Jennifer Lopez: Inside her love stories

Is Jennifer the modern day Elizabeth Taylor?

Love. Love. Love. That’s what defines J.Lo.

It’s undone her so many times, yet she still believes in love even when it doesn’t believe in her, and that’s what makes her one of us.

She’s vulnerable, yes. She thinks that’s what makes her real, and it does of course.

But in fact we don’t like her to be too vulnerable, we like her to experience the highs and lows of her love rollercoaster but for her to always make it through. We like her as a survivor.

It helps that J.Lo is shimmeringly gorgeous at 54. Her fashion sense has never been to follow trends but just to look hot, while maybe having the latest Gucci or Versace in her wardrobe.

It means she’s aspirational, yet able to connect with. It also means she’s classic and ageless.

Jennifer Lopez poses at the CFDA Fashion Awards at the Brooklyn Museum of Art on June 03, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
Jennifer Lopez at the CDFA Fashion Awards with her signature ponytail

Her voluminous high ponytail was created by one of the greatest hair tastemakers, Chris Appleton. He calls it “the fierce ponytail”. Perhaps she is as fierce as she is vulnerable, she certainly embraces extremes and that’s a winning combo.

She has had many loves and four husbands; she generally likes to marry the men she falls for, which has proved somewhat messy.

I called her a latter-day Elizabeth Taylor to her face and she loved it. She likes to change her name to theirs and be fully surrendered.

Thus she is now Mrs Affleck, having married in 2022 the man she was first engaged to in 2002.

It’s an old-fashioned concept in a woman who in so many ways is a female trailblazer. I first met J.Lo in the 1990s when I was working for Britain’s Glamour magazine.

We immediately bonded and in the years that followed, we have developed a relationship beyond that of celebrity diva and journalist.

I liked her immediately for her fabulousness and her frailties, and as our paths continued to cross – with a whole host of further interviews for a range of newspapers and magazines – I have been privileged to glimpse the woman behind the media gossip: A complex, feisty, vulnerable, passionate soul.

As well as an incurable romantic, she is also passionate about her Latin heritage. She was born in New York’s Bronx to Puerto Rican parents and a house filled with music and dance.

Jennifer Lopez and Ojani Noa at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
Jennifer Lopez with her first husband, Ojani Noa.

J.Lo’s first husband, Ojani Noa, was Latin. It lasted barely a year from their wedding in 1997.

He was a glamorous waiter (and later manager) who worked in the restaurant she owned – Madre’s (madre is Spanish for mother) in Pasadena. She would boast it made food just like her own mother’s, Guadalupe Rodriguez.

Sure, it was cosy, but the restaurant was also bland and didn’t receive great reviews.

She and Noa met just after she had filmed the musical biopic Selena (1997) about Selena Quintanilla Pérez, the princess of Latin singing who was tragically murdered in 1995.

 Actress and singer Jennifer Lopez poses for a portrait circa 1992 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Ron Davis/Getty Images)
An early publicity shot in 1992.

The film was a box office hit, earning more than US$35 million, and it also saw Jennifer become the first Latina actress to get a $1 million pay cheque for a movie role.

She was nominated for a Golden Globe which she didn’t win but in an interview with Variety said the movie changed her life as well as the Hollywood landscape.

“It was a Latin movie, starring a Latin girl, playing a Latin artist and a Latin director. And it was like, ‘She’s worth this’. It was a statement to the world.”

J.Lo was now a huge star, outgrowing her marriage.

She started to hang out in New York clubs with controversial rap star Puff Daddy (aka P. Diddy, aka Sean Combs). It all began when they met during the recording of J.Lo’s first album, On The 6 (he was one of the producers).

The attraction was electric and almost overnight they became the entertainment industry’s hottest couple.

Their charisma was obvious, but there was also a danger to the relationship. J.Lo loved Diddy, even if it meant getting arrested, which famously happened in December 1999.

They had witnessed a shooting and were found fleeing the scene with a firearm in their car. Jennifer spent a traumatic night locked in a cell.

Newspaper reports said she cried all night long before the charges against her were dismissed.

Puff Daddy was charged and later put on trial but was eventually acquitted in 2001.

