Al, Tipper Gore Shock Friends With Divorce Announcement

After 40 years of marriage, observers search for clues behind Gores' separation.

June 1, 2010, 6:34 PM

June 1, 2010— -- For many, Al and Tipper Gore's relationship was summed up in a six-second kiss on stage at the 2000 Democratic Convention.

Fraught with political symbolism, it was a kiss, which seemed far longer than it actually lasted and telegraphed to the country that this was a man and wife whose long commitment to each other could restore to the White House a sense of propriety lost during Bill Clinton's tenure.

For all its symbolism, that kiss did not get Al Gore to the White House. And for all its passion it could not keep the Gores together.

After 40 years of marriage, the high school sweethearts announced Tuesday they would divorce, shocking friends and observers, who long considered the couple one of the Beltway's most happily married.

"I was shocked. I've spent a lot of time with the two of them. They had a very close relationship," said Tony Coelho, Gore's former campaign manager. "They had a nice solid relationship. It was fun, personal, romantic. I spent hours with the two of them and I was always impressed by how they got along. I'm totally surprised."

Over the course of the previous decade the couple went from loving "with my whole heart since the night of my high school senior prom," as Al Gore put it in 2000, to having "decided to separate," as they put it in a statement Tuesday.

"We are announcing today that after a great deal of thought and discussion, we have decided to separate," the Gores said in an emailed statement. "This is very much a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together following a process of long and careful consideration. We ask for respect for our privacy and that of our family, and we do not intend to comment further."

In that same decade, Gore refashioned himself into the world's most well-known environmentalist, winning both an Academy Award and a Nobel Peace Prize.

Tipper, once a very public figure herself, has increasingly kept out of public life, leading some to wonder if that difference caused a rift.

Sources, close to the couple, said infidelity was not the reason for the divorce.

Those looking for signs of strains on their relationship have to limit themselves to recent years. After their son Albert was injured in a car accident in 1989, the Gores entered couple's counseling and were virtually inseparable for the next 10 years.

In the early days of their relationship, "they were completely devoted to each other," said Robert Zelnick, a communications professor at Boston University and author of the biography "Gore: A Political Life."

"She had a tremendous amount of love for him. In the early days, they could not bear being apart. Witness his service in Vietnam, when she could barely come to grips with his absence," he said.

In 2002, during an interview with CNN's Larry King, Al Gore hinted at previous troubles the couple had and overcame.

"Well, we fell in love, and we've stayed in love, and we've worked very hard when there were hard times to work it out, and not that we ever thought about divorcing or anything like that. I don't mean to imply that. I mean that I think people need to work it out," he said.

The couple recently purchased an $8.8 million mansion in California, suggesting to some that they were seeking separate residences. Currently the couple live in Tennessee.

The couple met in high school, at a party after the senior prom, and they married at the National Cathedral in Washington on May 19, 1970. They have four children together.

In 2000, Tipper Gore told the Washington Post that her first impression was "Oh, boy! He's good looking."

After high school, Tipper followed Gore to Boston, where he attended Harvard University. Gore once suggested their relationship inspired the 1970s novel and film "Love Story." But author Erich Segal later said the character was mostly based on Gore's college roommate, actor Tommy Lee Jones.

The couple later found interests that led them into public service. For Al Gore it was a life in politics, representing Tennessee in the Senate. Tipper Gore became a staunch advocate for printing parental advisories on music containing explicit lyrics.

She also spoke openly about a life-long struggle with depression.

By all accounts the couple was very much in love for a very long time, regularly sending each other love notes and expressing their affection for each other openly.

In 2000, at the height of Al Gore's presidential campaign he and Tipper exchanged titillating emails during preparation for a debate, which she shared with The Associated Press.

"I love you. How are you doing? I'm in the middle of debate prep. Paul [Begala] is talking. They're wondering what I'm doing," Gore wrote his wife from his Blackberry.

"Oh, I know what I'd like to be doing with you right now," replied his wife. Adding something she described as "a little lascivious."

"I'm losing my concentration now. We have to stop," quipped Al.

Gore did not ask Bill Clinton to campaign with him, despite the recommendations of his advisors, who believed the popular president would be a boon in Gore's run.

Al Gore refused, according to Coelho, because he was deeply hurt and offended at the casualness with which Clinton treated his marriage.

"One of the reason he didn't use Clinton was because of Clinton's dalliances. He was upset about it -- sincerely upset about it," Coelho said.

"Partners, they were true life partners. And it was something I witnessed. I saw it many different ways. I'm just very surprised," he said.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events