The journalist and the actor came from wildly different backgrounds, but connected over family and political service
Now “living apart, while we work on the future of our relationship,” as they said in their joint announcement Monday, Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger were married for 25 years, after first meeting 34 years ago.
From the beginning, that relationship has been something larger than life. Shriver, 55, a TV journalist and member of the storied (and fervently Democratic) Kennedy dynasty, and Schwarzenegger, 63, the Austrian-born bodybuilder/action movie superhero who until last January served as a Republican California governor – originally elected in no small part thanks to the aura and influence of his wife, were seen as an unlikely pair.
When Schwarzenegger decided to run for governor, Shriver said she was surprised and not exactly thrilled.
“When he told me he was interested, I said I’d spent my whole life getting away from politics,” she told Oprah Winfrey in 2008. “I realized that if I said no, I’d be stopping my husband from achieving his dream. It was a catch-22. So I told Arnold that he should do what he wanted to do … Two months later, I was the Democratic First Lady of a Republican administration.”
And when Schwarzenegger came under fire during his campaign for allegations of improper behavior against women, Shriver jumped to his defense.
“The Arnold I know … is a man who cares about people – always has,” Shriver said on the campaign trail at the time. “The Arnold I know is open-minded – he is not right wing or not left wing, but makes decisions based on what he thinks is right for all of California.”
For his part, Schwarzenegger addressed accusations by saying, “Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets, and I have done things that were not right, which I thought then was playful. But I now recognize that I have offended people. And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them, I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, as California’s First Lady, Shriver provided a shining example of Kennedy activism, “promoting volunteerism and assuming control of cultural institutions like the state history museum in Sacramento,” as well as overseeing “the state’s annual California Governor’s Conference on Women and Families.”
Privately, it was said, the couple, whose four children are now 14, 18, 20 and 21, grew apart – and then remained apart. Politically, too, their differences became evident; in the last Presidential election, Shriver endorsed Barack Obama, while Schwarzenegger backed John McCain.
While Schwarzenegger is currently planning a return to the screen, Shriver is still coping with the heartbreaking recent losses of her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, her father, Sargent Shriver (after a long decline into Alzheimer’s), and her patriarchal uncle, Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
Over the course of this year, the former governor reportedly traveled to Brazil with Avatar director James Cameron, to London to celebrate Mikhail Gorbachev’s 80th birthday party, to France to ski and to Washington, D.C., for a White House summit on immigration. Shriver, meanwhile, focused on The Women’s Conference Web site, guest-edited an issue of O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine and beat the drum for Alzheimer’s research.
“As you know, transitions are not easy. I’d love to get your advice on how you’ve handled transitions in your own life,” Shriver, who left her correspondent’s job at Dateline NBC once her husband took office, said in a video posted on YouTube in March. “It’s so stressful to not know what you’re doing next. People ask you what are you doing and then they can’t believe that you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Fairy Tale Beginnings
They first met in 1977, introduced by NBC newsman Tom Brokaw at the RFK Pro-Celebrity Tennis Tournament, and they married – lavishly – at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Post, Mass., in 1986.
As PEOPLE reported at the time, the groom-to-be presented his prospective in-laws with a silk-screen portrait of Maria created by wedding guest Andy Warhol.
And there were Kennedys in abundance at the ceremony: Jackie O, resplendent in a navy blue suit. On one arm was her movie-star-handsome son, John Jr., and on the other was her longtime companion, diamond merchant Maurice Tempelsman. Joan Kennedy and her former husband, Teddy, arrived separately. Ethel came surrounded by her brood, including fledgling congressional candidates Kathleen Townsend and Joe II.
As Schwarzenegger told the wedding guests about Shriver, “I love her and I will always take care of her. Nobody should worry.”
• Reporting by SARAH DURHAM WILSON