Being arrested would have been most people’s undoing, but the media condemnation was quickly eclipsed by the dazzle of their relationship. After the shooting incident, they were on and off again, which proved a thrilling narrative.

Sean Coombs & Jennifer Lopez   (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
That dress and that rapper…

And then in February 2000, came a media tsunami when Jennifer and Puff Daddy walked the Grammys red carpet together.

This was all about Jennifer: She was wearing the now famous Donatella Versace green dress – silky, flimsy and daringly cut down to below the bellybutton – a sizzling photo which dominated front pages around the world and would go on to be the inspiration for the creation of Google’s image search function.

While the relationship was stormy, they had music in common. Jennifer’s music has always been lush dance, with a confessional riff: “They are happy songs. I got to the point where I felt very happy about where I arrived, but you know I had some rocky roads. Like everyone else in the world I made mistakes, the only difference being I made mine in public.

“You make choices and decisions and all of a sudden my life started falling into place,” she told me.

But whether it was the furore around the upcoming trial or Puff Daddy’s reported infidelity, they finally split in 2001. She married dancer Cris Judd the same year and they stayed together for almost two years.

He was handsome, hot and talented. She liked men who were hot and talented, but perhaps not too hot or too talented. She didn’t want her lovers to compete with her.

And then along came Ben Affleck, only Jennifer was still married. Judd was paid millions in their divorce settlement … Jennifer was now smitten with Affleck. They had fallen in love on the set of the horrible romantic comedy Gigli which rightly flopped at the box office and has the unfortunate reputation of being the worst movie of all time.

But however bad the script, sparks were ignited between the duo.

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)
Sparks flying during the filming of Jersey Girl

The following year the much better Jersey Girl lit up Hollywood and from then on they were known by the portmanteau “Bennifer”.

When I first met Ben, he and Jennifer were renting an apartment in New York. It was very much the kind of apartment a film company would rent.

There was nothing personal in it. Nothing cosy and luxurious. Ben was already arrogant and I didn’t warm to him, but she certainly warmed to him.

Her first husband Noa once said he feared Jennifer would end up in her old age like Elizabeth Taylor – wrecked marriages in her wake and nobody to cuddle up to at night.

J.Lo, who now calls herself Affleck, has never been short of cuddles, but usually she’s looked for cuddles in all the wrong places.

She postponed her first wedding to Affleck just days before it was meant to happen in 2003 and they officially split up in January the following year.

Many people said it was because Gigli was so badly received and the reviews killed their relationship. Other people said the engagement was called off because Affleck partied with Canadian strippers; a story which broke in Canadian newspapers just before the planned wedding and he never denied.

It was actually neither – it turned out that Affleck had lied to her about something (which she’s never talked about publicly) and she found out.

She could handle anything but lies! Jennifer was outraged and hurt, but madly in love with him and has remained so ever since.

In that very basic apartment they had rented in New York, I noticed that her eyes would light up every time he came into the room, and there was a nervousness to their chemistry. I could see she loved him then – even though he was to break her heart with his lies.

She hung on through other relationships and marriages until she returned to this true love of hers. It was always Ben. Apparently.

Jennifer has a real talent for making the ordinary seem extraordinary. In her life she’s had a lot of bad deals and a lot of pain, and somehow that makes her one of us, but also not one of us because she transcends it all.

No matter how badly her love life was going, her professional life never mirrored it. Of course, she was affected by bad boys:

“It was only because I knew how good they could be. Sometimes I find myself attracted to a strong kind of stubborn personality, because I’m like that. I like someone who challenges me a bit, but at the same time is soft-hearted.” See how she loves a contrast, a struggle!

NEW YORK - MAY 01:  Actress Jennifer Lopez and her husband singer Marc Anthony attend the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit Gala: Anglomania at the Metropolitan Museum of Art May 1, 2006 in New York City.  (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
With third husband and father of her twins, Marc Anthony.

She loves this hard and soft thing, and we circle back to it many times. She thinks it’s super sexy, she says. She likes people who live life, she says. She also likes people who live life loudly.

Ben Affleck always lived loudly – whether it was in convertibles or with pink diamonds. He gave her pink diamonds as an engagement ring the first time around and supposedly spent just under $1 million (how Elizabeth Taylor is that?). The pink diamond ring is now valued at over $2 million.

