Marlo Thomas’ spouse was a virgin before his first marriage that led to 5 kids and anger at church

They say soulmates find one another no matter what. And sometimes, you might have to make a few mistakes before you finally get to the person meant for you.

Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue both found each other after Phil’s first marriage failed and now they have created a bond that has lasted a lifetime…

Phil Donahue rose to fame in the public eye with his show, “The Phil Donahue Show,” which was later rebranded as just “Donahue.” The show ran for 29 years and was the first of its kind to feature audience participation.

There was one guest on his show that totally changed the trajectory of his life; Marlo Thomas.

But Phil had a romantic history long before he met Thomas. The television show host, wrote about it all in his book, “Donahue: My Own Story.” In the book, he wrote about his first marriage to Margaret Cooney. He talked about how before that marriage, he had been a virgin. Donahue fathered his first child with Margaret as well, and revealed in the book that he avoided the draft because of fatherhood.

In his earlier years, Phil had been a devout catholic and was also a former choirboy in his youth. But his disdain for the Catholic church began after his divorce from Cooney.

His marriage was annulled in the church which did not sit right with him. He said in an interview, “The process is medieval and un-Christian. A group of celibate men decide whether an agreement you made 20 years ago was valid in the eyes of the church[…]In my case, that union brought five children into the world. How do I explain it to them?”

Phil said his first marriage to Cooney had resulted in five children and did not know how he would explain that to the church. Due to the fact that he divorced and subsequently remarried without annulling his first marriage, Phil was not allowed to receive sacraments from the church.

Regarding this, he said, “Now, at weddings and funerals, people crawl over me to get to the [Communion) rail. I guess it is public punishment for my sin.”

Then entered Marlo Thomas. In 2013 she wrote a piece in the AARP in which she revealed that she did not believe in marriage in the 1970s because it felt to her like they were vacuum cleaners that sucked out all the ambition out of a person.

But in 1977 after she met Donahue, her views began to change. She recalls, him as a handsome, charming Irishman. They went to dinner soon after their first meeting, and Donahue told her that he never intended on marrying again.

Marlo did not have an issue with that because she felt similarly. She recalls, “I think one of the reasons our relationship blossomed into more than either of us had thought it would… is that we weren’t burdened by the pressure felt by younger people looking for mates.”

The couple was based in different cities, Donahue resided in Chicago with his four sons, while Marlo’s career and roots were in Los Angeles.

Even with the distance, the two of them decided to make it work. “Sometimes we all must rethink our lives, focusing not on what we thought they would be but, rather, on what they could be,” Thomas recalled. She also admitted that the relationship might not have been able to stand the test of distance had she and Phil been younger and hence less patient with one another.

She had been in her late 30s while Phil was in his 40s. “For many, love really is better the second time around, but for me, the first time has been just fine.”

She has also said on occasion that a marriage only works if both the people in it are committed to it and make it through the “fire.”

The couple recalled their first meeting years later on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” where they both agreed it was an instant connection.

“It was kind of love at first sight. Or something. Something chemical happened,” Marlo said.

The couple famously tied the know on May 21, 1980. In their book, “What Makes a Marriage Last,” they recount everything they did right. The biggest challenge according to Marlo was, “The biggest challenge for me was that our romance had to take a backseat part of the time. I went from having two dogs to having four boys and a husband.”

The couple had to readjust their lives. They started having family meals, instead of eating dinner infront of the television like everyone was used to. This helped Phil develop a closer bond to his children as well.

Marlo became the step-mom the boys needed and whipped the house into shape. Marlo herself had great parents to look up to, she is the daughter of late comedian Danny Thomas.


She often talks about her dad, she said on the occassion of recieving her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in December 1992, that she was a “daddy’s girl.”

In her show “That Girl,” her character is quite religious and she credits the inspiration to her father. She said, “Daddy wanted me to stay a virgin till I married. He would say: ‘Virginity is a gift you give your husband on his honeymoon night! But I added a line of my own: ‘If you lose it, you will have to show up empty-handed!'”

Everything seemed to be doing well for Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue when heartbreak struck. Donahue’s youngest son James “Jim” Donahue suddenly died suddenly because of an aortic aneurysm in April 2014. He was 51 years old at the time of his passing.

The family mourned the immense loss, with Marlo describing James as a great light in the family. She added that he was a funny character and had an independent spirit.

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The couple has now been married for over forty years and have withstood the test of time. To discuss the secret of their long-term marriage, they appeared on “The Drew Barrymore Show” and said that marriage need both people to put in effort, since just one person cannot carry the entire burden.

In another interview with the Washington Post, they said both people cannot be angry at the same time. Marlo said, “Everybody goes a little nutty at one time or the other, right? But if you both panic at the same time, you’ll also get into a bigger fight.”

She also adds that keeping a marriage together is no easy feat, “Those whose marriages survive share in common that they didn’t run away from challenges. Yes, there are extreme hardships in a lifetime … loss of money, loss of a child or infidelity.”

However, Marlo draws the line at fidelity, citing the example of a man who had a child out of wedlock with a woman who was not his wife, she said, “His wife now says she has five children and her husband has six. I’d have thrown Phil out of the house.”

Even with over 40 years of marriage under their belt, they still have more memories to make.

Marriage is truly a beautiful bond and it becomes all the more better when two people commit to it truly.

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