Barring a last-minute reconciliation, Larry King is about to get unhitched for the eighth time. This despite the fact that his wife, Shawn Southwick, is 26 years younger and about a foot taller than he is. In other words, a perfect match. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the exMrs. King club will soon welcome its seventh member only seven, because one of the Mrs. Kings served two tours. And Mr. King will be back in the dating pool.
Losing a life partner or two could happen to anyone, but going through seven requires some effort. The vast majority of Americans about 97% wimp out and do not wed more than three times. As an octospouse, the 76-year-old King is in rarefied company. Elizabeth Taylor has also hatched and dispatched eight unions. (Recent reports of a ninth have proved erroneous.) So has Mickey Rooney. Zsa Zsa Gabor has been married nine times. William Shatner has an impressive number of exes, as do Billy Bob Thornton and Joan Collins. Like news anchoring, the field of extreme spouse collecting is dominated by women who were once considered very good-looking and men who almost never were.
The official record holder until recently, it's gratifying to note, was not a celebrity. The late Linda Wolfe of Indiana had 23 ex-husbands, although she admitted she married the last one as a publicity stunt. The other 22 were thus completely, totally genuine and heartfelt, and when last contacted by the press, Wolfe said she wouldn't mind marrying again. She was hoping for a straight man; on the two occasions she married a gay guy, it didn't take.
All of which raises the question: How many marriages are too many? Statistics show that more second marriages break up than first ones and more third marriages about 75% break up than second ones. Given that trajectory, shouldn't a referee step in after the third or fourth and suspend play for the good of all?
In no other area of life can grown people flame out so often and so badly and still get official permission to go ahead and do the same thing again. If your driving is hazardous to those around you, your license is suspended. Fail too many courses at college, and you'll get kicked out. You can lose your medical or law license for a single infraction. Stock analyst Henry Blodgett was prohibited from trading securities forever for publicly saying things he knew weren't true. So why do people who are committed vows abusers keep getting handed marriage licenses at city hall? If batters and violent offenders get only three strikes, why should bad spouses get more?
Of course, a lot of people will say this is nobody's business but the bride and groom's. Plus, it's natural. Evolution favors the alpha-male serial monogamist who bonds with a mate until she gets old and is replaced by a more fertile one. Other primates change partners all the time. But other primates also practice infanticide and poop throwing, and we're not about to sanction either of those. So why are we complicit in allowing people to make big public promises they have demonstrated a chronic inability to keep? When we pore over their wedding pictures in People, it's as enabling as installing a fun-house mirror in the bathroom of an anorexic.
It's not that the multiple marriers want to get divorced or hate marriage. It's that they like it too much, even though it's not good for them. So perhaps applicants for, say, a fifth marriage license should be required to get therapy. Obsessive clean freaks, for example, are trained to touch something dirty and then wait increasingly long intervals before they wash. Someone like King could be introduced to a tall blonde and then be made to wait 10 minutes before proposing. From there, he could work up to a full hour.
Marital addicts might also be issued a patch, like those that smokers trying to quit use. Instead of delivering a diminishing supply of nicotine, the Matrimonial Rough Patch™ could simulate the emotions of being hitched. After an initial euphoric bonding period, wearers would start to feel irritable, misunderstood and then taken for granted and vaguely repulsed the entire nuptial cycle, and nobody needs a lawyer.
Then again, perhaps we should just leave the serial splitters alone. There's a little of Liz and Larry and Linda in every couple; we are all occasionally convinced that we married the wrong person. If King has taught us anything I mean anything apart from how to wear suspenders with a straight face it's that there are plenty of people to marry. The real question is whether you can make it work with the one you end up with.
And if you can't, well, don't feel too bad. Especially if you like guys who know the value of a lasting talk show.