Remember when Renée Zellweger and Kenny Chesney tied the knot? No? Well, you may just recall their shock split. Yes, after just four months of marriage – short even by Hollywood standards – the actress filed for an annulment from the country singer. And ever since the bombshell hit the press, rumors have swirled about the real reason for the break-up. So, what’s the truth?
Well, there was a hint given on legal documents at the time. Astonishingly, Zellweger had checked “fraud” as the reason for the annulment. And as no other explanation for the move was forthcoming, internet sleuths got on the case. Did this mean that Chesney was, in fact, gay, for example?
Not according to the man himself. In the years following his split from Zellweger, Chesney has consistently denied that he’s gay. He’s also tried to put the rumors regarding his relationship to bed. And it’s worth noting that Zellweger has publicly shown her support for her ex-husband – suggesting, perhaps, that the pair didn’t part on bad terms.
To find the truth, then, maybe we should look at Zellweger and Chesney’s relationship. They first encountered each other in January 2005 at the Concert of Hope – a charity gig set up to raise funds for the victims of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami. And befitting the occasion, it was a suitably star-studded affair.
Chesney was performing at the show, as were Madonna and Elton John. Zellweger, meanwhile, joined a panel of celebrity call-takers who received pledges from the public. And while the concert ended up being a success for charity – it’s believed to have raised at least $5 million – it also proved to be an inadvertent matchmaker.
Apparently, Zellweger had been eager to meet Chesney at the concert. And she had a sweet – if somewhat middle school – way of getting through to the country singer. In 2005, you see, a friend of the star told People that she “was going to pass him a note.” But that effort was thwarted when Chesney caught wind of Zellweger’s plan.
Zellweger’s buddy told People, “When the broadcast wrapped, [Chesney] went over and said, ‘I hear you are trying to pass me a note. Don’t let the principal find out.’” Zellweger’s response? Well, she reportedly told Chesney, “My girlfriends back home would be so jealous.” The star is a Texan, you see, and apparently “knows her country music.”
But while a whirlwind romance soon followed, the actress and country star didn’t publicly hint at their relationship until April 2005. It was then that Zellweger surprised Chesney at his concert in Jacksonville, Florida, by delivering a margarita to him.
It had become tradition for Chesney to receive a cocktail on stage when he performed his song “When The Sun Goes Down.” On this occasion, though, his margarita was handed to him by a very special guest. Yep, we’re talking about Zellweger! And before she exited the stage once more, she planted a very visible kiss on Chesney’s cheek. Aww.
Then, after just four months together, Zellweger and Chesney tied the knot. And the nuptials – which took place in the Virgin Islands – were actually relatively low-key. The pair exchanged their vows in front of just 35 friends and family members, which is a smaller number than can be found at most regular people’s weddings.
And according to one of Zellweger and Chesney’s guests, the ceremony was an emotional affair. They told People, “Somebody was passing out Kleenex to everyone before Renée arrived… They knew we were all going to cry. We were all laughing through our tears. It was that kind of wedding.” Sounds like a good start.
Chesney seemed infatuated with his new bride, too. In a statement obtained by People after his wedding, the country musician said, “I may well be the luckiest man alive… To be so in love with someone who is so perfect for me – it’s just hard to imagine that I’m not going to wake up.” Sweet!
But while Zellweger and Chesney’s romance may have seemed to have come from nowhere, the couple did have one previous connection. You see, one of Chesney’s most famous songs is called “You Had Me From Hello.” And as you may recall, that phrase is very close to a famous line from Zellweger’s breakout movie Jerry Maguire.
Referencing the inspiration behind his hit, Chesney told People back in 2000, “When Renée Zellweger said that line, I thought, ‘That could be a great song.’” It wouldn’t be the only time the star expressed his admiration for Zellweger before meeting her, either.
In a 2002 interview with newspaper The Tennessean, Chesney was pressed to name his “three sexiest people.” And Zellweger made the cut, alongside Janet Jackson and Charlize Theron. Chesney said of the woman who would become his bride-to-be, “Here’s a country girl who’s still down-to-earth. You never see her coming, then – wham – there she is. And that makes her really, really sexy.”