It may be 20 years later, but it’s not a bad return.

J.Lo is the daughter of a kindergarten teacher mother and a computer technician father and always worked hard: “I used to do that because it filled the void.” If a movie wasn’t great, she would throw herself into it so utterly until it was.

She called her 2005 album Rebirth. I was with her when she decided on the name. She felt it was the start of something new and exciting, although she didn’t actually want to change. She thought she did.

She liked to be defined by her capacity to love and she will not concede that any of her past relationships were destructive.

“Nothing is bad, it’s only challenging,” she says and she believes it.

In 2004 she married Latin superstar Marc Anthony and together they had twins Max and Emme in February 2008. But the relationship didn’t last.

They separated in July 2011 and the divorce was finalised in 2014.

At the time, she told People magazine that she wasn’t sure if she would get married a fourth time: “You know I’ve always believed in that institution. I believe in it, but it’s difficult. I’ve had my challenges.”

She doesn’t detail them, of course, I think just because she and Anthony seemed so perfect on paper.

She was briefly linked to superstar Canadian rapper Drake. Then in early 2017, Jennifer began dating baseball star Alex Rodriguez, saying they had much in common from their Latin roots to their love of New York and their kids.

Their blended family with her twins and his two daughters looked like the ideal package.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  (L-R) Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez  attends the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
Alex Rodriguez almost became husband number four…

Naturally Rodriguez popped the question, but they never made it down the aisle. She called off their engagement in 2021.

“Look, we had a great time,” Rodriguez said after.

But all that time she was nursing a broken heart and longing to get back together with Affleck.

“Love is beautiful. Love is kind. And it turns out love is patient. Twenty years patient,” she said of their intimate Las Vegas wedding ceremony, which was followed soon after by a more lavish celebration in front of family and friends at Affleck’s estate in Georgia.

Jennifer said: “It was exactly what we wanted.”

She doesn’t read stories about her previous husband (Noa) selling wedding photos, writing books?

She shrugs: “You just get past it.” And in another way, I’m not sure ‘getting past it’ is what she wants.

She wants to embrace it and not let it make a fool of her.

What has changed, perhaps, is her relationship with fame.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 26: Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck are seen on September 26, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Gotham/GC Images)
Bennifer round two in 2021

In the beginning, she was excited by fame: The adulation, the perks, the team of people who followed her with tweezers around the world.

I remember at that time I once gifted her some tweezers. It was so she could do it herself if she had an emergency. She laughed. A lot. I’m not sure she ever used them though.

In her head, these hangers-on meant success. Success and fame were equally inextricable, now she knows they are not.

With Jennifer, everything changes and everything stays the same. Who changes their name when they get married? She does. I can’t get around to calling her Mrs Affleck, but she does.

The last time I met her, it was in Los Angeles promoting a movie. She was in a simple navy dress, her long legs outstretched in front of her. Her voice was creaky with chest infection, but her work ethic was as strong as her Jenny from the Block days, even though there had been many blocks – and probably many Jennys.

The early Jenny made it through dance. She danced around Manhattan as a backing dancer for the likes of Janet Jackson (you can see her in the music video for That’s the Way Love Goes).

And now we are in Beverly Hills and she’s a movie star. To date she’s been in over 30 feature films and co-founded a production company.

On February 16, 2024, she released This Is Me … Now: A Love Story on Prime Video in tandem with her new album This Is Me … Now.

It’s a revisitation and revaluation of her album This Is Me …

Then, which 22 years ago encapsulated everything as it was for her. Her favourite track from the new album is Dear Ben Pt. II, written about Ben Affleck.

What can be better than Jennifer singing, “I can’t get enough of you, boy”, strutting around her swimming pool. There are brilliant blue skies above her mansion.

“We feel pain, we feel love, and we have swimming pools”, she seems to be saying. And why not.

She is ordinary and extraordinary. Beautiful and suffering. In pain and in fame. And I still think Jennifer Lopez is our new Elizabeth Taylor.

Stream This Is Me … Now: A Love Story now on Prime Video with a 30-day free trial. Subscribe here.

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