Published February 13, 2004
NEW YORK – One of America's most famous couples is calling it quits. Are you sitting down?
After 43 years together, Barbie and Ken (search) — as in the dolls — have decided that breaking up is hard to do, but do it they must.
Since they're dolls — and famous — Barbie and Ken had no direct comment about their split at the International Toy Fair (search), where the bombshell was dropped. The news predictably came from their spokespeople during a press conference Thursday.
"This is an announcement we thought we’d never make," said Barbie’s publicist, Ken Sunshine (search). "I will confirm that Ken and Barbie are going to go their separate ways."
The circumstances surrounding the famous couple's break were hazy, though their spokespeople assured the press they split up on good terms.
"The flame of love has gone out," said Ken's publicist, A. Russell Arons — who doubles as Mattel Inc.'s (search) vice president of marketing for Barbie. "The tolls of Hollywood romance are well known."
Arons and Sunshine described it as a "sad" and "reflective" day.
Devastated Barbie-and-Ken-friendly homes across the country were suddenly faced with the task of explaining the breakup to their children — and finding separate toy boxes for the pair. Sunshine said he'd been barraged with e-mails from fans.
Arons suggested moms and dads handle it "much like a parent may someday have to explain a divorce" and assure their little girls that Barbie and Ken would always care for each other and be friends.
Cynics called the split a desperate publicity stunt by the couple's company, Mattel Inc., which has seen Barbie's popularity and revenues in the U.S. drop recently despite her numerous image makeovers and new products.
But Arons brushed aside the implication that Mattel might toss Barbie out on her ear.
"Mattel would never dump Barbie," she said.
Barbie was holed up in her Dream House with friends and family, according to Sunshine, who also represents human Hollywood stars Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake and Leonardo DiCaprio. It wasn't clear where Ken was staying.
A statement the handsome man-doll had prepared was read at the press conference.
"Barbie and I decided to spend some time apart," the statement read. "She's got a new look ... I'm confident we will always stay friends."
When asked about the catalyst for the split, Arons simply said it was the "toll of the fourth movie" they starred in together — a musical due out in the fall called "Barbie as The Prince and the Pauper" — and the pressure of being in the limelight.
Sunshine declined to offer specifics on the relationship's demise, and asked the press to "please, please respect their privacy."
Sunshine and Arons had no comment as to whether there was another "Ken" in Barbie's life.
"Barbie is actually going through something difficult," Arons said, adding that Barbie was just "a woman exercising options."
But after the news conference, Mattel Girls Division Vice President Julia Jensen dished that in the upcoming months "there may be a new blush in Barbie's life."
Longtime rumors surrounding Ken's androgyny and sexual orientation were quickly dismissed Thursday. Arons said the split had nothing to do with Ken's sexuality and that the couple loved each other.
"He is not of mixed gender," she said.
And other whisperings that Barbie and Ken are secretly sister and brother weren't even touched on.
The couple — whose romance seemed so picture-perfect that other successful pairings in and out of Hollywood were frequently dubbed "Barbie and Ken" — met on the set of their first television commercial in 1961.
Their relationship unfolded much like any other Hollywood romance, though it lasted quite a bit longer. They fell madly in love and quickly became joined at the hip, as the saying goes. They even worked together on several projects. It was a fairytale, really. That is, until the unhappy ending.
Some said the relationship dissolved because the pressure of being in the public eye became too great — even after 43 years. Others gossiped that Ken's ambiguous sexuality and Barbie's disproportionate figure finally took their toll.
Still others blamed the break on the fact that Barbie's career and popularity continued to overshadow Ken's. Then there were those who maintained that they were just a plastic couple from the beginning.
Ken's publicist denied that the all-American doll guy felt overshadowed by his gorgeous doll gal.
"For four decades Ken has been a real supporter of Barbie. We've all joked about it, but he really enjoyed being Mr. Barbie," Arons said.
Still, the question remains whether or not Barbie's fame finally did come between the pair.
"Ken played a role in every movie, but Barbie certainly was the star," Jensen added later. "But he's got strong shoulders. I wouldn't want to put words in his mouth. His official statement is that he's obviously thrilled with her success."
The twosome's relationship might be over, but their troubles aren't, especially when it comes to the settlement.
They'll be faced with the task of divvying up the hundreds of possessions they've amassed over the years, such as the Barbie Bubble Bath, camper, townhouse and several vehicles.
As for the mansion in Malibu?
"The Dream House has always been Barbie's," Arons said.