According to those close to Zellweger and Chesney, the pair also had a lot in common. For example, both had been raised in small towns that they had left behind to pursue ambitious careers. They also reportedly shared a relaxed attitude that favored chilling out at home or hitting the gym over partying. And the pair were both said to be extremely loyal, too. On paper, then, the match was a good one.
But for some reason, the marriage didn’t work out. At first, Zellweger and Chesney were apparently smitten. Two weeks after her wedding, for instance, the Bridget Jones’s Diary star praised her “cute” husband and his “great” family during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Yet almost as soon as she and Chesney had tied the knot, things went downhill.
Yep, as you may remember, Zellweger filed for an annulment of her marriage before the year was even out. And when “fraud” was listed as the reason for the split, it led folks to suspect that the actress had been fooled somehow. Maybe her husband had been keeping a big secret under wraps? In any case, it had to be something the pair couldn’t overcome.
That led people to assume that Chesney was gay. And rumors regarding the singer’s sexuality persisted for a long time – even after Zellweger herself tried to clarify that “fraud” was simply a legal term used in the annulment process. It was not, she insisted, any kind of commentary upon her estranged husband.
Zellweger also attempted to put an end to the gossip by putting out a statement not long after the split. There, she said, “I would personally be very grateful for your support in refraining from drawing derogatory, hurtful, sensationalized or untrue conclusions and greatly appreciate your understanding that we hope to experience this transition as privately as possible.”
Zellweger added that she would “maintain the integrity of [her and Chesney’s] privacy by not commenting on the specifics of our decision.” And these sentiments were echoed by the singer himself when he released his own statement. Chesney said to the public, “I just hope everyone can respect the privacy that I know Renée has already asked for.”
But the couple were seemingly more forthcoming when they gave a joint message – oddly written in the third person – that addressed the breakdown of their marriage. The two hinted at the truth behind the split with the words, “The miscommunication of the objective of their marriage at the start is the only reason for this annulment. Renée and Kenny value and respect each other and are saddened that their different objectives prevent the success of this marriage.”
That said, the two gave no inkling as to what their “different objectives” had been. And so despite Zellweger and Chesney’s pleas for privacy, the speculation surrounding their split only continued. Perhaps that’s what drew Chesney to speak out during a 2007 interview with 60 Minutes.
Addressing the suggestion that he was gay for the first time in public, Chesney told Anderson Cooper that he thought it would be best to ignore the rumors. He explained, “Maybe I should’ve come out and said, ‘No, I’m not.’ But I didn’t want to draw any more attention to it, you know, ’cause I knew I wasn’t… It’s not true, period.”
Explaining why the word “fraud” had been used in his annulment from Zellweger, Chesney added, “It was what we thought was the least harmful… We were wrong. The only fraud that was committed was me thinking that I knew what it was going to be like, that I really understood what it was like, to be married, and I really didn’t.”
Chesney was a little more defensive when he talked to Playboy, however. In a 2009 interview with the magazine, he said of the gay rumors, “That is the most unbelievable thing in the world… What guy who loves girls wouldn’t be angry?” He added, “I didn’t sign up for that. I think people need to live their lives the way they want to, but I’m pretty confident in the fact that I love girls.”
Chesney continued, “I’ve got a long line of girls who could testify that I am not gay… In order for us to get an annulment, the legal papers could claim either physical abuse, which wasn’t true, or three or four other things that also weren’t true. The best thing we could put in there was fraud. So I said, ‘Alright, do it. Whatever.’”
And perhaps the country star approached the truth when he talked to Oprah Winfrey the following year. Speaking to the talk show mogul, he simply said, “I panicked… [Zellweger’s] a sweet soul, no doubt about it, but I just wasn’t ready [for marriage]… This is the first time I’ve actually talked about it, but that’s what happened.”
