The Real Reason Jim Carrey Divorced His First Wife

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Jim Carrey looking somber Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

By Kelsey Riddle/Jan. 14, 2021 4:02 pm EST/Updated: Jan. 15, 2021 12:46 pm EST

Comedic legend Jim Carrey has had his fair share of high-profile romances — but who was the woman who supported him during his climb to the top? Melissa Carrey (née Womer) first met Jim Carrey in the 1980s, when they were both struggling to put food on the table — literally. The Spokesman-Review reported that in the early days of their marriage, Melissa "held two jobs," while "Jim made $25 a night doing standup."

When their seemingly-perfect love story began, no one had ever heard of a pet detective, and Jim was still miles away from the A-list. But despite the early support and the shared experience of struggle, Jim and Melissa's marriage ended up as more of a Hollywood cliche than the perfect picture of domestic happiness. A very public, messy divorce ensued, and Jim, of course, went on to become one of the biggest superstars in the world. Melissa, on the other hand, has seemingly disappeared from the spotlight entirely — so much so that we couldn't even find a photo of her. 

So, what exactly went wrong? Let's go behind the laughs as we investigate the real reason Jim Carrey divorced his first wife. 

Jim Carrey found love at The Comedy Store

A young Jim Carrey smirking in a portrait session Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

Jim Carrey was still a struggling Los Angeles stand-up comedian when he met Melissa Womer at the Comedy Store, the club that helped give Carrey his start as the performer we know and love today. Womer, who moved to Los Angeles from Arizona at the age of 17 to pursue her Hollywood dreams, was a cocktail waitress at the popular club where Carrey would often perform his bizarre routines. Womer noticed Carrey's talent right away, paying attention to his incredible energy and banter with fellow comics.

In a post-divorce interview with Rolling Stone, Womer (then Melissa Carrey) made no secret (even despite their split) of what she thought of Jim's star power, claiming that "he is what legends are made of." After nearly two years of workplace flirting at the Comedy Store, Jim and Melissa decided to tie the knot. The couple enjoyed a sunset wedding on March 28, 1987 at a hotel in Santa Monica, Calif. Melissa told Rolling Stone that it was "an absolutely perfect day," and that both she and Jim were "bawling like idiots" at the prospect of uniting for life. 

Jim Carrey wasn't Jim Carrey yet when he married his first wife

Jane and Jim Carrey smiling at the premiere of Horton Hears a Who Kevin Winter/Getty Images

It is hard to remember a time when quotes from Jim Carrey's larger-than-life characters were not a basic part of America's vocabulary — even nearly thirty years after Ace Ventura, people are still using an exaggerated "Alrighty, then!" as a way to exit an awkward conversation. But when Melissa Womer and Carrey met, Carrey had nothing but a failed sitcom (The Duck Factory, in 1984) and an obscure stand-up routine under his belt. Per Rolling Stone, his improvised stage act at the time bewildered audience members and friends, and included him imitating a cockroach, stuffing himself inside a baby grand piano and staying there while another comic performed, and "wearing only a sock over his genitals" during a televised performance.

Despite these performances (or maybe because of them, who knows?), Womer decided to plan a future with Carrey. And the couple surely knew that new experiences were on the horizon. At the time of their wedding, Womer was pregnant with their daughter, Jane Carrey (pictured above left), who was born Sept. 6, 1987. Still, the cocktail waitress and the struggling comedian probably had no idea just how much their lives were about to change. 

Jim Carrey's first wife said he was 'extremely depressive'

Jim Carrey looking glum David Livingston/Getty Images

Although he maintains a bright and cheery persona on screen, Jim Carrey has long been plagued by mental health issues that put pressure on his relationships. Melissa Carrey (née Womer) reportedly dealt with Jim's mental health throughout their marriage, describing him (via the Daily Mail) as an "extremely depressive person," and claiming that she would often console him into the wee hours of the night. Songwriter Phil Roy, who lived with Jim before his marriage to Melissa, described Jim's frequent depressive spells; he told Rolling Stone that when Jim was feeling especially down, he would subsist on only "chili and white bread every single night."

Apparently, Jim's battle with mental health issues has never quite subsided. In 2004, he told 60 Minutes (via CBS News) that although Prozac helped him level out his depression, he stopped taking the drug: "There are peaks, there are valleys. But they're all kind of carved and smoothed out, and it feels like a low level of despair you live in. Where you're not getting any answers, but you're living OK. And you can smile at the office. You know? But it's a low level of despair. You know?" In the same interview, Jim claimed that he does not partake in drugs, alcohol, or caffeine in order to keep a balanced mental state. 

