Phil Donahue has been married to actress Marlo Thomas since 1980. Before tying the knot with her, he was married to Margaret Cooney, with whom he shared five children. Get inside his remarkable love story.
American media personality Phil Donahue is famous for pioneering and hosting "The Phil Donahue Show," later known as "Donahue." It was the first talk show that included audience participation and ran for 29 years on national TV.
However, Phil's life changed after meeting Marlo Thomas on his talk show. Find out all the details of his life before Marlo and their experiences as a couple.
PHIL DONAHUE WAS A VIRGIN BEFORE HIS FIRST MARRIAGE
Phil revealed in his first book "Donahue: My Own Story" that he was a virgin before his first marriage to Margaret Cooney and a lousy lover afterward. The book also revealed that Phil avoided the draft through fatherhood.
The television personality married Cooney in 1958. The couple shared five children — four boys and a girl. While married, the family lived in Centerville, Ohio.
However, the marriage ended in divorce in 1975. Following the divorce, Phil's family was split into two. His daughter lived with Cooney, while his four sons lived with him.
Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas at Directors Guild of America Theater on March 04, 2020 in New York City. | Photo: Getty Images
Phil was a devout Catholic and a former choirboy. However, he now sees the Catholic Church as racist, sexist and destructive. Part of this newfound thinking could be due to the controversy that trailed his divorce from Cooney.
His marriage to her was annulled in the church after their split, and it didn't sit right with them. In a reported interview, Phil vented his frustrations about marriage annulments. He said per the South Florida Sentinel:
"The process is medieval and un-Christian. A group of celibate men decide whether an agreement you made 20 years ago was valid in the eyes of the church[...]In my case, that union brought five children into the world. How do I explain it to them?"
Phil added that his marriage to Cooney produced five children and wondered how he would explain that to the church. Due to his divorce and subsequent remarrying without having his first marriage annulled, Phil wasn't allowed to receive church sacraments. He revealed:
"Now, at weddings and funerals, people crawl over me to get to the [Communion) rail. I guess it is public punishment for my sin."
MARLO THOMAS CHANGED DONAHUE'S LIFE COMPLETELY
Marlo described her relationship with Phil in an article she wrote for AARP in 2013. She revealed that in the '70s, she was not so enthused about marriage and believed it was a vacuum cleaner that sucked out all of one's energy and ambition.
However, all that changed when she went to Phil's show and met him in 1977. In the article, she described him as a handsome, charming Irishman.
Shortly after their meeting, Phil and Marlo had dinner. There, he told her he recently went through a divorce and had doubts about ever marrying again.
Marlo felt their meeting was perfect because she saw in Phil a man that thought like her. Reflecting on their relationship, she said:
"I think one of the reasons our relationship blossomed into more than either of us had thought it would... is that we weren't burdened by the pressure felt by younger people looking for mates."
Marlo admitted they had challenges younger people do not face. A major challenge was reconciling their past lives. Phil had a career in Chicago and lived with his four sons, while Marlo's career and family roots were in Los Angeles.
However, the lovebirds started making room for each other in their lives and created what felt like a family. While doing that, they realized a fundamental fact, which she explained:
"Sometimes we all must rethink our lives, focusing not on what we thought they would be but, rather, on what they could be."
Marlo admitted that she and Phil might have been impatient and missed each other if they were younger in the concluding part of her article.
However, due to them being older — her in her late 30s and him in his early 40s — they trusted each other with their hearts and put in the work. She concluded: "For many, love really is better the second time around, but for me, the first time has been just fine."
Marlo added that a marriage lasts when the couple involved decides to hold on and get through the fire together
Marlo and Phil have spoken about their relationship and marriage several times. They recalled their first meeting during an appearance on "Late Night with Seth Meyers" last year. Marlo said:
"It was kind of love at first sight. Or something. Something chemical happened."
