30 of the Most Famous Breakups in History
While some fairytales end with “happily ever after,” anyone living in the real world knows that’s not always the case. Sometimes, love just isn’t enough to keep a lasting partnership, marriage or alliance in place. And when these breaks happen, you have the inevitable consequences that also come from them.
One of the ways you can comfort yourself if and when you experience any sort of breakup is by knowing that humans have experienced this kind of heartbreak all throughout history. Bad blood, rising tensions, creative disagreements and, of course, irreconcilable differences have all been named as reasons people don’t end up spending their entire lives together — or their entire lives doing the things they love to do.
For a little schadenfreude to feel better about your own life, here are some of the most unforgettable and game-changing breakups of all kinds throughout modern and not-so-modern history.
30. The Spice Girls
When the world heard the news that this all-female powerhouse pop group broke up, fans didn’t “Wannabe” it to be true. But alas, we had to say “Goodbye.” One of the most popular girl bands in history, theSpice Girlsoriginally formed thanks to music manager manufacturing in 1994.
But even if their start wasn’t organic, their charisma certainly was. They’re one of the bestselling female pop groups of all time, which is impressive in itself. But it becomes even more impressive considering the height of their popularity happened when boy bands were all the rage.
What Led to the Spice Girls Breakup
Unfortunately, it was a glorious flash in the pan. In 1998, Geri Halliwell abruptly left the group. They continued on as best they could, but by 2000, they all took an indefinite hiatus.
While they’ve had the occasional concert, tour and even movie, they don’t create new music on a regular basis. Luckily for all of us, we can always stream their music when we want to “Spice Up (Y)our Life,” and they’ll “Viva Forever” in our hearts. OK, you get it by now.
29. The Beatles
It doesn’t get much more iconic when it comes to music than the Fab Four.
Even though the British boys turned men reinvented themselves and their sound many times, they simply had to eventually part ways.
What Led to the Beatles Breakup
Unlike their meteoric rise to fame, the Beatles breakup was slow and muddled. The biggest hit the group took was in 1967 when their manager, Brian Epstein, died.
With individual agendas and the mounting pressures of almost unprecedented international fame, the group had a very hard time getting along — let alone staying together. The last time they played together as a foursome was in 1969, with the group officially disbanding in 1974.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West
Kanye West was not Kim Kardashian’s first husband. The reality TV and social media star had been married twice before.
But with Kanye (who now formally goes by Ye), it felt like she had found her match. The two outspoken stars had been friends for years, and both understood life in the spotlight.
What Led to the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West Breakup
When they got married in 2014 and began building a family together, it felt like the couple could actually make their love last.
But, in 2021 after months of speculation and various bizarre public behaviors, the inevitable “irreconcilable differences” was given as grounds for divorce.
27. Guns N’ Roses
So, technically, this band never actually broke up.
But this still very much counts as a breakup considering the main musicians who founded the group one-by-one began to walk away from it.
What Led to the Guns N’ Roses Breakup
As early as 1991, Izzy Stradlin, the rhythmic guitarist, left the group in order to continue life sober. A few years later, they went on a hiatus from 1994 to 1996, though they continued to write music.
But personality clashes and ongoing tensions with frontman Axl Rose made lead guitarist and band personality Slash quit in 1996. After that, drummer Matt Sorum was fired in 1997, which likely led to Duff McKagan, the bassist, quitting later that year. The group still exists with Axl Rose as the frontman, but the original players who made it legendary no longer play together.
26. Sonny and Cher
When they first met, Cher was 16, and Sonny was 27 years old — though it would take a little while for their friendship to turn into a partnership and then into a romantic relationship.
Once they were Sonny and Cher, though, there seemed to be no stopping them. Between musical hits and even a comedic TV show featuring the duo, they took over the world. Their unconventional behind-the-scenes relationship was founded in genuine respect, even if it meant at times they found intimacy with other people.
What Led to the Sonny and Cher Breakup
But the straw that really broke this duo’s back were finances, at least according to later interviews with Cher. Apparently, once they separated and began the divorce process, Cher discovered Sonny owned 95 percent of their assets with the other 5 percent belonging to their lawyer.
The betrayal was too much even for the unconventional love, though they remained friends until Sonny’s death in 1998.
