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The unraveling of the Schwarzenegger-Shriver marriage

Some close to Arnold Schwarzenegger speak of a loving marriage that slowly foundered. Friends of Maria Shriver see her as trapped for years in an unhappy relationship that hit a breaking point after her parents' deaths.

May 11, 2011|By Robin Abcarian and Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times
  • Maria Shriver and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Century Plaza Hotel in L.A. after his 2003 election.
Maria Shriver and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Century Plaza Hotel… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

The partnership of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger was a collision of two worlds, an unlikely but watchable match.

Twenty five years ago, when they married, Shriver was a child of American Democratic political royalty — pedigreed, pampered and with a professional ambition unusual for the women of her clan. Schwarzenegger was a fading strongman and minor movie actor with immigrant dreams as outlandishly big as his biceps.

Schwarzenegger, 63, would go on to world domination — of the cinematic sort, as a top international box office star — and then the California governor's office. Shriver, 55, who became a top talent in NBC's news division, dialed back her career to care for their four children, then relinquished her job altogether when her husband became governor in 2003. It was a bond that survived its share of tests.

Photos: A political marriage with star power

Schwarzenegger and Shriver announced their separation Monday, a split that marks the foundering of one of America's most famous marriages, and signals that each will face a future absent the partnership that had so defined them.

While many friends said they were surprised by the announcement, two distinctly different narratives were emerging Tuesday about the breakup.

Some close to Schwarzenegger spoke of a loving marriage that slowly broke apart over time. Friends of Shriver portrayed her as trapped for years in an unhappy relationship that reached a breaking point after the deaths of her parents and a difficult transition back to private life.

"Everyone who's shocked by this is reacting to the fairy-tale picture that was promoted," said a friend who has been a frequent visitor to the couple's Brentwood mansion and did not want to be identified as breaching the couple's confidence. The death in August 2009 of Shriver's mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, said this friend, marked a turning point. Her father, Sargent Shriver, the Peace Corps founder, died in January.

"There was such a void," said the friend, "and when she looked around, she realized her husband could never even think of filling it."

When asked why Shriver stayed in the marriage for so long if she was so unhappy, the friend responded: "Part of it is family legacy, part of it is Catholicism. But the most important thing was their four kids."

It is not clear when Shriver moved out, but a former Schwarzenegger administration official said he had heard about the couple's split in January. He said that although the pair had a complicated relationship, they were affectionate and showed "a genuine, deep love."

Family was Schwarzenegger's top priority, said the former official. "When she called, everything would stop. If the kids called, everything would stop," this person said. "They were very focused on raising the kids."

Several who worked for the governor said that during Schwarzenegger's first term, he spent about three nights a week in Sacramento, but that once he was reelected in 2006, he spent less time in the capital. At his wife's request, said one, Schwarzenegger would usually fly from Brentwood to Sacramento in the morning and be home by evening.

The oldest children, Katherine, 21, and Christina, 19, are at college. Patrick, 17, is a high school senior. Christopher is 13.

On Tuesday, Patrick tweeted about his family drama: "Appreciate all your messages. Small speed bump I'n life, luckily we own hummers, we will cruise right over it. All will be okay. #peace."

Shriver has been living at a Beverly Hills hotel for the last several weeks. The couple's joint statement said they were living apart "while we work on the future of our relationship."

Recently, the pair has been spotted around town together. In mid-February, during NBA All-Star weekend, they were together at a benefit party at the downtown Los Angeles restaurant Katsuya. On April 23, they visited an ice cream shop at Brentwood Country Mart. On Saturday, they attended the graduation of a nephew from Loyola Marymount University.

On Sunday, Mother's Day, the family gathered at Santa Monica's Ivy at the Shore. But Shriver and Schwarzenegger left in separate cars.

Like many famous couples, they have had an ambivalent attitude about media coverage of their marriage and family. While Schwarzenegger has generally tried to control it, Shriver was uncomfortable unless the subject was one of her causes, such as the annual Women's Conference she organized as first lady. But the profound differences in their backgrounds, as well as the bipartisan dynamic of their relationship, ensured a continuing fascination by the public.

In a 2005 Vanity Fair profile of the couple, Shriver said she surprised her friends and family by falling in love with Schwarzenegger rather than some American blue blood.

"You married the other side of the tracks," was how she described her friends' reaction. "They have trouble with the class thing," she said.

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