Renée Zellweger and Kenny Chesney tied the knot in 2005 after a whirlwind romance. At first, the actress and the singer seemed to be smitten with one another. But after just four months of marriage Zellweger filed for an annulment from Chesney, which sparked a persistent rumor.
The speculation seemed to stem from the fact that Zellweger had checked “fraud” as the reason for her split from Chesney on her legal documents. This gave rise to whispers that he was, in fact, gay, and that this was the underlying cause of the breakdown of their marriage. However, it would seem that this wasn’t the case.
In the years following his split from Zellweger, Chesney has consistently denied that he was gay and tried to put the rumors regarding his relationship to bed. Zellweger, meanwhile, has publicly shown her support for her ex-husband. So what was the real reason that their short-lived marriage failed?
Before we get to that, let’s take a look back at Zellweger and Chesney’s relationship. They first met in January 2005 at the Concert of Hope. The benefit was set up to raise funds for the victims of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami that wreaked havoc around the Indian Ocean. The fundraiser was led by George Clooney and was a suitably star-studded affair.
Performers at the Concert of Hope included Madonna, Elton John and Chesney himself. Zellweger meanwhile joined a panel of celebrity call-takers who received pledges from the public. The concert is believed to have raised at least five million dollars for the relief fund. However, it also sparked a connection between Zellweger and Chesney.
Apparently, Zellweger had been eager to meet Chesney at the concert. In 2005 a friend of Zellweger told People magazine that the actress “was going to pass him a note.” However, Chesney caught wind of Zellweger’s plan through his publicist. As a result, it was he who ended up making the first move.
Zellweger’s friend 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.’” As a Texan, Zellweger’s friend claimed that the star “knows her country music.” So she apparently told Chesney, “My girlfriends back home would be so jealous.”
A whirlwind romance between Zellweger and Chesney followed. However, it wasn’t until April 2005 that the actress and country music star hinted at their relationship to the public. It was then that Zellweger surprised Chesney at his concert in Jacksonville, Florida, by delivering a margarita to him onstage.
It had become a tradition for Chesney to receive a cocktail on stage when he performed his song “When The Sun Goes Down.” On this occasion, his margarita was delivered to him by a very special guest in the form of Zellweger. And before she exited the stage once more, she planted a very public kiss on Chesney’s cheek.
Just a few weeks later, Zellweger and Chesney were married. After a four-month romance, the pair tied the knot in the Virgin Islands at a sunset ceremony on the isle of St. John on May 9, 2005. The nuptials were relatively low-key, with Zellweger and Chesney exchanging their vows in front of just 35 friends and family members.
According to one of Zellweger and Chesney’s wedding 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.”
Chesney later expressed his joy at being married in a statement obtained by People following his nuptials with Zellweger. He 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.”
While Zellweger and Chesney’s romance appeared to have come from nowhere, the couple had one curious connection prior to their meeting. That’s because one of Chesney’s most famous songs is called “You Had Me From Hello.” The phrase is taken from a famous line from Zellweger’s breakout movie Jerry Maguire which she starred in alongside Tom Cruise in 1996.
Referencing the inspiration behind his hit “You Had Me From Hello,” in 2000 Chesney told People “When Renée Zellweger said that line, I thought, ‘That could be a great song.’” And that wasn’t the only time that Chesney expressed his public admiration for his future wife.
In a 2002 interview with newspaper The Tennessean, Chesney was pressed to name his “three sexiest people.” Zellweger made the cut, alongside Janet Jackson and Charlize Theron. Chesney said of 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 had a lot in common. Both were 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 they were also said to be extremely loyal.
At first, Zellweger and Chesney were apparently smitten. Two weeks after her wedding, the Bridget Jones’s Diary star appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno where she praised her “cute” husband and his “great” family. However, it would seem that their relationship would soon begin to sour.
That’s because just four months after they tied the knot, Zellweger filed for an annulment of her and Chesney’s marriage. “Fraud” was listed as the reason for the split. And it was this cryptic identification of the reason for the couple’s break-up that led some people to start questioning Chesney’s sexuality.
For some, the word “fraud” seemed to suggest that Chesney was gay. And once the rumors regarding the singer’s sexuality surfaced, they 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’s nature.
It seems that Zellweger attempted to put an end to the gossip her annulment sparked, in a statement obtained by People in 2005. 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 our privacy by not commenting on the specifics of our decision.” And these sentiments were echoed by Chesney, who released his own statement. It read, “This is an incredibly sad time… I just hope everyone can respect the privacy that I know Renée has already asked for.”
Zellweger and Chesney also released a joint statement addressing the breakdown of their marriage. It said, “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.”
However, the couple gave no inkling as to what their “different objectives” were. Despite Zellweger and Chesney’s pleas for privacy, it seems that the speculation surrounding their split continued. And in 2007 Chesney spoke candidly about the rumors their annulment had sparked in an interview with TV show 60 Minutes.
Addressing the suggestion that he was gay for the first time, Chesney told host Anderson Cooper that he thought it would be best to ignore the rumors. He explained, “Maybe I should’ve come out and said that, ‘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” was 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.”
In 2009 Chesney addressed the rumors suggesting he was gay once more in an interview with Playboy. He told the magazine, “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, ’All right, do it. Whatever.’”
Furthermore, Chesney discussed his split from Zellweger again in 2010. In an interview with Oprah, he simply said, “I panicked… [Zellweger’s] a sweet soul, no doubt about it, but I just wasn’t ready…. This is the first time I’ve actually talked about it, but that’s what happened.”
For her part, Zellweger waited over ten years to address her break-up with Chesney publicly. She did so in a 2016 interview with magazine The Advocate. And during her chat, she said she’d forgotten about the rumors regarding Chesney’s sexuality that had surfaced in the wake of their split.
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 that. 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?”
Following her split from Chesney, Zellweger dated the actor Bradley Cooper between 2009 and 2011, after the pair met filming Case 39. Then, between 2012 and 2019, she dated the musician Doyle Bramhall II. However, in September 2019, while promoting her latest film Judy, Zellweger stated that she was single.
Chesney, meanwhile, has been linked to a number of women including the actress Vane Millon, television personality Adrianna Costa and in recent times Mary Nolan. Like Zellweger, he has never remarried. However, even in the near-15 years since their annulment, the couple’s short-lived marriage continues to make headlines.
In 2019 for instance, Zellweger caused a stir with some quotes she gave to entertainment website Vulture on the promotion trail for the Judy Garland biopic Judy, in which she played the lead role. Her interviewer Jonathan Van Meter pointed out to Zellweger that both Garland and her daughter Liza Minnelli married gay men.
In his piece for Vulture, Van Meter claimed that this line of questioning got a reaction from Zellweger, as though it struck a chord. 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’.”
However, Zellweger went on to give an empathetic response as to how Garland and Minnelli may have fallen for gay men. 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 her split from Chesney, at least one media outlet appeared to link Zellweger’s quotes about Garland and Minnelli’s love lives to her own. However, given that Chesney has flat-out denied that he is gay and Zellweger has stood by him, it seems unlikely that this was the case.
Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that no one knows what goes on in a person’s relationship behind closed doors, even if there’s a media interest in the romance. And no one knows that better than Zellweger, who has experienced her fair share of public heartbreaks in her career, starting with her split from the actor Rory Cochrane in the early 1990s.
But thankfully, Zellweger’s family in Texas has helped her to view the attention her private life receives objectively. In September 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.”