Long before Angelina Jolie met Brad Pitt and formed Brangelina with him, she was the partner of Billy Bob Thornton. For a brief period the two of them were considered among the wildest, most scandalous pairs in Hollywood, but their marriage eventually came to an end. And now, many years after the couple’s 2003 divorce, Thornton has spoken about why the union didn’t work out.
Ever since the 1980s, Thornton has had an extremely successful acting career. In 1992 he played the baddie in One False Move, a widely acclaimed movie that constituted something of a breakthrough for him. And a few years later he starred in Sling Blade, which he also wrote and directed. For the latter, Thornton also gained an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and a nomination for Best Actor.
But Thornton’s personal life was less straightforward than his acting career. Between 1978 and 1992, he had five marriages which ended in divorce. His first wife was Melissa Lee Gatlin, and after that came a string of fellow celebrities: actresses Toni Lawrence and Cynda Williams and then Playboy model Pietra Dawn Cherniak.
Thornton then became engaged to actress Laura Dern, whom he had dated since 1997. Would this one be the relationship that finally lasted? It wouldn’t. Suddenly, out of the blue, news hit that Thornton had abandoned Dern and run off to marry another woman. That woman was Thornton’s much younger Pushing Tin co-star, Angelina Jolie.
Dern was understandably devastated. “I left home to work on a movie, and while I was away my boyfriend got married, and I’ve never heard from him again,” she told Talk magazine in October 2000, just a few months after Thornton and Jolie’s wedding. “It’s like a sudden death. For no one has there been any closure or clarity… or, frankly, even a breakup.”
“If it’s any consolation to the Wild at Heart actress, public sentiment doesn’t hold out much hope for the longevity of the Thornton-Jolie union,” ABC News reported at the time. After all, Jolie had only just finalized the divorce from her first husband, Jonny Lee Miller, and Thornton’s list of ex-wives spoke for itself. ABC were absolutely right of course, but Thornton and Jolie would still make plenty more headlines before they were done.
Throughout the early ’00s, Jolie and Thornton seemed prone to very odd behavior. The most infamous of all their antics was their tendency to wear each other’s bodily fluids as fashion accessories. That’s right, the actors placed drops of their blood in amulets and wore them around their necks. “People say they’re soul mates, but when you really mean it, you have to prove it, and we give each other our blood,” Thornton told ABC News while at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001.
And that wasn’t all. Reportedly, Jolie bought them funeral plots right next to each other, and the couple marked their first anniversary by getting matching tattoos. They seemed, then, to be the most Gothic couple in Hollywood. “People think we’re the least likely people to have a regular marriage, but if you were around us, you’d see we have the best one around,” Thornton told ABC in 2001.
But they didn’t. In March 2002 it was announced that the couple were adopting a child from Cambodia – but not long afterward it turned out that only Jolie, not Thornton, had their name on the adoption papers. The marriage, it transpired, was over. Ultimately, then, the union had endured two years – the same length of time that the majority of Thornton’s previous marriages had lasted.
In a July 2002 interview with Jolie, she implied that she didn’t feel Thornton was fulfilling his responsibilities since the baby came along. “He’s focused on his music and his career,” she told Us Weekly. “I’m focused on my baby. Maddox is so important to me. It comes down to what’s important to you. Good for him. But I have other priorities.”
As for Thornton, he seemed to have a different perspective. Or at least, after a gap of more than a decade, he had gained one. When interviewed by HFPA for a podcast in June 2018, a question was asked about his marriage to Jolie. “That was a great time,” the actor said. “Angie is still a friend of mine, and she’s a great person, and she’s done so much.”
“She makes movies that are important to her whether they succeed or fail, she still does what she believes in, and I’ll always respect her for that. And I remember our time together has really been great,” Thornton went on. “We just had different lifestyles. Hers is a global lifestyle, and mine is an agoraphobic lifestyle. So that’s really, that’s the only reason we’re probably not still together.”
That was good to hear. And yet, the aspect of their relationship which people had been the most focused on arguably hadn’t been the actual romance; it had been the fascinating and slightly ghoulish details. On the same podcast, Thornton mentioned that very thing. “A lot of the things they said about us at the time were exaggerated,” he said. “It wasn’t as crazy as people wrote about it.”
The vials of blood had apparently been blown out of proportion, too. “The necklaces were a very simple thing, ‘Hey, let’s poke our fingers with a pen and smear a little blood on there, and when we’re away from each other, we’ll wear the necklace,’” he explained. “It was that easy. But by the time it came out in the press, it sounded like we were wearing a bucket of blood around our necks.”
Other interviews over the years have revealed that Jolie and Thornton remained friends after their split. In his 2012 book The Billy Bob Tapes: A Cave Full of Ghosts, Thornton told the world that both of them had moved on and were happy about it. “I’m with Connie, who I love,” he wrote. Yes, makeup artist Connie Angland became Thornton’s sixth wife in 2014. “Angie and Brad [Pitt] are doing great,” he added.
“I support them 100 percent. I’m right where I need to be, and she’s right where she needs to be. She and I are still real close, but we keep our friendship to ourselves. It’s sacred,” he went on. But unfortunately, the Pitt-Jolie relationship didn’t last either. In 2016 it was suddenly announced that they were separating.
The breakup shocked the world, especially since there were so many children involved. Jolie and Pitt had six altogether – three adopted and three biological. And the fight for custody over the kids made headlines for a long time. In June 2018 a judge ordered that Jolie wasn’t allowed to prevent Pitt from seeing and forming a good relationship with the children.
Jolie and Pitt actually started off in a similar way to Jolie and Thornton – a sudden romance when one party was already married. When they first met on the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Pitt was married to Jennifer Aniston, whom he eventually left for Jolie. Aniston, like Dern before her, was considered the ‘wronged woman’ left in the dust.
However, Thornton’s post-Jolie marriage did last. Despite him saying after splitting from Jolie that he would probably never marry again, the actor actually tied the knot with Connie Angland in October 2014. The couple have a daughter, Bella, and in spite of the odd rumors of infidelity, Thornton and Angland have remained together. The pair have been an item for more than 15 years now.
So although the relationship between Jolie and Thornton couldn’t really be said to have ended happily, it did at least end on a happier note than some other high-profile Hollywood marriages – including, sadly, Pitt and Jolie’s one. Hopefully, Thornton will be on hand to support his ex-wife as her third divorce continues on.