Could it really have been that simple? And did Zellweger agree? Well, fans had a long time to wait for the actress’ take on the situation, as she only gave her side of the story in a 2016 interview with The Advocate. And during the chat, she claimed she’d actually forgotten about the gossip that had surfaced in the wake of her split with Chesney.
Zellweger told the LGBT-interest publication, “I forgot about that. It’s a pretty big thing to forget, isn’t it? That made me sad. It made me sad that somehow people were using that as a way to be cruel and calling someone gay as a pejorative, which has fateful consequences. Of course, there’s the bigger-picture problem of why anyone had to make up a story at all.”
Later, when asked if she had wanted to speak out in Chesney’s defense, Zellweger added, “I’d said all I needed to say on that subject. I’m an old-fashioned gal who doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to hang out your laundry on the lawn. I feel you devalue yourself as a human being when you share very personal things with a bajillion strangers who are making fun of you.”
Zellweger continued, “I just don’t see that there’s any dignity in [public disclosure]. But sometimes it is difficult to just let something be what it is, especially when it’s unnecessary ugliness. Once you’ve said your piece, shouldn’t that be enough? And why is the ugliness that’s perpetuated in the media so attractive to people?”
In any case, both Chesney and Zellweger moved on. Following the breakdown of her marriage, the actress dated her Case 39 co-star Bradley Cooper. She then started what turned out to be a seven-year relationship with musician Doyle Bramhall II. While promoting the Judy Garland biopic Judy in late 2019, Zellweger claimed, however, that she was once again single.
Chesney, on the other hand, has been linked to a number of women, including the actress Vane Millon, television personality Adrianna Costa and, in more recent times, Mary Nolan. Like Zellweger, though, he has never remarried. And perhaps for this reason, talk about his short-lived union continues to make headlines.
Zellweger has since commented on her marriage, too. In fact, she caused quite the stir when speaking to Vulture on the 2019 promotional trail for Judy. The whole thing kicked off when interviewer Jonathan Van Meter pointed out that both Judy Garland and her daughter Liza Minnelli had married gay men.
In his piece for Vulture, Van Meter claimed that this remark apparently struck a chord with Zellweger. He wrote of the actress, “She makes the most complicated and hilarious face imaginable, one that seems to say, all at once, ‘Haven’t we all?’ And ‘Go figure.’”
But Zellweger went on to give an empathetic response. She said, “Cute’s cute… Handsome is handsome! Sweet is sweet. If it works… I mean… I mean! Sometimes it just doesn’t really matter. It just didn’t. If there’s a spark, it just is, and who needs to explain it?”
Given the rumors that had circulated in the midst of the split from Chesney, at least one media outlet appeared to link Zellweger’s remarks about Garland and Minnelli’s love lives to her own. However, given that Chesney has flat-out denied that he is gay – and that Zellweger has stood by him – it seems unlikely to be true.
And it’s worth remembering that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors, even if journalists think they have the details. Perhaps no one knows that better than Zellweger, who has long had her relationships picked over – starting with her split from actor Rory Cochrane in the early 1990s.
Thankfully, Zellweger’s family in Texas have at least helped her to view this attention in an objective way. In 2019 she told InStyle magazine, “My brother taught me that this is what it is. This is not a proper representation of you and how you live your life. The choices you make, this is not. It is entertainment, and it’s funny if you look at it in the right way.”
Maybe that advice helped when the Oscar-winning star was caught up in another scandal. Yep, we’re talking about the suggestions that she’s had plastic surgery. And even though it’s now been years since Zellweger stepped out with a different-looking face, the whole episode seemed to be on her mind for a while. In September 2019, then, she decided to speak out about the controversy – and what she had to say was rather shocking.
In case you don’t remember, the internet erupted after Zellweger was photographed at Elle magazine’s Women in Hollywood event in 2014. During her appearance at the prestigious get-together, you see, she looked a little different to the actress that many knew – the star of Jerry Maguire, Cold Mountain and the Bridget Jones series. And people pondered one question in particular: what exactly had Zellweger done to her face?