25. Taylor Swift and Country Music
In August 2014, Taylor Swift made a decision to become a pop star. Of course, she was already a country music star with a number of hit records under her belt. Her simple and storytelling style combined with her saccharine-sweet public image made her a natural fit in the country music world.
But it was yet unclear if she’d be able to cross over into pop.
What Led to the Taylor Swift and Country Music Breakup
Of course, Swift made the switch rather flawlessly, breaking pop records in her wake. But, at the time, country music stars and the Country Music Association seemed less than thrilled about her very public decision.
With her recent albums “Folklore” and “Evermore,” she’s departed from some of the beat-dropping bangers and returned to that simpler sound that seems to come naturally to her. And, in doing so, she’s proved you can walk away from a relationship only to eventually return to it knowing better who you are.
24. Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony
Jennifer Lopez doesn’t shy away from the spotlight — in any sense of the word. The singer, actress and all-around entertainment powerhouse has always been open about who she is dating, with many of those men being public figures themselves. For many of her fans, the most exciting partner she actually married (after being engaged to, well, several times) was fellow musical powerhouse Marc Anthony.
The two first met in 1998 and were friends for years before becoming romantically involved and eventually getting married in 2004. And when they became pregnant together and had twins in 2008, all seemed right with the world.
What Led to the Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony Breakup
Between their partnerships in music, movies, a clothing line and on TV shows, they seemed unstoppable. But in 2011, they officially filed for divorce asking for something rare in both their lives: privacy.
Even though they’ve both gone on to engage in a number of public relationships with other public people, they’ve remained friends and co-parents to their children.
23. Seal and Heidi Klum
Most people get married once in order to make it work. Others get tattoos. Heidi Klum and Seal did those things and more. In fact, the duo renewed their vows a reported eight times.
While on the surface it may seem like a genuinely romantic gesture to reaffirm their love to each other, according to Klum, it was actually an ongoing effort to make the doomed relationship work. And Heidi even got a tattoo on her right arm with an artistic rendition of her husband’s name placed prominently on her body.
What Led to the Seal and Heidi Klum Breakup
But even with all that effort, genuine affection and a lot of hard work, their marriage didn’t eventually work out.
With rumors that Seal had a short temper, they filed for divorce in 2012 with it being finalized in 2014.
22. The Fugees
Even the biggest and most successful musical groups aren’t strong enough to handle the big personalities inside them. That’s largely what happened with the hip hop powerhouse, the Fugees, which consisted of Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel.
Even with Grammys and multiple hits under their belt, they couldn’t stay together.
What Led to the Fugees Breakup
While there’s been lots of speculation about why the group didn’t work out, much of it likely had to do with the tumultuous and romantic relationship between Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean. Jean was married at the time and having an affair with Hill, who during their relationship also began seeing Rohan Marley.
When Hill became pregnant with Marley’s child but told Jean it was his … well, things didn’t go so well. Between trust issues, personal tensions and strong egos, the group eventually disbanded in 1997 with members going solo creatively, but they were scheduled to have a 25th anniversary reunion tour that was reportedly cancelled due to the pandemic.
21. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers
Easily one of the greatest basketball players of our generation, if not of all time, LeBron James got his start in the NBA with his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It wasn’t long after his rookie season in 2004 that he started making it clear he was a superstar on the court. By 2006, he was repping the Cavaliers as he wiped up the court in NBA All Star games.
What Led to the LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Breakup
But in 2010, he became a free agent. And in a very public decision, he decided to leave his home team and moved to Miami, breaking thousands of Midwestern hearts in the process.
Their hope was revamped, however, in 2014 when he again became a free agent and, this time, returned home. He played for the Cleveland Cavaliers for four more years until 2018 when he left to be part of the famed Los Angeles Lakers. The superstar athlete may still end up in Cleveland before he retires, but it doesn’t look likely.
20. One Direction
Many people thought the age of boy bands was over. Until, of course, One Direction came along. Formed in 2010 through the U.K. version of the TV show "The X-Factor," the band produced multiple hits, five albums and sold-out shows around the world.
But it’s hard to keep a group of young superstars together, especially considering they all originally auditioned to be solo stars and only began working together at the behest of music managers.
What Led to the One Direction Breakup
While they seemed to get along well enough, the group began falling apart in 2015 when resident pouty-faced model man, Zayn Malik, decided to leave the group.
