Al and Tipper Gore’s grey divorce

How the sixty-somethings are just acting their age


Looking back, there were signs that Al and Tipper Gores’ marriage wasn’t as picture perfect as it seemed. Exhibit A, of course, that cringe-making slurpy public kiss at the 2000 Democratic Convention, an act of passionate spontaneity so staged, so lacking in chemistry, it appeared an ill-advised gambit to try to remind the audience: “We’re not the Clintons, folks.” Then there was Tipper’s admission that her earnest husband gave her a Weedeater for her birthday. And the capper: the couple’s sly intimation that they were the inspiration for the two lead characters in Erich Segal’s Love Story, a rumour the author, who knew Al Gore at Harvard, shot down.

Still, the news that the former U.S. vice-president and his wife are separating after 40 years of marriage was met with surprise, even among the cynics in the media. An email from the couple circulated to the Gores’ friends announced the separation was “a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together following a process of long and careful consideration.”

Not since last year’s revelation that Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins relationship of 23 years ended quietly has there been such shock over the marital problems of famous strangers. On the surface anyway, the Gores seemed as solid and fixed as figurines on a wedding cake. Spike Jonze’s “Unseen Al Gore campaign video” filmed during Gore’s 2000 failed presidential campaign captured a tight, affectionate, happy family unit. Al and Tipper are seen frolicking in the waves and recalling meeting at a prom after-party in 1965; she was 16, he 17. “It was love at first sight,” he said fondly. “He was handsome, considerate,” she recalled. The only acknowledgment of tension was Gore joking: “one of my strains with my relationship is that she insists on going barefoot.”

Yet, really, any surprise over the split is misplaced. The Gores are merely another example of a social trend Maclean’s explored in “The 27-Year Itch,” a 2007 report of the upsurge in divorce among people 50-plus who’d been married decades. Among those over 65 the divorce rate has doubled since 1980, led by many high-profile examples, among them Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone who divorced at age 79 after 55 years of marriage and Fox News’ Rupert Murdoch who ended his 32-year marriage at age 68, only to remarry weeks later. One New York City lawyer joked to me that his waiting room often looks like a “geriatrics unit.”

The rise in later-in-life divorce, a trend that’s been deemed an “epidemic” in the UK, runs counter to a long-standing tautological marital verity: that the longer a couple is married, the longer they’ll stay married. But there’s modern logic to it. For the first time in history, the 50s and 60s are not seen as a time to wind down but another life stage, one the British novelist Margaret Drabble has dubbed the “Third Age.” With children grown and work responsibilities shifting, it’s a time of reappraisal. And with average life expectancy hovering around 80, a couple (or more often one member of a couple) is often not willing to spend what could be decades in a conflict-ridden marriage or co-existing in mutual domestic torpor. There’s still time for yet another act, even for a more satisfying relationship.

The Gores, he 61, she 60, are ripe grey divorce candidates. Their four children are adults raising their own families. Over the past decade they’ve carved out separate carbon footprints—that “we grew apart” referred to in their announcement. Al Gore’s work as a climate change educator has transformed him into a solo act with celebrity accoutrements—a Nobel Prize, an Academy Award, a billion-dollar eco-business dynasty and a grueling private-jet travel schedule. Meanwhile Tipper has focused on her own life-long work as a photographer, a career she put on hold to support her husband’s political ambitions. No longer does the couple have to worry about political optics, though an unnamed friend coming forward to announce there was no affair involved in the break-up suggests some exists.

The fact the Gores announced their split weeks after celebrating their ruby anniversary might seem strange. But not within the new grey divorce landscape, one in which martial success is not measured by longevity but quality. And the new inconvenient truth is that sometimes the only way to preserve that is to leave.


Al and Tipper Gore’s grey divorce

  1. I’m deeply shocked with the news. Why do you have to go through a divorce? You still can be friends and grow old together …


    • But seriously Peter, tell us what you REALLY think.

  2. This loser can't save his marriage and he thinks he can save the planet!

  3. Everyone hates Al Gore including his wife.

  4. I'm amazed by the language of "hate". Most of the comments seem to be from losers. No wonder your country is facing such serious crisis despite having elected the best President since TDR

  5. I wonder if Tipper just got fed up listening to the old windbag peddling his snake oil. I guess she just couldn't stand the hypocracy. Big Al "saving the planet" while recently buying his fourth nine bedroom, six bath mansion.

  6. Even a good and fulfilling marriage can, in time, come apart because people change. Today, we live longer, boredom sets in, the marriage becomes a routine, passion dissappears and people in late 50's, early 60's still have time to start a new relationship that can make them feel young again, energized, and thus live longer. Their separation was unexpected but power to them to have the courage to separate if it wasn't working and good luck to them in their future relationships. Al and Tipper go ahead and live LA VIDA LOCA.

  7. Anybody out there with inside info on the personal habits of other iconic environmentalists, like M. Strong, or D. Suzuki, or whoever?

  8. Well, lots of literate and well-thought out comments here….just wasted 30 seconds of my life reading them.

  9. Some couples chose to stay together for the sake of their children and because it was not economically feasible to divorce – back when the laws were different. And then, too, sometimes their children had children and returned to their parents homes. Everyone makes choices based on what they think they know at the time. We know now that staying together 'for the children' when the relationship is acromonious is a bad idea, although many couples did so. New beginnings can work out just fine, I've discovered.

    Good luck to both of the Gores.

  10. I think she saw the light, it just wasnt green enough

  11. The planet is cooling, Al Bores marriage went along with it

  12. "And the capper: the couple's sly intimation that they were the inspiration for the two lead characters in Erich Segal's Love Story, a rumour the author, who knew Al Gore at Harvard, shot down."
    That is NOT true. Al Gore said he was the inspiration for one of the character's in Love Story, which was true. Tipper wasn't an inspiration for a character, and Al Gore never said she was.