Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon and her husband of seven years, Ryan Phillippe, were once seen as one of the most stable, grounded relationships in Hollywood.
Earlier this week, however, they announced their separation after seven years of marriage -- turning their once-golden coupledom into the latest gristle for the celebrity gossip machine.
The couple gave no reason for their breakup, but several Hollywood magazines are saying that the split had been in the works for a long time, with some saying that Phillippe was having an affair.
Us magazine, among others, says that the 32-year-old actor has been dating Abby Cornish, his 24-year-old co-star in the indie film, "Stop Loss."
Cornish has denied the report. Witherspoon and Phillippe have not responded to requests for comment on the matter, but have called for privacy for the sake of their two children.
The couple are expected to soon join a long list of high-profile figures who have had their private problems played out in a public forum for the entertainment media -- and the millions across the country who eagerly devour the latest celebrity gossip.
Karen Robinovitz, author of "The Fashionista Files: Adventures in Four-Inch Heels and Faux Pas," says for celebrities, it's just something that comes with the territory.
"Celebrities are living the dream -- the access, the money, the fashion, the beauty, the lavish vacations. When there are two of them together, it's a double dream. Everything a star does is big, something mere civilians can only fantasize about. So it goes without saying that if they love big, they break up big and quite honestly, obsessing about it makes people feel like celebrities are people, too," she said.
Celebrity breakups generate high interest with readers of celebrity glossy magazines -- the biggest story of 2005 for Us Weekly was the end of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt's relationship, and Pitt's subsequent romance with Angelina Jolie.
"What magazines sell best with are hookups, breakups and mess-ups," said Ken Baker, West Coast executive editor of Us Weekly. "And it's great if you have all three."
In the last several years, the market of celebrity glossy magazines has more than quadrupled in size and volume.
But the tone of some of these headlines, like the Daily News' "Reese's Marriage in Pieces" and the New York Post's "Split End for a 'Legal Blonde" seem flip if not downright callous.
The pleasure that one derives from learning about another's misery is actually a psychological condition called schadenfreude, and according to some psychologists, it's clearly connected to how we feel about celebrities.
"People like to talk about celebrities, but they love to talk about celebrities that have problems. … They admire them, and yet they're envious of them, and if the gods fall, it's a quiet moment of rejoice," said Stuart Fischoff, professor of media psychology at California State University - Los Angeles.
"There is a perception that celebrities get more than they deserve. They always get the goody bags. They always get the red carpet. … When bad things happen to them -- not terribly bad -- but when everyday bad things happen, it's an equalizer and we can identify with that. … If we can't be brought up to their level, then they can be brought down to ours," said Jennifer Taylor, a clinical psychologist at McLean Hospital.
Many feel that celebrities, because they enjoy so many good fortunes, are fair game for criticism.