pair on Eyes Wide Shut. “With her in Australia and in Spain, and Tom pushing on with his career, there was no slowdown anywhere.”
Work — and geography — eventually got them down. Despite the amount of time the family has spent in Australia over the years, Kidman conceded in 1999, “Tom’s an American boy, he just is. Born and bred.” She, friends say, is the consummate Australian girl, enamored of her homeland and close to her parents, Janelle and Antony, a psychologist, as well as her sister Antonia, all of whom live in Sydney. “Tom loved the outdoor life that Sydney offered, and he probably loved the idea that it was easier for him to move around without too much interference,” says Kidman’s friend Duigan. Their different backgrounds “were part of what brought them together,” he adds, though in the long run having to adapt to each other’s cultures “may have ultimately contributed to their parting of ways.”
Where the children will finally settle and what custody arrangements the couple will come to remain unclear. “I don’t think there’s going to be much to fight about,” says Fields, their attorney. “They both care for the children and they will do what’s best for them.” One thing they are unlikely to squabble over is money: Cruise’s fortune has been reported at upwards of $225 million, while Kidman’s is pegged at roughly half that. They will also have to divvy up real estate that, in addition to their homes in L.A. and Sydney, includes a mountain home in Telluride.
Calm after the announcement
For now, though, it’s business as usual — for Cruise at least. On the day the split was announced, the actor reported dutifully to the Los Angeles set of Vanilla Sky, a $75 million romantic thriller directed by Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) and costarring Penelope Cruz. “He’s been very professional,” says one crew member. “He hasn’t missed any lines, but you can tell this is very personal and deep, and he is keeping to himself.” Kidman, on the other hand, recently dropped out of the drama The Panic Room after several weeks of shooting, citing a knee injury she suffered while making the period piece Moulin Rouge in Australia. As news of the split broke, Kidman canceled a photo shoot for IN STYLE magazine that day and hunkered down at the couple’s L.A. home with the kids. Eventually “Nicole will probably live in Sydney,” says her friend, who describes relations between Cruise and Kidman as “30 percent friendly. They are being adult about it, for the children.”
Traumatic as their breakup may be, it seems unlikely to affect their careers — the very elements of their lives that may have brought their marriage to a close. “They are both stars, and I think they both have a future as stars for a long time,” says Hollywood producer Martha De Laurentiis (Hannibal). “She is elegant and beautiful. He is still our Tom Cruise.” What they won’t have, as they soar to ever higher box office grosses, is the marital support they once received from each other and cherished. “All I can say is that I hope we are together when we are 80,” Kidman told Talk just last year. “I can’t say we will be, but I will be so devastated if we are not.” Let the healing begin.
— ALEX TRESNIOWSKI — MEG GRANT, MARK DAGOSTINO, ELIZABETH LEONARD, CYNTHIA WANG, MICHAEL FLEEMAN, MICHELLE CARUSO, JULIE JORDAN and FRANK SWERTLOW in Los Angeles; PETE NORMAN in London; JANE WALKER in Madrid; SANDRA LEE, DENNIS PASSA, PENELOPE GREEN in Sydney and FANNIE WEINSTEIN in New York City