Jim Carrey's big break put him in the spotlight

Jim Carrey and the cast of In Living Color accepting an award Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

By 1990, Jim Carrey was used to failure: The Duck Factory had crashed and burned, and he'd been heckled and booed as a stand-up comedian for nights on end. He also performed several doomed Saturday Night Live auditions, one of which, according to varying accounts, may or may not have been seen and rejected by show creator Lorne Michaels. So when fellow stand-up comedian Damon Wayans asked him to audition for a project, Carrey presumably did not expect to be launched into primetime fame overnight on a hot new sketch show, In Living Color. But that's exactly what happened.

The series showcased Carrey's natural goofiness with characters like Fire Marshall Bill (a sketch which Carrey told The Hollywood Reporter was originally supposed to be about the "Make a Death Wish Foundation," where dead kids were granted posthumous wishes) and Vera de Milo. Carrey was suddenly receiving the recognition he had been looking for his entire career, although his fellow cast members did not always think he would go on to do great things. Carrey recalled to The Hollywood Reporter that cast member David Alan Grier "facetiously" told the studio audience that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (which Carrey was writing at the time) was going to make Carrey's career "jump off." The film was a huge hit and Carrey got the last laugh. His marriage, however, would not survive his climb to fame.

Superstardom changed Melissa and Jim Carrey's marriage

 Pet Detective poster Morgan Creek Films

1994 brought big changes for Jim Carrey's career. That year, Carrey starred in three hit movies: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber. Carrey's transition from small-time stand-up to international superstar surely put a strain on the marriage, according to Rolling Stone. The outlet reported that Carrey claimed his newfound fame had his head in the clouds, and that he was unable to handle his old home life. Melissa Carrey bore the brunt of the strain, telling him, "You must come home and put your feet back on the ground and take your garbage out like everyone else, or I can't be married to you." Jim chose his Hollywood pursuit and filed for divorce on Nov. 1, 1994.

In the same Rolling Stone piece, Melissa claimed the reason for the divorce was Jim's desire "to enjoy success from the perspective of a single man." Speaking with The Spokesman-Review in 1995, Melissa said she believed Jim "loathe[d]" her and was no longer the same person she had married: "He's not good husband material. Marriage takes empathy, commitment and sacrifice. The dude has changed." Underneath Jim's unaffected exterior, he was apparently devastated about the dissolution of his marriage. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective director Tom Shadyac told Rolling Stone that he found an embarrassed Jim crying in his trailer over his estranged wife, only willing to shoot once Tom dripped water into his eyes to make it seem like he and Jim were crying together about Tom's problems.

Was infidelity the reason Jim Carrey's first marriage failed?

Jim Carrey and Lauren Holly smiling Tammie Arroyo/Getty Images

Jim Carrey was surrounded by beautiful women in the film industry, yet he clearly still had feelings for his wife (he even celebrated their 6th anniversary in 1993 with a luxurious catered meal and private jazz band). But was he tempted to cheat as his growing fame opened new doors?

By the time Jim and Melissa Carrey's 1995 divorce was complete, Jim was already seeing the woman who would become his second wife: his Dumb and Dumber costar, Lauren Holly. However, the actual date of the separation between Jim and Melissa was sometime in the last half of 1993. Lauren claimed that Jim and Melissa were already separated when she met Jim in 1994, disputing rumors that she was the reason for the divorce: "They keep calling me a home wrecker," Lauren told Rolling Stone, adding, "I feel for Melissa, but they were completely apart when Jim and I met." The outlet also confirmed that Lauren's timeline shows that Jim likely did not cheat on Melissa while they were together (with Lauren, anyway). Alas, the marriage between Jim and Lauren only lasted eight months, and Jim went on to have a string of turbulent relationships after their divorce.

Jim Carrey knows he wasn't the best husband to his first wife

Jim Carrey smiling, looking down Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Jim Carrey did not pretend to be a saint regarding his separation from Melissa Carrey. When asked about his impending divorce, he was quick to claim fault. "Look, I'm a hard guy to live with," he told The New York Times in a 1994 interview. "I'm like a caged animal. I'm up all night walking around the living room. It's hard for me to come down from what I do."