Twitter users couldn’t resist but make jokes about Zellweger’s new look, either, although a lot of comments crossed the line into being mean. One person wrote, for example, that the actress bore some resemblance to “a waxwork figure,” tagging the comment with “#MadameTussaudsCalledTheyWantYouBack.” Others, meanwhile, used the words “scary” and “creepy” in reference to Zellweger’s appearance.
However, Zellweger has always seemingly been happy to alter her looks whenever the situation demands it. To prepare for her role as Bridget Jones, for instance, she put on 20 pounds. And throughout the movie, the title character is referred to as “chubby” – although Zellweger ended up at 130 pounds in the end, which is still a suitable weight for her height.
Yet this new body shape led to some very unwanted attention for Zellweger. In 2003 she told Vogue, “When [Bridget Jones’s Diary] was coming out, the question I was asked the most was regarding my weight… I was followed around Heathrow by a guy who wanted to take a picture of my backside. I don’t understand the obsession.”
Then, not long after Bridget Jones’s Diary came the ultimately Oscar-winning musical Chicago, and this time around Zellweger had to lose weight. Still, shedding those pounds didn’t stop people from commenting relentlessly on the star’s appearance. In 2002 the Daily Mail claimed, for one, that she now looked unhealthily thin.
And as time went on, plastic surgery rumors began to surround Zellweger. In 2007 the Daily Mail jumped into the discussion again with an article headlined, “Has Ruddy-Faced Renée Zellweger Taken Beauty Treatments Too Far?” That wasn’t the end of the talk about the actress’ looks, either.
Yes, in a 2009 piece for Page Six, Jarett Wieselman lamented Zellweger’s new slimmed-down physique. The writer explained, “I watched the woman I fell in love with slowly vanish – literally and figuratively. Renée overcompensated for her Bridget Jones weight gain so greatly that she became a stick figure.”
But Zellweger’s 2014 appearance at the Elle event caused arguably the biggest furor of all, with the press going on to speculate furiously about what she may have had done. A surgeon called Dr. Fuat Yuksel told the Daily Mirror at the time, “Renée has undergone some facial procedures to contour the shape of her face. [These include] fillers around her nasolabial folds and cheeks to give her face a fuller appearance, plus Botox around the brow area to tighten her skin and make it appear more youthful.”
Zellweger herself, however, would neither confirm nor deny that she had plastic surgery. During the media frenzy, she released a statement to People magazine in October 2014 that read, “I’m glad folks think I look different! I’m living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I’m thrilled that perhaps it shows.”
The actress added in her message, “My friends say that I look peaceful. I am healthy. For a long time, I wasn’t doing such a good job with that. I took on a schedule that is not realistically sustainable and didn’t allow for taking care of myself. Rather than stopping to recalibrate, I kept running until I was depleted and made bad choices about how to conceal the exhaustion.”
Zellweger also said of her lifestyle, “I was aware of the chaos and finally chose different things.” But she wasn’t exactly happy that people were commenting on her appearance again. She told People that the comments were “silly” and that she was only speaking out because “the folks who come digging around for some nefarious truth which doesn’t exist won’t get off [her] porch until [she answers] the door.”
Then in June 2016 the trailer for a new Bridget Jones film, Bridget Jones’s Baby, was released. And yet again, Zellweger’s appearance in her famous role prompted a certain amount of concern. In the headline to one of its articles, for example, Variety starkly asked, “Renée Zellweger: If She No Longer Looks Like Herself, Has She Become A Different Actress?”
In the piece itself, writer Owen Gleiberman said, “I didn’t stare at the actress [in the trailer] and think, ‘She doesn’t look like Renée Zellweger.’ I thought, ‘She doesn’t look like Bridget Jones!’ Oddly, that made it matter more. Celebrities, like anyone else, have the right to look however they want, but the characters they play become part of us. I suddenly felt like something had been taken away.”
