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Michele Lee Was at Her Ex James Farentino's Side When He Died after Long Illness in 2012

Esther NJeri
Nov 25, 2021
06:40 P.M.

Michele Lee and her ex-husband James Farentino’s 15-year marriage was rocky. But the two managed to become friends later on, and Lee was at Farentino’s side when he took his last breath.

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Known for her long-running role as Karen MacKenzie on CBS’ soap “Knots Landing,” Lee has had a successful on-screen career. Her other works also include the films “Color Me Perfect,” “Dark Victory,” and “Cold Fusion,” among others.

James Farentino, on the other hand, is known for his roles in the 1984 ABC series “Blue Thunder,” “Dynasty,” “ER,” and his award-winning role in “Jesus of Nazareth.” He was also the star of the short-lived ABC comedy “Julie.”

Married American actors James Farentino and Michele Lee walking arm-in-arm at the Daisy Club. Lee has Beatles haircut and wears a dark shirt with a white tie. circa 1965 | Source :Getty Images

Married American actors James Farentino and Michele Lee walking arm-in-arm at the Daisy Club. Lee has Beatles haircut and wears a dark shirt with a white tie. circa 1965 | Source :Getty Images

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LEE AND FARENTINO MEET

The two met when Lee was only 20 on the set of the award-winning Broadway play “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

At the time of their meeting, Lee had been dating Farentino’s friend. However, following his divorce from his first wife, the two were romantically involved and got married in 1966.

They had a civil ceremony as they both subscribed to different religions. Lee was Jewish and Farentino a Catholic. They welcomed their son, David Farentino, in 1969.

James Farentino on November 19, 1998 at 6363 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California. | Photo: Getty Images

James Farentino on November 19, 1998 at 6363 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California. | Photo: Getty Images

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In the years that followed, the two had a rough time, and in 1982, they got divorced. Unlike many Hollywood divorces, theirs was amicable, and Lee says they put a lot of work into remaining friends.

She says that despite the separation period being painful for them both, they never disliked each other. That played a considerable role in mending their differences and building a relationship that lasted for decades. Farentino said of their relationship:

“This is a relationship that has lasted. If you deny that relationship and that love, then what was 18 years about, and what was your child about, and what are you about?”

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Michele Lee attends "Maurice Hines Tappin' Thru Life" opening night - after party at Thalia | Getty Images

Michele Lee attends "Maurice Hines Tappin' Thru Life" opening night - after party at Thalia | Getty Images

FARENTINO’S SHAKY PERSONAL LIFE

“The Defenders” actor was known for his good looks, and it is no surprise that the ladies could not stay away. But away from his one-off roles in movies such as “The Fugitive” and “Ben Casey,” the leading man had a turbulent personal life.

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He was married four times and divorced thrice. He married his first wife, Elizabeth Ashley, in 1962, but three years later, the two dissolved their marriage and went their separate ways.

In 1966, he married his second wife Lee, but the two called it off after a stormy marriage. They did, however, remain friends and even worked on projects together.

Elizabeth Ashley at Cipriani Wall Street on December 2, 2019 in New York City. | Photo: Getty Images

Elizabeth Ashley at Cipriani Wall Street on December 2, 2019 in New York City. | Photo: Getty Images

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His third marriage was to Actress, Producer, and Journalist Debrah Farentino, one that ended after only three years. The two first met when Farentino began teaching Debrah how to act.

Before he married his fourth and last wife, he got into a relationship with Tina Sinatra, Frank Sinatra’s daughter. But after the relationship ended, he allegedly resulted to stalking her.

Reports say that he would often make harassing phone calls to Tina and went as far as violating a restraining order. In March 1994, he had to undergo a probationary period and psychological counseling.

James Farentino and Debrah Farentino on March 28, 1982 at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. | Photo: Getty Images

James Farentino and Debrah Farentino on March 28, 1982 at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. | Photo: Getty Images

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His problems were, however, not limited to his love life. Three years earlier, he was arrested after the police intercepted a package containing cocaine as it was being delivered to his Canadian hotel room.

In 1994, Farentino married Stella Farentino, but she filed for divorce three years later, citing irreconcilable differences. Soon after, she withdrew the petitions.

In 1998, Farentino also filed for divorce for the same reasons as his wife, but he also withdrew the petitions. The couple remained married until he died in 2012. They had a son, Saverio.

James Farentino and Tina Sinatra on December 11, 1989 at the Cineplex Odeon Century Plaza Cinemas in Century City, California. | Photo: Getty Images

James Farentino and Tina Sinatra on December 11, 1989 at the Cineplex Odeon Century Plaza Cinemas in Century City, California. | Photo: Getty Images

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FARENTINO’S DEMISE

Despite his good looks and impressive personality that would have earned him top roles in Hollywood, Farentino’s antics became his major undoing. A career that had been promising soon dried up.

The roles became so rare that he appeared in a single TV film, the 2006 “Drive” in an entire decade. But away from his waning career, his health was also taking a nose-dive.

In January 2012, the tall and handsome leading man passed on from heart failure following a long illness. He died at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He was 73.

James Farentino and Stella Farentino on August 28, 1996 at Cinerama Dome Theatre in Hollywood, California. | Photo: Getty Images

James Farentino and Stella Farentino on August 28, 1996 at Cinerama Dome Theatre in Hollywood, California. | Photo: Getty Images

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After their divorce, Lee kept a close relationship with Farentino, even teaming up professionally to work on the CBS Sunday movie “When No One Would Listen.”

The movie was based on a harrowing true story, in which Farentino played Lee’s abusive husband. Their son, David, also had a role in the film, where he played a neighbor who also fell victim to Farentino’s wrath.

Lee and Farentino’s bond remained close up until his passing. Lee says that she was there when Farentino waved the world goodbye, together with his wife.

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She says they never referred to each other as exes. Instead, they called each other “my former.” She was close to Farentino’s wife as well, and before Farentino’s passing, the three would often meet up for dinner and even spend holidays together. Lee said of this close bond:

“Yes, our marriage was rocky, but once we calmed down after we split, it was like we found each other again with a great friendship love.”

LEE TODAY

Today, Lee is married to Fred Rappoport and has been since they met back in 1987. Lee was on “Knots Landing” while Rappoport was in CBS and so their connection was both personal and professional.

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Michele Lee and David Farentino at NBC TV Studios in Burbank, California, United States, in 1984. | Photo: Getty Images

Michele Lee and David Farentino at NBC TV Studios in Burbank, California, United States, in 1984. | Photo: Getty Images

Lee still maintains a good relationship with her costars at “Knots Landing.” Long after the show ended, they have held a close bond and are still fond of each other. They always have some fun times whenever they meet up.

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Lee also enjoys being a mother to her only son David, who she says changed her outlook on life. It changed her inside out, how she chose things, how long she could stay away on work trips, and even when she could take him with her.

At 79 years of age, Lee continues to work in film and has several projects lined up, including a short monologue, “The Real Housewives of Coburg,” and a full-length stage play, “Rice.”

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