Friends and family seem to agree with Jim's self-assessment — a source close to the funnyman told People that Jim can be "a hard guy to date," and that he "desperately needs to be with someone, then just as desperately needs to be alone." Jim has also expressed an inability to completely commit to a relationship, even telling Rolling Stone in 1995 that as soon as you claim you know who you are meant to be with, "the universe will prove you wrong" (he was with Lauren Holly at the time he gave that quote, which probably did not give her great hope for their future!)

Melissa Carey's high-stakes divorce settlement wasn't enough

Jane Carrey smiling Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Although Melissa Womer married a no-name comedian, Melissa Carrey divorced one of the biggest stars in America, making the split all the more complicated. According to Rolling Stone, Melissa claims she and Jim separated in November 1993, while Jim claims they parted ways on June 15, 1993. This seemingly insignificant four-month difference is a big deal when it comes down to the cold, hard cash — Jim reportedly signed a $450,000 contract for The Mask on June 15, and California's divorce laws would have mandated that he split that money with Melissa if they were still together on the date the contract was signed.

Melissa told The Spokesman-Review that Jim's initial settlement offer was a $500,000 one-time payment and $25,000 per month in additional support (after the settlement, this number was lowered to $10,000 per month). According to Rolling Stone's sources Melissa declined, ""demanding between $5 million and $10 million" to settle the divorce. In 2003, the divorce once again became a newsworthy issue as Melissa contended that $10,000 per month in child support was not enough to fund the lavish lifestyle she wanted her daughter to experience, including a private security detail, horseback riding lessons, and a luxury car amongst other line-items. While that may seem like a lot for a teenager, Melissa made a compelling case for the pay raise, citing in court documents (via The Smoking Gun) her ex-husband's multimillion dollar jets and mansions as evidence that he was good for the cash. The exes eventually settled the matter privately

His divorce from Melissa marked the end of stable relationships for Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey looking sinister Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Jim Carrey's relationships never lasted for long after his first divorce. Following his nine month marriage to Lauren Holly, Carrey has not remarried. Renee Zellweger, whom Carrey referred to in his semi-autobiographical book Memoirs and Misinformation as "his last great love," perhaps came the closest to being the third Mrs. Carrey, as they were engaged from 1999 to 2000. After that, Carrey mostly enjoyed casual relationships until he began dating Jenny McCarthy in 2005.

During Carrey's five-year relationship with McCarthy, he appeared to have nixed future marriages for good, telling Access Hollywood in 2007 that he and McCarthy "are never getting married, but we're never getting divorced, which is fantastic." Indeed, the pair publicly announced a split in 2010 via Twitter, but apparently remained amicable. In her tweet, McCarthy said she "will always keep Jim as a leading man in my heart," while Carrey shared, "I'm grateful 4 the many blessings we've shared and I wish her the very best!"

Carrey's next serious relationship ended in tragedy and scandal, when his girlfriend Cathriona White tragically committed suicide in 2015, and White's estranged husband and mother sued Carrey for wrongful death (a case which was later dismissed). As of this writing, Carrey is not publicly dating anyone, having called it quits with his most recent girlfriend, Kidding costar Ginger Gonzaga, in 2019 after just a year of dating.

Melissa and Jim Carrey continued to work together

Jim Carrey smiling Donna Ward/Getty Images

Surprisingly, Jim and Melissa Carrey worked together after their marriage ended. In Jim's 1999 Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon, Melissa returned to the place she met him, with a bit role as a Comedy Store waitress. Although the two were able to collaborate for this brief reprise, it does not appear that they paired up on any other projects.

Jim and Melissa may not have remained the closest of friends, but they now share another special bond — they have become grandparents! In 2010, an ecstatic Jim tweeted "Jackson Riley Santana, My Grandson, Born today! This is what 7lbs.11oz. of Calfornia dynomite [sic] looks like!" Jackson, the product of a brief marriage between Jim and Melissa's daughter, Jane Carrey, and musician Alex Santana, is apparently adored by his grandfather. Says Jim in a 2020 interview with Lorraine: "We are buddies. He could be my bodyguard. He is an awesome dude."

The relationship between Melissa and Jim Carrey has been a roller coaster of emotional and legal trouble. However, out of all of Jim's relationships, only one has resulted in a daughter and grandson. That, we can guess, makes Jim's first marriage stand out in his mind separately from the rest.

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