A few months on, however, and it appeared that Zellweger had finally had enough of people offering unsolicited comments on her looks. In an attempt to fight back, then, she penned an article for HuffPost that both discussed her personal feelings surrounding her appearance and her own anger at the media.
At the beginning of her article, Zellweger wrote, “In October 2014, a tabloid newspaper article reported that I’d likely had surgery to alter my eyes. It didn’t matter; just one more story in the massive smut pile generated every day by the tabloid press and fueled by exploitative headlines and folks who practice cowardly cruelty from their anonymous internet pulpits.”
Then, after that damning indictment, Zellweger explained why she was hitting out. “Choosing the dignity of silence rather than engaging with the commerce of cruel fiction leaves one vulnerable not only to the usual ridicule, but [also] to having the narrative of one’s life hijacked by those who profiteer from invented scandal,” she revealed.
And Zellweger continued, “I am not writing today because I have been publicly bullied or because the value of my work has been questioned by a critic whose ideal physical representation of a fictional character originated 16 years ago – over which he feels ownership – I no longer meet.” Instead, she asserted, she wanted to set the record straight, saying that she was troubled by how newspaper “speculation” was being treated as fact.
Zellweger denied, too, that she had undergone the procedures that tabloids claimed she had done, adding, “Not that it’s anyone’s business, but I did not make a decision to alter my face and have surgery on my eyes. This fact is of no true import to anyone at all, but that the possibility alone was discussed among respected journalists and became a public conversation is a disconcerting illustration of news/entertainment confusion and society’s fixation on physicality.”
What’s more, the actress was angry at how she had become a tabloid staple while harder-hitting news items had seemingly fallen by the wayside. She questioned, “What if immaterial tabloid stories, judgments and misconceptions remained confined to the candy jar of low-brow entertainment and were replaced in mainstream media by far more important, necessary conversations?”
Zellweger concluded, “Maybe we could talk more about why we seem to collectively share an appetite for witnessing people diminished and humiliated with attacks on appearance and character and how it impacts younger generations and struggles for equality… Maybe we could talk more about our many true societal challenges and how we can do better.”
And Zellweger didn’t forget about that time when the whole world seemed to have an opinion on her face. In a September 2019 interview with Vulture, she mused, “Nothing like international humiliation to set your perspective right!” The star added that she had actually seen a therapist during that time.
During Zellweger’s period in therapy, moreover, the professional apparently understood the scrutiny that the actress had been under. Zellweger added, “[The therapist] recognized that I spent 99 percent of my life as the public persona and just a microscopic crumb of a fraction in my real life. I needed to not have something to do all the time, to not know what I’m going to be doing for the next two years in advance. I wanted to allow for some accidents.”
And Zellweger also shared that at one point during the media storm she had run into Salma Hayek at an airport. It seems, too, that Hayek had had some advice to hand out. According to Zellweger, her fellow actress had said, “The rose doesn’t bloom all year… unless it’s plastic.” Zellweger took that to mean, “You have to fake that you’re okay to go and do this next thing.”
The interviewer told Zellweger, however, that back in 2014 people had feared she wouldn’t look like herself going forward. In response, the star said, “That makes me sad. I don’t look at beauty in that way. And I don’t think of myself in that way. I like my weird quirkiness, my off-kilter mix of things. It enables me to do what I do. I don’t want to be something else.”
Then, not long afterward, Zellweger’s words in that article were brought up by another interviewer. A little later on in September 2019, the actress sat down for a SiriusXM Town Hall special, and host Jess Cagle mentioned the “international humiliation” comment that she had been quoted as giving in the Vulture piece.
Cagle remarked to Zellweger that he felt surprised the backlash would make her feel so bad. Zellweger replied, however, “I think you’d kind of have to be dead not to [have it hurt your feelings.]” At one point, she added, she had overheard complete strangers on a train slamming her looks.
Specifically, Zellweger had been on the London Underground when she had listened in to the remarks. “They were talking about Hollywood, and they were talking about how Hollywood ladies are so silly – and especially that Renée Zellweger,” she explained. “‘And how could she do that? Why would she go and have surgery on her face, like we wouldn’t know?’”
