CATHERINE ZETA-JONES is a multi-award winning actress of stage and screen, once voted the most popular Welsh female of all-time in an internet opinion poll aimed at finding the top 100 Welsh Heroes.
Not bad for the tap-dancing, hyperactive daughter of a sweet factory owner from Swansea, who went on to conquer The West End, Broadway and Hollywood and become the talk of the town for her marriage to double Oscar winner Michael Douglas.
Known worldwide for her beauty, not to mention her charitable efforts, Zeta-Jones managed to achieve all this despite her battles with depression and intermittent career struggles.
Born September 25, 1969, in Swansea and raised in the nearby town of Mumbles, she was named after her grandmothers, Zeta Jones and Catherine Fair.
Her mother sent her to the Hazel Johnson School of Dance when she was four years old. She was educated at the Dumbarton House School, a private school in Swansea.
In 1981, Zeta-Jones played the lead role of Annie in a local production of the musical, which was staged at the Swansea Grand Theatre.
When she was 14, former Monkees star Micky Dolenz was touring Britain in a musical that required the participation of local teens in each city it visited. She auditioned for the Welsh version of the show and won a chorus spot. She so impressed the producers that they whisked her off to London to star in a production of The Pyjama Game.
Describing her teenage years in London, Zeta-Jones said, “I would queue up for auditions and then change my costume or put on a different leotard and audition again. It might take me two tries, but I always got the job. I figured out what they wanted”.
She went on to attend the independent Arts Educational Schools in Chiswick, London, for a three-year course in musical theatre.
“I didn’t even think about movies where I came from,” said Zeta-Jones. “I wanted to be on the stage. When I was 10, I did Annie in the West End. I did Bugsy Malone when I was 11 and 12. And then at 16, David Merrick saw me in 42nd Street. I took over the lead and he cast me. I was there for two and a half years.”
Having launched her stage career in London, Zeta-Jones was cast in the popular Yorkshire Television comedy/drama series The Darling Buds of May, based on the novels of HE Bates, in 1991. Hundreds of actresses were interviewed for Mariette on The Darling Buds before Jones was cast in the role at age 22.
The series was the highest-rated television show in the country at the time, and Zeta-Jones gained wide public recognition for it; she said, “Literally, with one hour of television my life completely changed. I couldn’t go anywhere!”
After numerous television roles, she portrayed Palene, the beautiful Thracian prophetess and woman of Spartacus, in Jeff Wayne’s 1992 Musical Version of Spartacus. Coincidentally, the role of Spartacus was played by her future father-in-law, Kirk Douglas, in Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 motion picture Spartacus.
She subsequently played supporting roles in several films including Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992), the mini-series Catherine the Great (1995) and a larger role as the seductive Sala in The Phantom (1996) before landing her breakthrough role playing the fiery Elena opposite Anthony Hopkins (born just down the road from Zeta-Jones in Margam) and Antonio Banderas in the action adventure film The Mask of Zorro (1998).
She then captivated audiences in the heist film Entrapment (1999), opposite screen legend Sean Connery and starred in other big-budget blockbusters like The Haunting (1999) and Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000), for which she earned a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of the wife of a drug-runner.
In November 2000, she married her fiancé of 10 months, actor Michael Douglas, who shares her birthday and who is 25 years her senior, at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. A traditional Welsh choir sang at the wedding, as did her friend, singer Bonnie Tyler. Her wedding ring includes a Celtic motif and was bought in the Welsh town of Aberystwyth. Her wedding dress was designed by Christian Lacroix.
The high-profile ceremony, was said to have cost an estimated £1.5 million, and was labelled as the ‘wedding of the year’.
“I do think I’m lucky I met Michael,” said Zeta-Jones, who gave birth to their son Dylan Michael in August 2000 followed by daughter, Carys, in April 2003. “Not just Michael Douglas the actor and producer with two Oscars on the shelf, but Michael Douglas, the love of my life. I really do think it was meant to happen.”
She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as murderous vaudevillian Velma Kelly in the screen adaptation of the Broadway musical comedy Chicago (2002). She was also nominated for a Golden Globe and took home the Critics’ Choice Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.
She then appeared opposite George Clooney in the Coen Brothers’ dark comedy Intolerable Cruelty (2003), Ocean’s Twelve (2004) and reprised her starring role in the sequel The Legend of Zorro (2005).
Returning to the stage, she won the Tony Award for Lead Actress in a Musical for her critically acclaimed Broadway debut as aging actress Desirée Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music.
Other starring roles came in Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal, opposite Tom Hanks, and the romantic comedy No Reservations (2007).
The 2009 Sunday Times estimated her and husband Michael Douglas’ net worth at $278 million.
In 2010, she was awarded a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for her services to the film industry and charity.
But that same year, her husband Douglas was diagnosed with tongue cancer, and Zeta-Jones faced an emotionally turbulent time. This trigger led to Zeta-Jones suffering from depression, and despite initial apprehension, she spoke publicly about her Bipolar II disorder.
She sought treatment by checking herself into hospital in 2011, and again in 2013. Owing to the stress of both their illnesses, the couple decided to live separately in 2013, though without taking legal action towards separation or divorce. They reconciled in 2014, with Douglas stating that they were “stronger than ever”.
Zeta-Jones continued to work intermittently in the 2010s, starring in the films Side Effects (2013) and Red 2 (2013), as well as the television miniseries Feud (2017), in which she portrayed Olivia de Havilland.
She more recently starred in the Lifetime tele-film Cocaine Godmother, chronicling the infamous life of the notorious drug lord, Griselda Blanco.
Zeta-Jones’s beauty and sex appeal have been described by several sources, including People magazine, who ranked her first in their listing of the ‘Most Beautiful People’ in 1998. She continued to feature in the list from 2000–04. In 2003, the magazine Esquire labelled her the most beautiful woman on the planet.
Zeta-Jones briefly dabbled with a singing career. She released the singles For All Time in 1989, In the Arms of Love and I Can’t Help Myself in 1995 and a duet with David Essex, True Love Ways, which was her only chart single. It appeared at #38 in the UK Top 75 singles chart in 1994.
Her production company is Milkwood Films, named after the play Under Milk Wood by Welsh writer Dylan Thomas. She and Thomas are both from Swansea.
Away from stage and screen, Catherine launched her signature home decor collection, Casa Zeta-Jones on QVC. The line features everything from luxurious bedding, bath towels, table linens and rugs, designed to complement any style and space.
In addition to her acting career, Zeta-Jones supports various charities and causes. She is a patron of Swansea’s Longfields Day Centre for the disabled, and has made sizeable donations to the centre. In 2001, she auctioned an outfit she wore in The Mask of Zorro to raise funds for AIDS patients in Africa. In 2005, she became the ambassador of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children charity, and launched the Full Stop appeal in Wales to raise awareness on child abuse.
Never forgetting her roots, in 2019, she was honoured with the Freedom of the City of Swansea.
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