Julia Roberts’ movie Runaway Bride in 1999 truly was a case of art imitating life.
The film, which saw the second iconic pairing of Roberts and co-star Richard Gere, followed the life and career of a woman who makes a habit of leaving people at the altar.
And Roberts’ real life saw a remarkably similar series of events take place in 1991, just eight years before the film premiered.
At the time, Roberts was set to tie the knot with fellow actor Kiefer Sutherland when she pulled the pin on their impending marriage at the very last minute.
The story of their almost-marriage feels like it was lifted straight out of a romantic comedy.
Roberts and Sutherland met on the set of the 1990 film Flatliners and became engaged quite quickly. They were slated to marry in June of 1991.
She was arguably the most famous woman in the world, and this wedding that was supposed to be something between the two of us, became something so big.
Their romance was already off to a slightly controversial start – Roberts had only recently called off her engagement to actor Dylan McDermott and Sutherland was in the middle of finalising his divorce to ex-wife Camelia Kath.
The couple’s wedding was set to be quite the spectacle, with plans to marry in a ceremony held on the 20th Century Fox’s soundstage, with a raft of Hollywood guests.
Everything was in place for Roberts and Sutherland to become Tinseltown’s most famous married couple. But it all fell apart just days before the wedding.
Three days before Roberts was due to walk down the aisle, she called off the wedding and flew across the country.
The Pretty Woman actress had allegedly caught wind of reports about a cheating scandal.
People magazine had reported Sutherland had cheated on his fianceé with another woman he’d met at a strip club. This claim was never substantiated.
Soon after the story broke, Sutherland was seen checking into a hotel. He then called off his bucks party and was seen moving out of the couple’s shared home.
At the same time, Roberts had fled the US and was spending time in Ireland with an unlikely shoulder to cry on. It was Sutherlands’ best friend and his would-be Best Man at the wedding, actor Jason Patric.
This triggered a tabloid scandal of epic proportions for Roberts, who was accused of leaving her fiancé for his best friend.
Sutherland, for his part, reportedly only heard the wedding was called off from a mutual friend.
He also saw his ex-fiancé and best friend splashed across the papers during the week that should have been his honeymoon.
Roberts and Patric took some time to lay low in Ireland before returning to the US – this time as a fully-fledged couple.
Their relationship ended as quickly as it started, with the pair calling things off in 1992.
But Roberts’ reputation as a “runaway bride” was cemented in Hollywood. The actress, who of course went on to have a stellar career in rom-coms, refused to speak about her failed romances with Sutherland and Patric.
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The real details of their split weren’t made public until 25 years later. In 2016, Sutherland decided to break his silence on his brief engagement to Roberts during an appearance on The Jess Cagle Interview.
And it seemed there was no longer bad blood between the ex-fiancés.
“I think she had courage. It wasn’t what she wanted to do in the end. And I think it took a lot of courage, in amongst all of that other stuff, to be able to say, “I can’t do this,'” Sutherland revealed.
“We were both young, and we were both very much in love, we had decided that we wanted to get married, but then this other thing kind of took over.
He added: “She was arguably the most famous woman in the world, and this wedding that was supposed to be something between the two of us, became something so big.”
The love triangle sufficiently fed tabloid headlines for several years. Roberts didn’t address the rumour mill until a 1994 interview with The Rolling Stone, where she rubbished some of the leaked details.
“I’ve read ‘days before,’ ‘hours before,’ ‘minutes before’,” she said of her decision to call off the wedding.
“And the fact is, it doesn’t matter how many times you say it – he wasn’t waiting at the altar, it wasn’t the day before, somebody else didn’t tell him, he didn’t see it on TV – people don’t want to know.”
After his 1991 split from Roberts, Sutherland went on to marry Kelly Linn from 1996 until 2004.
Roberts married singer Lyle Lovett from 1993 to 1995, before finding love with cinematographer Danny Moder. The couple have been happily married since 2002.
Roberts is far more open about her marriage to Moder, which she once described as a “dream come true”.
“It’s just never consumed me, being an actor. It is my dream come true, but it is not my only dream come true,” Roberts told CBS in 2022.
“The life that I have built with my husband [and] the life that we’ve built with our children, that’s the best stuff. To come home at the end of the day, triumphantly, to them.”