These strangers on the train also seemed to have a curious sense of entitlement over Zellweger’s appearance. The actress claimed that the bystanders had similarly questioned, “‘How could [Zellweger] do that? She doesn’t look like herself. And you can’t just do that, where you go and you just don’t look like yourself, because we expect you to look like yourself.’”
Zellweger said, though, that eventually the man gossiping about her noticed that she was sitting right next to him. “The man is still talking about how stupid I am. And he looked up, and he said, ‘Oh God, you’re not… you are… you’re… Oh my God, but you look just like yourself,’” she told Cagle. “And I thought, ‘Yeah, it’s funny how that works, isn’t it?’”
Yet the man apparently didn’t offer an apology for his remarks. Instead, Zellweger recalled, “He said, ‘Wow, oh, well you know Hugh Grant.’ And I said, ‘I do know Hugh Grant, he’s a great guy. I’ll tell him you said hello.’” British actor Grant was one of Zellweger’s co-stars in the Bridget Jones movie franchise.
Zellweger went on, “It’s only momentarily where you go, ‘Jeez, wow, that’s pretty painful.’ But then I don’t live in that. It just visits my life a little bit here and there. And I’m not really privy to that stuff until someone sends it to me and comments and says, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe they said this, or this happened.’ I’m not aware of it because I don’t seek it out, and I’m busy.”
Zellweger is indeed busy making a comeback with a new biopic of actress Judy Garland, which is titled simply Judy. The movie saw Zellweger make yet another physical transformation in order to portray Garland, and her performance as the troubled star prompted an extended standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival.
And in her interview with Vulture, Zellweger shared a little of the effort that she and the Judy crew members put into perfecting the actress’ take on the screen legend. “We were talking about seeing what we might be able to do. Every day. Just try that,” Zellweger said. “Try and see what this feels like. And what does that hair color look like? Let’s try this kind of makeup, and then let’s try these songs with this kind of orchestration.”
In fact, one of Zellweger’s castmates has raved about how well she transformed herself into Garland. Finn Whitrock, who portrays Garland’s fifth husband Mickey Deans on screen, told Vulture, “There was such a palpable sense of loneliness with Judy, that sense that she gave more to life than it gave back to her, of being drained and world-weary – which is not, in my observation, something Renée has naturally.”
Whitrock went on, “I don’t know what [Zellweger’s] secret was, but it was like she was heavier than she is in real life, carrying a kind of grief around with her. And the way Renée played Judy, the grief doesn’t come out as self-defeating. It comes out through comedy – but all her zingers are from a deep sense of sadness.”
What’s more, Zellweger was so often in character that Wittrock didn’t get a sense of what she really looked like until filming had ended. “[Zellweger] was always in the wig and had a bit of a prosthetic nose and dark contacts,” he told Vulture. “It wasn’t till the wrap party that she came out and she was blonde and wearing a stunning dress, and I was like, ‘Oh, right. That’s the movie star.’”
Vulture additionally noted, “When Zellweger talks about how Garland was a misunderstood figure, you can’t help but hear echoes of her own struggles.” And of the Wizard of Oz star, Zellweger explained, “There was so much that was not allowed for. You’re not allowed to be human. There’s no room on the schedule for her sanity – the choices that were made for her and how she was exploited and… robbed, basically.”
But even the Vulture piece didn’t steer away from commenting on Zellweger’s looks. Writer Jonathan Van Meter said, for example, “Zellweger looks great; she looks like herself again.” He also claimed that whatever the celebrity had previously done to her eyes had been “obviously temporary” – despite the fact that Zellweger herself had denied any such procedure.
Regardless of any continued speculation, though, people are already beginning to dub 2019 the year of the “Renéessance.” There are even rumors that she may win an Oscar – her second – for her portrayal of Garland. And if Zellweger does emerge victorious at the Academy Awards, it will prove to any naysayers – on the train and elsewhere – that it doesn’t really matter what she looks like if she can still act.