Several months later, they took an “indefinite hiatus” for the members to pursue solo careers — the most successful of which is that of Harry Styles.
19. Simon & Garfunkel
Not even the best-built bridge could help this duo get over their troubled water. The folk-rock singer-songwriters of the 1960s had a number of iconic hits under their belt.
But their troubled relationship eventually ended their creative partnership in 1970. Unlike many duos who leave their issues at “creative differences,” these two were pretty clear that it was both creative and very personal.
What Led to the Simon & Garfunkel Breakup
Their first of many splits was due to the fact that Simon secretly recorded an entire album by himself. From there, their rivalry only grew, especially since Simon wrote their songs and therefore had control over the future of the duo.
But as troubled as their issues had been, they did reunite several times for both concerts and tours. With a little age, a little more wisdom and two very separate solo careers in various creative outlets, they seem to get along much better.
18. Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson
Yes, Ariana Grande is now happily married to luxury realtor Dalton Gomez. And, yes, Pete Davidson has had a number of high-profile relationships, most notably (and most recently) including Kim Kardashian.
But there was something about both the celebrity status and the genuine fun these two seemed to have together that made them a couple worth fighting for. With multiple tattoos for each other and even a surprise engagement after a few weeks of dating, it seemed like that spark might turn into a lasting flame.
What Led to the Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson Breakup
But it was not meant to be. After only five months together, they called it quits. They seemed to end amicably and are public about their relationship, with Grande even referencing him in her song “thank u, next.”
Davidson quickly covered up the multiple tattoos he had inspired by her. But no amount of ink can cover up the collective memory of their relationship and the hope for all the Gen Z love that might have been.
17. Regis and Kathie Lee
For over a decade, these delightful morning-show hosts filled America’s mornings with news, stories, recipe suggestions, laughter and a whole lot of chemistry. They were a staple of culture and a beam of light in an otherwise dim news cycle.
But when Kathie Lee stepped away quietly in 2000, speculation ran amuck about why she’d walk away at the height of the show’s popularity.
What Led to the Regis and Kathie Lee Breakup
She was quiet about it for years, maintaining she and Regis were still close friends. It wasn’t until many years later that it came to light that she had stepped away from the spotlight to care for her ill father, who passed away in 2002.
Regis had plenty more years in successful morning shows, including with Kelly Ripa who made an awesome replacement and still does the show. And Kathie Lee now has her own show on "Today!" It goes to show that sometimes even the best partnerships can be broken up by bad timing.
16. Jenna Marbles and YouTube
When YouTube first became popular, it was pretty obvious nobody knew what to do with it. But now that it’s one of the second most-used social media apps in the world with around 2.29 billion users, it’s undeniable that there’s some serious power behind the platform.
In the early days, goofy young personalities and vloggers created videos just for fun. And nobody was better at it than Jenna Marbles.
What Led to the Jenna Marbles and YouTube Breakup
Marbles spent years amassing over 20 million subscribers, making her easily one of the most popular channels on the platform. And, surprisingly, she often did so by simply being herself without too much fancy editing or over-the-top production value.
But in 2020 after a series of controversies and the culture of the platform changing rapidly, she decided to step away. It’s unclear yet how long it’ll last, but it is clear that she is missed by her fans.
15. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots
The seemingly ageless and arguably GOAT quarterback, Tom Brady, shocked the world in 2020, which was no easy feat considering what 2020 had in store for us.
After over two decades leading one of the most successful football franchises of all time to nine Super Bowl appearances — winning six of them — he decided to leave the New England Patriots.
What Led to the Tom Brady and New England Patriots Breakup
Even if there were rumors of a tense environment behind-the-scenes thanks to head coach Bill Belichick, it’s hard to argue that there wasn’t some merit to the intensity when you look at the franchise’s impressive results.
But Brady still had plenty of pep in his step and decided to become a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. And, wouldn’t you know it, he flaunted his new relationship, er, sports status right in the face of his old team by turning around winning the Super Bowl his first year as a Buccaneer.
14. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Henry VIII may have been married and may have already been one of the most powerful men on the planet at the time, but he still couldn’t seem to get what he wanted. And what he wanted was Anne Boleyn.
Because the Pope wouldn’t grant him the annulment from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, he began to take away the immense power of the Roman church as retribution. The Church of England declared its independence from The Vatican, which was a major step towards eventually undoing its international influence.
