Michelle Williams and her new husband Phil Elverum both know what it's like to lose someone close to them

By Dave Quinn
July 26, 2018 03:00 PM
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Michelle Williams surprised the world on Thursday with the revelation that se had married indie singer Phil Elverum in a private ceremony in the Adirondacks in upstate New York earlier this month.

The notoriously private actress, 37, described her relationship to the artist as “very sacred and very secret” to Vanity Fair, and called him unlike “anyone else” in her life.

Who is the man who won Williams’ heart? Read on to learn more about the musician and what he and Williams have in common.

He suffered a tragic loss like Williams

Williams’ 12-year-old daughter Matilda was just 2 when her father Heath Ledger died of an accidental prescription overdose in January 2008. He and Williams, 37, had dated for three years after meeting on the set of their 2005 film Brokeback Mountain, though had separated five months earlier.

My heart is broken,” she said in a statement at the time.

Elverum’s daughter Agathe was just 1½ when his wife, Geneviève Castrée, died in their home in his hometown of Anacortes, Washington in July 2015 after a battle with stage IV pancreatic cancer. She had been diagnosed when Agathe was just 4 months old.

“She died at home with me and her parents holding her, hopefully having reached some last minute peace,” Elverum wrote on a GoFundMe page set up at the time, Pitchfork reported.

Michelle Williams and Phil Elverum
Steve Granitz/WireImage; Jordi Vidal/Redferns via Getty

In the wake of both of their losses, each seemed to have similar approaches to how they managed the pain.

“I am the mother of the most tender-hearted, high-spirited, beautiful little girl who is the spitting image of her father. All that I can cling to is his presence inside her that reveals itself every day,” Williams statement after Ledger’s death read. “His family and I watch Matilda as she whispers to trees, hugs animals, and takes steps two at a time, and we know that he is with us still. She will be brought up in the best memories of him.”

They’re both very family-focused

Paparazzi’s swarming her every move, Williams retreated, leaving Brooklyn for rural upstate New York where she raised Matilda for the next six years. Her only daughter would also travel with Williams to various film sets throughout the years.

It was unmanageable to be stalked like that, every moment of the day,” the actress, 37, told Vanity Fair. “So I left, in a desire to create a sane home environment.”

“I’ll never forget going to the post office and seeing a sign hung on the wall for anyone with information about myself and my daughter, to please call this number,” she remembers. “Um, so I took that down.”

Michelle Williams and Heath Ledger
Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Elverum, an acclaimed singer-songwriter and artist on the indie scene, also focused on his family.

“When [Castrée] got diagnosed, everything changed of course, but specifically music and art, which had previously been the center of everything,” he wrote in a first-person essay published to KUOW.

“I’m a single parent now,” he continued. “So yeah, the idea of focusing on music, or let alone any of my interests, like taking care of myself — my interests were the bottom of the totem pole for a long time as a caregiver when Genevieve was sick, and then after she died, as just a parent.”

My daughter is like a tether back to the functional world, and I’m aware of how helpful that is,” he added to Pitchfork. “I have to cut up the broccoli; I can’t be weeping. And yet, sometimes I am weeping, and she’ll come up to me and say, ‘Papa crying!’ And I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I’m crying right now, I’m sad. It’s fine.’ And she laughs and goes back to her LEGOs.”

They worked through their tragedies

Two months later, Elverum began pouring his loss into his art.

Williams too would return to work. She took a year off, then finished work on opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in 2010’s Shutter Island.

But her work wasn’t nearly as personal as Elverum’s. In March 2017, he’d would release A Crow Looked At Me under his moniker, Mount Eerie (formerly, the Microphones). He recorded the album in the same room Castrée died, using many of her own instruments.

“The songs came out in a kind of flood,” he explained to KUOW. “Over the course of four or five weeks of writing, just sitting there every night after I’d put my daughter to sleep, I’d go into the room and sit down and organize these thoughts.”

Asked about writing the album by Pitchfork, Elverum said that he was hoping it would be cathartic, through drugging up those memories — and then subsequently letting go of them — is challenging.

“I wanna get it out of me; I want the exorcism to happen,” he said. “If talking about it or singing about it can accomplish that, I don’t know. I feel proud of this thing that I’ve made, which is also perverse—there’s a built-in conflict, which I don’t know how to navigate.”

This March, Elverum’s released another album about Castrée’s death called Now Only.

Phil Elverum
Jordi Vidal/Redferns via Getty

Their life together now

Williams and Elverum live together in Brooklyn now, with their blended family. They moved there this month.

Their entire relationship has been kept out of the public eye until this point.

“I never gave up on love,” she told Vanity Fair. “I always say to Matilda, ‘Your dad loved me before anybody thought I was talented, or pretty, or had nice clothes.’ ”

RELATED: Busy Philipps Flies to Be with BFF Michelle Williams on Anniversary of Heath Ledger’s Death

Elverum was not interviewed for the piece, but told Pitchfork last year that he worried about his daughter growing up without a mother.

“I sometimes think about the life that my daughter will have with no mom,” he said. “What does it mean to have a ghost mom? Not that I can do anything differently about it. But it’s an inferior version of what we had planned, you know? This was not our top choice.”

Williams, too, had expressed similar worries about finding a sibling for Matilda. “I really wanted, and I really expected or imagined that Matilda would have siblings that were close to her in age,” she told GQ in 2012. “I wanted that for her. But I couldn’t make that happen.”

Finally having found her happy ending, Williams told Vanity Fair said she hopes their story helps other people going through tragedy.

“I don’t really want to talk about any of it,” she said. “But there’s that tease, that lure, that’s like, ‘What if this helps somebody? What if somebody who has always journeyed in this way, who has struggled as much as I struggled, and looked as much as I looked, finds something that helps them?’ Don’t settle. Don’t settle for something that feels like a prison, or is hard, or hurts you,” she says. “If it doesn’t feel like love, it’s not love.”