NASHVILLE, Tennessee -- Al Gore once claimed his romance with wife Tipper inspired the novel "Love Story" and the couple shared an uncomfortably long kiss before millions on the stage of the Democratic National Convention.
Now, after a 40-year marriage that survived the near-death of a child and the heartache of losing the disputed 2000 presidential election, the former high school sweethearts are calling it quits.
"After a great deal of thought and discussion, we have decided to separate," the Gores wrote in an e-mail to friends on Tuesday. "This is very much a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together."
Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider confirmed the statement came from the Gores, but declined to comment further.
The Gores told friends they "grew apart" after four decades of marriage and there was no affair involved, according to two longtime close associates and family friends.
The couple had carved out separate lives over time, with the 62-year-old former vice president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate on the road frequently, said the associates, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the couple's behalf.
"Their lives had gotten more and more separated," one of the friends said.
The couple, who own homes in Nashville and Gore's hometown of Carthage, Tennessee, had reportedly purchased an $8.8 million estate in Montecito, California, this spring.
Married on May 19, 1970, at the National Cathedral in Washington, the Gores crafted an image of a happy couple during his eight-year stint as vice president in the 1990s and a presidential candidate in 2000.
Their warm relationship stood in sharp contrast to the Clinton marriage rocked by Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, a scandal that hung over Gore's own presidential campaign.
At the time, Gore said his wife was "someone I've loved with my whole heart since the night of my high school senior prom." Then, as if to prove it, he planted that long, awkward kiss on her during the 2000 Democratic presidential convention.
Such public affection did much to enliven the former vice president's stuffy image. Tipper Gore, 61, painted a picture of a playful relationship, saying in a 2000 interview with The Associated Press that she teased her husband while he prepared for presidential debates by e-mailing him "lascivious" messages.
"He e-mails me back and says, 'I'm losing my concentration now,"' she said.
"He's a little bit more of a gregarious flirt than people would realize -- all within bounds," she added.
In a speech to the 2004 Democratic convention, Gore said he wanted to thank "with all my heart my children and grandchildren, and especially my beloved partner in life, Tipper."
The "Love Story" claim came in 1997, when Gore told a reporter he and Tipper were the inspiration for Erich Segal's 1970s best-seller. A surprised Segal said that Gore, whom he knew at Harvard, had inspired one side of his male hero's personality -- the one controlled by a domineering father -- but his book had nothing to do with Tipper Gore.
In a letter written to then-girlfriend Tipper as a 17-year-old college freshman, Al Gore hinted at that dynamic. "Mother's having a fit about me riding the motorcycle back to Harvard. Dad's mad at my long hair," he wrote.
The Gores have four children, Karenna, Kristin, Sarah and Albert III, all now adults. Their son underwent rehab treatment in 2007 after marijuana and prescription drugs were found in his car when he was pulled over for driving 100 mph in his Toyota Prius.
After losing the 2000 election, Gore turned his attention to climate change, undertaking a worldwide campaign which led in 2007 to a Nobel Peace Prize and an Oscar for the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."
The couple were married about six months when Gore deployed to Vietnam as an Army public information officer. When he got home, he landed a job as a reporter at The Tennessean in Nashville, and his wife worked there as a photographer. Her interest in photography continued after she left journalism and she usually had a camera with her while helping her husband on his campaigns.
Gore later served in his father's former seats in Congress for 16 years.
Determined to avoid pitfalls that snared his father, who was accused of being out of touch, Gore kept a punishing schedule, traveling home to Tennessee for open meetings three weekends a month -- and leaving wife Tipper alone in Washington with their four young children.
Gore first ran for president in 1988 at age 39 but drew little support outside the South. A planned bid for the 1992 nomination was put aside after the Gores' 6-year-old son Albert III almost died after being hit by a car in 1989.
"It was a very spiritual time for both of us," Tipper Gore later wrote. "In Al's case, he decided to write a book and not to run for president in 1992."
The book was "Earth in the Balance," and Al Gore ended up in the thick of the 1992 campaign anyway -- as Bill Clinton's running mate.
In Washington, the Gores were a power couple -- with a light-hearted touch. On Halloween, they would dress in costumes to greet trick-or-treaters at the vice president's mansion. One year she was a puppy and he was dressed as Underdog.
In the 2000 campaign interview, Tipper acknowledge Al had his faults. He once gave her a Weedeater for her birthday, but he learned to be more sensitive over the years, she said.
"He's very much a gentleman you know, with me around the house," Tipper said. "I know he's dog tired and he could be sitting down and doing something and I need something across the room, he'll get up and get it."