What Led to the Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn Breakup
The eventual marriage didn’t exactly work out for Anne, ending with her being beheaded after being found guilty on fabricated and largely trumped up charges.
But her daughter, Elizabeth, would become the Queen of England for over five decades and changed the course of history as a result.
13. The Original Members of Queen
Speaking of queens, the breakup of the group Queen was not an easy one for fans to endure.
They were one of the busiest and most successful groups in the 1970s. Sure, they had some clashes. But after years of working together on massive stages, they became burnt out and agreed that each one of them needed to take a little time to themselves.
What Led to the Original Members of Queen Breakup
Despite pop culture stories (and a very popular though arguably fictional recent biopic), the group actually never officially broke up because of any personality or creative differences.
It was when Freddie Mercury died from complications of AIDS in 1991 that the group decided there was no replacing him. Yes, the group still performs live many times with big-named rock stars singing for them, but it’s simply not the same.
12. Michael Jordan and Basketball
After becoming one of the most decorated and most famous players to ever play the game, Michael Jordan decided to walk away from it all. Multiple times. The first retirement was in 1993, saying he had lost his desire to play the sport. Instead, he wanted to play baseball.
But after some time in the minor leagues, he decided to return to the game he was best at. And return he certainly did. Between 1995 and 1998, he played the game with a fury and brought more championship titles to his beloved Chicago Bulls.
What Led to the Michael Jordan and Basketball Breakup
But with his coach and muse Phil Jackson’s pending contract expiration and his own motivation waning, he retired again from the sport in 1999. But, that retirement didn’t last too long either. In 2001, he came back again, this time to play for the Washington Wizards.
After a few seasons disappointed mostly by the players around him and his lack of playoff traction, he eventually retired for good in 2003.
11. Princess Diana and Prince Charles
The public was fascinated by this pairing in the 1980s and remains fascinated by this relationship even to this day, with movies and TV shows centering around the couple still regularly being produced.
In 1981, when she was simply British nobility and a nursery teacher’s assistant, Diana Spencer was thrust into the spotlight with an engagement to Prince Charles. After they were married, she became known as Princess Diana. And people loved her.
What Led to the Princess Diana and Prince Charles Breakup
But as their marriage began to fall apart behind the scenes, thanks largely to affairs and general personality incompatibility, they weren’t able to keep up the careful facade they had created for the public.
They officially separated in 1992, and their divorce was finalized in 1996.
10. Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson
In a world filled with reality TV stars and influencers, it’s hard to remember a simpler time when Nick Lacey and Jessica Simpson let a crew of cameras follow them around for the first three years of their marriage.
But that’s exactly what happened. MTV’s "Newlyweds" was a weird and wonderful reality TV show that made people see both the charm and the challenges of famous people being married to other famous people.
What Led to the Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson Breakup
The popular show that made people fall in love with them, though, may have been part of the end to their own love story. Simpson shared later in interviews and in her book that the show put a lot of pressure on both of them to have the perfect relationship.
And, eventually, it was all too much to handle. They divorced in 2005.
9. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were part of one of the most influential couples in modern American history. If ever America collectively rooted for two people to make it, it was these two.
The redheaded comedian and the Cuban singer were together for over 20 years, during which they had two children, a powerful production company, multiple live shows, and created and starred in one of the most iconic TV shows of all time.
What Led to the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Breakup
But behind-the-scenes they had trouble for years. Between fame, drinking, infidelity and mounting external pressures, they eventually called it quits.
While they both went on to marry other people, they remained business partners and good friends for the rest of their lives. They, sadly, just didn’t work out as a romantic couple.
8. Grimes and Elon Musk
OK, hear us out for this one. The reason this breakup was so hard on everyone is that these two people seemed perfect for each other. The bizarre persona that Grimes put out seemed a perfect match for the over-the-top personality Elon Musk brought to the table.
The fact that a reclusive musician could have a successful partnership with an eccentric billionaire seemed, well, too good to be true.
What Led to the Grimes and Elon Musk Breakup
What's more was the perfectly odd name they gave for their son, X Æ A-Xii Musk. These two went above and beyond when it came to weird celebrity baby names, giving their kid little more than a symbol as a name.
Strangely, it seemed fitting for them — even though they no longer seemed to fit together. They broke up in 2021.
7. Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren
In an age where couples have private, amicable splits that often include joint statements and requests for privacy, this couple’s breakup reminds us just how tumultuous it can actually be behind closed doors.
Or not-so-closed doors...
What Led to the Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren Breakup
When Nordegren found out about Woods' multiple affairs, shattering his seemingly perfect public persona, she apparently chased him out of the house with his own golf club and attacked his car like it was straight out of a Carrie Underwood song.
While some may pretend that hearts break quietly and that couples break up with immense respect for each other, this scene reminds all of us that anger is often a very normal (and natural) part of breaking up, too.
6. Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux
This is not the usual Jennifer Aniston breakup you see on most lists. But that’s partly what makes this heartbreak so palpable. Her marriage to Theroux was supposed to be the happy ending so many people wanted for the actress.
The charismatic and unquestioningly good-looking actor was seemingly the perfect match for the funny and easy-going actress.
What Led to the Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux
But just as quietly as they began officially dating in 2011, the couple announced their official split in 2018. Aniston has even joked that she’s begun using her husband’s old office as a “babe cave.”
Both parties insist there’s no animosity between them. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the world isn’t feeling animosity for the heartbreak.
Sure, boy bands break up. But many of them often get back together. Or, at least, they continue to reunite publicly, so their fans can live out their adolescent fantasies even if only for a day (or a song).
But that doesn’t seem to be the case for the boy band *NSYNC who dominated the late '90s and early 2000s pop hits.
What Led to the *NSYNC Breakup
In 2002, it was announced that the mega-group would go on “temporary hiatus.” But in 2007, it was confirmed that there was nothing temporary about the current split.
While various members have found their footing in other ventures, Justin Timberlake is easily the biggest breakout star of the group. He’s still around, even though many of the other members have fallen from the public’s eye.
4. Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and the Royal Family
When Meghan Markle and Prince Harry became engaged, it felt like a fairytale come true.
But it didn’t take long before the rumors and stories about the frustrations behind the scenes made it clear that there was a disconnect between what the world saw and what the people living in it actually felt.
What Led to the Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and Royal Family Breakup
What nobody really saw coming, though, was the couple publicly declaring in January 2020 they’d be leaving the Royal Family (and its expectations and responsibilities) for the foreseeable future. Claiming a need for more space and better emotional environments to raise their family, they both decided to walk away.
And while the news shook the world, the most surprising part about it was that it wasn’t even the craziest part of 2020.
3. Destiny’s Child
While they had existed as a group with various other members since 1990, the major breakthrough for this female musical powerhouse came with their sophomore album in 1999, titled "The Writing’s on the Wall."
With power and money struggles going on in the background, they once again transformed into a trio that featured two of the band’s original members, Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland, plus Michelle Williams.
What Led to the Destiny's Child Breakup
But even multiple pop hits couldn’t keep this group together. They eventually recorded their final studio album in 2004. With Beyoncé already rising into superstardom, it was hard to keep them all together.
They have reunited a number of times, including most recently in 2018 during Beyoncé’s unforgettable performance at Coachella.
2. United Kingdom and the European Union (aka Brexit)
What culminated in the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on Jan. 31, 2020, was excruciating to watch play out on the global stage.
Local elections were held in 2017 and 2019 under different prime ministers, and the negotiation process as to how a withdrawal would work was extremely divisive within the U.K.
What Led to Brexit
After the vote, polls reported that voters decided to leave the E.U. because it gave the country the best chance to regain control over immigration and its own borders.
That said, any British citizen who had enjoyed the freedom to work and live between the U.K. and other European countries can no longer do so. This is a split that will definitely continue to be interesting to watch.
1. The U.S. and Great Britain
If we're going to talk about Brexit, then let's go back a few centuries.
It’s fair to say that the breakup between the colonies formerly known as British America and the Empire of Great Britain was one of the biggest, bloodiest and most game-changing breakups of all time.
What Led to the U.S. and Great Britain Breakup
While the history is complicated and shouldn’t be casually summed up into one or two quippy sentences, it’s fair to say the split was official in July of 1776.
While there were years of bad blood and warfare that raged on, tensions did eventually cool down between these exes. And, over the years, they’ve even gotten on good terms again, joining as allies in various causes.
So, there is hope that you can be friends with your ex. It's just best to have a sea between the two of you.