On June 12, 1991, what was expected to be the Hollywood wedding of the year and maybe even the decade was called off.
Publicists released this one sentence news statement: “It has been mutually agreed upon that that wedding of Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland has been postponed.”
Before the unexpected announcement, 200 guests had been invited to attend a star-studded ceremony on Friday June 14th, on the back lot of 20th Century Fox. Joe Roth, Fox Chairman and friend of Roberts, had presented the couple with the use of a lavishly decorated soundstage for the wedding. It was to be remodled to resemble a house on a Southern Plantation which was apparently still okay in the 90s ?!
The incredibly young Julia Roberts had skyrocketed to fame just a year earlier with the movie Pretty Woman and with only six movies under her belt the 23-year-old was considered the most powerful and highly paid actress in Hollywood commanding $7 million a film. Today’s highest paid actress, Scarlet Johansson, reportedly earned $17.5 million for the movie Ghost in the Shell. Which, incidentally, I have never heard of. Sorry ScarJo fans.
Roberts met Kiefer Sutherland while filming the 1990 movie “Flatliners” and after announcing their engagement in April 1991 they became a media supercouple. As far I know they didn’t get their own special combined supercouple name like Bennifer, TomKat or Brangelina. Lets give it a try; Julifer….Kielia…ok never mind.
After their wedding was abruptly called off there was a shitstorm of tabloid-style media coverage filled with rumours and speculations about what had gone wrong.
Reporters and cameramen camped outside the couple’s house in Hollywood Hills looking for answers but when one journalist knocked on the door only Sutherland was home and he didnt want to talk about it.
Among the rumours about what caused the cancelled nuptials; Sutherland had a drinking problem, Sutherland had an affair with a stripper or both. While others suggested Roberts was exhuasted from the media circus asurrounding the wedding and they had actually snuck off for a secret ceremony in Malibu.
But then news broke that Roberts was spotted having dinner with Jason Patric at the trendy restaurant “Nowhere Café” in West Hollywood before they jetted off to Ireland for a secret getaway. The pair remained mostly in seclusion at the venerable Shelbourne Hotel with occasional trips to the countryside and the picturesque coast of County Kerry. Oh did I mention that Patric was Sutherland’s friend and co-star from Lost Boys?
As the story was unfolding Roberts’ next movie, Dying Young was released which posed a major problem for 20th Century Fox, the studio that made the film. They were already worried that the movie starring Campbell Scott as a cancer patient who becomes romatically involvded with his nurse played by Roberts might fall flat. They were relying on Roberts’ star power to make it shine. But just as she was expected to make the rounds doing publicity for the film, Roberts was hidden away in Ireland, on a media black out.
As a result “Dying Young” bombed on opening weekend, coming in fourth and making only $9.7 million dollars. It was widely panned by critics like Roger Ebert who gave it two stars. He said, “Dying Young” is a long, slow slog of a movie, up to its knees in drippy self-pity as it marches wearily toward its inevitable ending.”
Roberts relationship with Patric also bombed, lasting only about a year. Before she moved on to Lyle Lovett but that’s a story for another time….
Roberts told Entertainment Weekly in November 1991, that the decision to call off the wedding was a mutual one and she was disappointed that Sutherland gave the impression that she was a runaway bride.
“….I feel like Kiefer, for whatever reasons, tried to make it seem like he was the victim of the situation. I quite honestly believe that Kiefer knows that it’s the best thing for himself and for me that it didn’t happen. But he shouldn’t try to make himself look better by taking shots at me. Somehow or another, it turned into Kiefer being left at the altar. Well, I just don’t understand that, quite frankly.“
15 years later Sutherland reflected on the almost wedding during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. He still made it sound like the decision to call it off was Roberts’ but at least he was now admitting that she was right.
“I commend Julia for seeing how young and silly we were, even at the last minute, even as painful and as difficult as it was,” he says to me one day, obligatorily. “Thank God she saw it.”
For more stories from the 90s, check out my podcast History of the 90s on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, GooglePlay or anywhere you stream audio. You can also listen at Curiouscast.ca