George Clooney Said He Was Responsible for the Failure of His Marriage to Talia Balsam

“I just don’t feel like I gave Talia a fair shot.”

George Clooney, Talia Balsam
George Clooney, Talia Balsam. Photo: Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Who: Actress Talia Balsam (born: 1959), and Oscar-winning actor, producer, writer, and director George Clooney (born: 1961).

How They Met: According to a 1996 Vanity Fair profile, Balsam and Clooney hit it off while co-starring in a "local play" in 1984. She broke up with him, they got back together, and he proposed, the relationship culminating in a Las Vegas wedding in December 1989.

Why We Loved Them: Clooney's very public disavowal of marriage and subsequent 20-year bachelorhood had yet to commence, and the up-and-comer was just another young, mulleted actor in love. Ah.

When They Peaked: Despite its eventual unraveling, the relationship seemed to be based on real love. Clooney told VF that he "married the one girl that I truly loved and had loved for years." And to this day, two-decade-long rejection of marriage and contentious divorce notwithstanding, neither actor has said a bad word about the other.

The Breakup: The marriage didn't last long, and Clooney allegedly filed for divorce in late 1992. Then came the never-ending press tour.

The ER star famously told Barbara Walters "I won't marry again" in 1995, his reason being that he "wasn't very good at" marriage.

"I probably — definitely — wasn't someone who should have been married at that point," he told VF the following year. "I just don't feel like I gave Talia a fair shot," he went on, adding, "I was responsible for the failure of that marriage."

Matters were further complicated when it came to legal counsel. "I would say to Talia, 'You tell me how much — what you think is fair. I'll write the check. I won't negotiate,'" he remembered. "Instead, I paid $80,000 in lawyers' fees. And that makes me crazy."

George Clooney and Talia Balsam
Ralph Dominguez/MediaPunch/Alamy

Clooney clarified his stance, as he would come to do many times in the ensuing years, telling The L.A. Times, "She didn't do anything to me. We had a relationship that didn't work out, most of it is my own fault. That's not me trying to nail me first. I can look at it like it was a TV show. I was the one in the relationship who wasn't willing to fix things."

"For me, it was about children," he continued, "Everybody keeps telling me I have to have children, and they keep betting I will" — literally. Nicole Kidman and Michelle Pfeiffer bet the actor $10,000 (each) that he'd have kids by 40. "They think it's that I hate kids," he said of his reluctance to become a father, "but I adore them." The Moulin Rouge star followed through when Clooney's 40th passed, sending a check, but the actor declined to take it, countering with double or nothing for his 50th.

"I don't want to be the guy who comes in and does it half-assed, the way I've done many things in my life," he said of parenthood. "The minute something is tremendously difficult, I lose some sort of interest. And I don't ever want to have the responsibility of messing somebody up like that."

When Balsam starred in HBO's Divorce, naturally, she was asked about her own dealings with the title subject: how her divorce compared to that of Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church's characters.​​

"If you're trying to compare [George] to Thomas Haden Church's character, not at all," she told People. "Absolutely, George is charming. He remains charming. I've worked with him."

Where They Are Now:

Balsam went on to wed another leading man, Mad Men star John Slattery, in 1998. The actors share a son, Harry.

The actress, who played her real-life husband's wife in the AMC series for which both she and Slattery are arguably best-known, was recently seen in Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark.

Clooney shrugged off his long-term bachelorhood in 2014 when he wed international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney (née Alamuddin). The couple welcomed twins Alexander and Ella in June 2017.

The Ocean's Eleven star's latest directorial effort, The Tender Bar, premiered in 2021.

#TBT: Check in every Thursday as we throw it back to some of our favorite celebrity couples of all time.

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