Marlo revealed she was attracted to Phil and very interested in him. Meanwhile, Phil admitted thinking Marlo was a bad thought. However, one thing led to another, and they became a real-life couple.
Phil and Marlo tied the knot on May 21, 1980. During an interview with Review-Journal, the couple spoke about their best-selling book "What Makes a Marriage Last." In the interview, they were asked their biggest challenge as newlyweds, and Marlo responded:
"The biggest challenge for me was that our romance had to take a backseat part of the time. I went from having two dogs to having four boys and a husband."
She admitted being worried that she and Phil might be too overwhelmed by the steaminess in the other room. Also, Phil and his sons had to adjust to having family meals together as they were used to eating in front of the TV.
Meanwhile, Phil said eating together with the boys helped him know them better. Marlo's presence meant the house became more orderly. She revealed she had to make things cleaner and was lucky the boys were sweet about those changes.
Marlo's ability to be a good wife and stepmom to Phil and his sons owed a great deal to how her parents raised her. Marlo is the daughter of late comedian Danny Thomas.
After receiving her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in December 1992, she admitted she is a daddy's girl and expressed pride in her dad, who was always there for advice.
One of the most famous shows Marlo has starred in is "That Girl," which she also produced. In it, she starred as a spunky, independent, virginal character. She credited her character to her dad, a devout Catholic. She revealed:
"Daddy wanted me to stay a virgin till I married. He would say: 'Virginity is a gift you give your husband on his honeymoon night! But I added a line of my own: 'If you lose it, you will have to show up empty-handed!'"
Marlo revealed using the line for a show she wrote called "Love, Sex and Other Comedy." However, she added a twist to the quote, "If you lose it, you will have to show up empty-handed!"
PHIL DONAHUE LOST HIS SON
Tragedy struck in Phil and Marlo's family when his youngest son James "Jim" Donahue died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm in April 2014. James was 51.
Before his death, James worked for the Ralph Nader group, Essential Information, as an investigative researcher and writer. Many of James's colleagues at work spoke well of him after his death.
One of them, John Richards, described him as a true warrior who fought the world's injustices. Richards added that James was a passionate and independent thinker.
The latter sought the truth and inspired his colleagues with his work and energy so much that they planned to establish a fellowship in his name for passionate young activists.
Meanwhile, Marlo described James as a great light in the family. She added that he was a funny character and an independent spirit.
MARLO AND PHIL'S SECRET TO A HAPPY MARRIAGE AND VIEW ON INFIDELITY
Despite losing their son, Phil and Marlo stayed together and have been married for 41 years. Staying married for so long is not an easy feat, but the couple has done so remarkably.
Many people would be itching to know how they have managed to pull through after many years together, and they have shared secrets to their long-term marriage in different interviews.
The couple appeared on "The Drew Barrymore Show" and said that in a marriage that lasts, both the husband and wife must want to be in the relationship, and it should not be just one person doing everything.
Marlo also said that it is important for couples to let each other be their own people rather than changing them to fit their specifications. The couple also spoke about their successful marriage during an interview with The Washington Post.
"Everybody goes a little nutty at one time or the other, right? But if you both panic at the same time, you'll also get into a bigger fight."
She further explained that if one of the couples stays cool and calm while the other is angry, the issue is bound to fizz out.
In their chat with Review-Journal, they were asked about all successful couples' secrets. In her response, Marlo said half of the couples get divorced and added:
"Those whose marriages survive share in common that they didn't run away from challenges. Yes, there are extreme hardships in a lifetime ... loss of money, loss of a child or infidelity."
Marlo added, "What makes a marriage last is holding on and getting through the fire together." Also, she told the story of a couple whose marriage had issues after the man had a child out of the wedlock and said:
"His wife now says she has five children and her husband has six. I’d have thrown Phil out of the house."
Marlo and Phil have been together for four decades and continue going strong. They are so much in love today, which is very obvious during their interviews. Hopefully, the sweet couple will enjoy many more beautiful experiences together. Love is beautiful indeed!