Las Vegas has a history of relaxing inhibitions. Everyone’s heard of a couple that went out on the town, enjoyed a series of potent cocktails, had a great time, maybe even got lucky (in all kinds of ways), and then decided to throw caution to the wind and get married. Even if it’s not the classiest way to get hitched, the quickie Vegas wedding has a certain romantic recklessness. Now imagine that you happen to be romantic and reckless, but also famous, rich and attractive enough that even the most expensive consequences can be handled by your army of publicists and attorneys. Welcome to the world of celebrity Vegas weddings — and their often inevitable counterpart, the quickie Vegas divorce.
In Clark County, Nev., — and therefore Las Vegas — a marriage license costs $55. There’s no waiting period or blood test, and the marriage bureau is open 24 hours on holidays and weekends (till midnight other days). Perhaps that’s what motivated Britney Spears to marry childhood pal Jason Alexander for all of 36 hours. It’s just too convenient! Spears and Alexander were wed on Friday, Jan. 3, in the Little White Wedding Chapel off the Strip, and their marriage was hastily annulled on the following Monday. (Seven-and-a-half months later, Spears celebrated another “wedding” — to backup dancer Kevin Federline on Sept. 18 in Los Angeles. The couple, though, didn’t immediately make it official with a marriage license.)
But Spears shouldn’t feel too badly, as the Little White Wedding Chapel has seen more than its share of short-duration celeb weddings. Past at-least-temporarily-happy couples at the LWWC include Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow in 1966, divorced 1968; Joan Collins and Swedish pop star Peter Holm in 1985, divorced 1987; Bruce Willis and Demi Moore in 1987, divorced 2000; and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and “Diva” Debra McMichael in 2000, divorced 2003. But the Little White Wedding Chapel doesn’t doom every celebrity marriage — Michael Jordan wed Juanita Vanoy there in 1989, and though they’ve had rough patches, they’re still together. And Dixie Chick Natalie Maines tied the knot at the LWWC with “Judging Amy” actor Adrian Pasdar in 2000, and they are still happily hitched.
Bear in mind that those are just the highlights of one particular Vegas chapel. And if you’re going to talk about Las Vegas celebrity weddings, you have to talk about the King. In 1967, the 32-year-old Elvis Presley married the 21-year old Priscilla Anne Beaulieu at the old Aladdin hotel. As the May 2, 1967, reported, “Following the ceremony, attended by a few relatives and close friends, an elaborate banquet was held just below the hotel's casino. An estimated 100 guests dined on ham, eggs, Southern fried chicken, Oysters Rockefeller, roast suckling pig, poached and candied salmon, lobster, Eggs Minnette, and champagne.” And so, the Vegas buffet was born, even if there weren’t any fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches. Just a few days later, Elvis’s old gal-pal Anne-Margaret also got married in Vegas, at the Riviera to TV actor Roger Smith; though starting a week later, her marriage easily outlasted the King’s, which ended in divorce after six years.
Blasts from the past
The list really does go on, and on. In addition to the “Chairman of the Board” already mentioned, Sinatra’s fellow Rat Packer Sammy Davis Jr. tied one of his three knots in Sin City as well. Other blasts from Vegas wedding-bells past include Mickey Rooney (seven times!), Zsa Zsa Gabor and George Sanders, Rita Hayworth and Dick Haymes, Kirk Douglas and Anne Buydens, Joan Crawford and Alfred Steele, Judy Garland and Mark Herron, the inseparable Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim, and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
But as Britney proved, the allure of the Las Vegas wedding (and/or divorce) isn’t lost on the contemporary celeb. Jon Bon Jovi married his high-school sweetheart Dorothea Hurley in a 1989 Vegas wedding, and they’re still a cheerful couple. Not so Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra, who surprised everyone first with their 1998 marriage, and then again by lasting all of five months. Tempestuous lovebirds Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie exchanged vows in 2000 at the Little Church of the West on the Strip — the same place where Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford said “I do” in 1991. Gere and Crawford split up in 1995, and Jolie and Thornton called it quits in 2003. And more recently, hotel heiress Nicky Hilton beat her older sister Paris to the altar by marrying Todd Meister at the Las Vegas Wedding Bureau and Chapel on Aug. 16 (though Nicky then beat a hasty retreat after two months, and is now seeking to have the marriage annulled).
So what’s today’s wedding-minded celebrity to think of all this? Perhaps take a lesson from the first celebrity couple to get married in Las Vegas: silent film stars Clara Bow and Rex Bell, who were wed there in 1930, when Vegas was barely a dot on a map. Though they spent their last years living apart due to Bow’s mental and health problems, they never divorced. After all, sometimes the best thing about being married is that you don’t have to get married again.
Chris Mohney is a contributor to The Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas.