“Miss Roberts Regrets” was the headline in People magazine — this in the heady days of the early ’90s, the first real Hollywood scandal of the decade.
It was a love triangle involving newly minted megastar Julia, her famous fiancé, and his best friend. It was all so incredible, so juicy, so potentially career ending that all three went 30 years without ever really speaking of it.
But since two of the three brought it up on — where else? — a podcast, let’s revisit a time when Hollywood still made movie stars, when movie releases were events, when we craved glamour and gossip without apology.
So here we go back to 1991: Julia Roberts, 23, had become a supernova playing, per Hollywood cliché, a hooker with a heart of gold in “Pretty Woman,” eclipsing her actor brother Eric, and was newly engaged to 24-year-old Kiefer Sutherland.
Julia and Kiefer were the first Gen-X Hollywood power couple, bigger than even Johnny & Winona. They presaged Gwyneth & Brad, Reese & Ryan, Ethan & Uma. Julia was tall, Kiefer less so; she smiled, he grimaced; her image was sunshine and apple pie, his danger and despair. They made sense the way Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw did, she the yin to his yang. Julia Roberts could do no wrong.
The wedding itself was to be a literal Hollywood production, on a soundstage at 20th Century Fox done up to look like a garden. (Why not an actual garden? Who knows? All too poetically, artifice trumped the real thing here.)
On June 14, 1991, the day of this million-dollar wedding, Julia Roberts ditched her groom at the altar and ran off with his best friend Jason Patric, flying to Ireland and scandalizing fellow passengers.
“Practically making love” in the air, said the London Daily Mail.
No one saw it coming. This was worldwide scandal, as big then as Brangelina would become. Booze, drugs, strippers, infidelity — all were whispered, none confirmed. People magazine had Sutherland cheating on Roberts with a stripper, who was unavailable for comment as she was undergoing breast implant surgery.
The magazine also had Roberts checking into Cedars-Sinai for five days after the stripper story broke; Sutherland moving out of their home and holing up in a $150-a-week motel, fielding calls from Michelle Pfieffer; Roberts and Sutherland fighting over whether Patric should come to their wedding; the custom cake for the wedding, a replica of a 15-pound turkey (a compromise after Roberts vetoed his plans to serve Thanksgiving dinner at their reception), eaten instead by the caterers; Roberts dumping Sutherland by phone, via a third party; and that tragic, most 1990s totem of all, the ill-conceived Chinese tattoo Sutherland got in tribute to Roberts.
Good stuff, right?
Yet back in 2011, when Patric was gently asked about it by New York magazine, he said in part, “People Do. Not. Care. About it.”
Oh yes, we do.
The actor Michael Rosenbaum understands this, which is why when he had Sutherland and Patric on his podcast this week, he brought it up. Turns out, after 20 years of not speaking, the two became friends again around 2009, and even did a play together.
As for the gossip, Patric said : “The press, and being invited to the wedding, and taking off with the bride — that’s all bulls—t.”
Sutherland: “All bulls–t.”
They wouldn’t discuss the specifics, except to suggest it was a case of “bad timing.” “You fall in love, you fall in love,” Kiefer says. “There’s nothing you can do about that. She’s an extraordinary person, and he is too, and, you know, timing is what it is, and everyone moves on from that.”
Sutherland has also said that it wasn’t Roberts he grieved as much as Patric; of that time, he said his life was like a country song: “I lost my pick-up and my dog and my best friend, and I miss my best friend.”
Roberts herself has never commented, and she never really lost the public’s goodwill — an amazing feat, given how often women are cast as jezebels who steal their men or prudes who deserve to lose them. And since all this went down before the internet, all three players have kept their dignity, even as Patric and Roberts broke up, and then she quickly and briefly married Lyle Lovett.
“When I saw him again,” Patric says of his reunion with Sutherland, “ it was more of a laugh and a toast. They both [Kiefer and Julia] have been subsequently married since, a couple times . . . and what lasted after all that is me and Kiefer, 35-year buddies.”
At which Sutherland jokes, “Never got the truck back.”