Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have separated temporarily because the stress of both their health struggles had “taken a toll on the marriage”, a friend of the Hollywood actors said on Wednesday night.
The star of Wall Street and the Swansea-born actress have suffered several setbacks in recent years. Douglas, 68, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2010, and Zeta-Jones, 43, has revealed that she suffers from bipolar II disorder.
The couple had not been photographed publicly together since a gala event in Manhattan in April, which had led to rumours of a split. Last week Douglas was seen playing golf in Sardinia while his wife stayed at home in New York.
On Tuesday night, Douglas, looking relaxed and dressed in white, dined with friends at a restaurant in Nice. Later this week he is due to attend the Deauville American Film Festival in France. It is the same festival where he was introduced to Zeta-Jones by his friend, the actor Danny DeVito, in 1998.
A spokesman for Zeta-Jones said: “Catherine and Michael are taking some time apart to evaluate and work on their marriage.”
They made the decision at around the time that Douglas said his throat cancer had been caused by oral sex.
Those close to the couple said neither had filed for divorce, nor moved towards a legal separation, and friends still held out hope that they could work out their differences. One said: “They want the best for their kids, no matter what happens.” Douglas and Zeta-Jones married in New York in 2000 and have two children, Dylan, 13, and Carys, 10.
The couple are thought to have signed a prenuptial agreement that would entitle Zeta-Jones to millions of dollars in a divorce. When Douglas divorced from his ex-wife Diandra after two decades in 2000, he handed over $45 million (£29 million), one of Hollywood’s biggest settlements.
Douglas and Zeta-Jones decided to take time apart soon after he returned home in May from the Cannes film festival, where he was promoting Behind the Candelabra in which he stars as Liberace, according to People magazine.
The previous month Zeta-Jones had made a second visit to a health care facility for treatment for bipolar disorder.
During an interview in Cannes, which was published in early June, Douglas said his throat cancer, from which he is now in remission, had been caused by oral sex. He described how contracting HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually-transmitted virus which is a common cause of cervical cancer, could also cause throat cancer. However, a publicist for the actor later issued a statement suggesting he was not talking about his own cancer.
A few days later Barbara Walters, a television host and a close friend of the couple, told millions of viewers that the virus “did not come from Catherine”. She said: “Michael would like everyone to know that his wife, Catherine, is healthy. She does not have the HPV virus. He doesn’t know how he got cancer. He does not want anyone to think it was from Catherine.”
In an interview last month, Zeta-Jones described dealing with her husband’s cancer, saying: “Together we all coped with everything. It did make us closer. But I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”
She was first admitted to a rehabilitation clinic in the US in 2011 and doctors concluded she was suffering from bipolar II disorder, which is characterised by extreme mood swings between euphoria and depression.