Ted Danson ruled the small screen as Sam Malone on Cheers. He won the Emmy or Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series twice, having been nominated for the award every year from 1983 to 1993. Mary Steenburgen, meanwhile, had already created a name for herself in 1981 when she won the “Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Melvin and Howard,” via The New York Times. Since their early 80s breakout success, the two have secured many fan favorite works, including Danson’s role on The Good Place, and Steenburgen parts in the enduring comedies Elf and Step Brothers.
Perhaps more important than their success in entertainment is their success with each other, which they found long after they both became household names. The history of this couple reads like a storybook romance from meeting, to falling in love, to a star-studded wedding. “I’m in love. We’re in love. That handles a lot. We make each other laugh. I admire her,” Danson told ET about his decades-long relationship with Steenburgen in January 2021. But along the way, the couple dealt with ups and downs, including the difficulty of managing a public relationship.
Let’s relive it all as we go inside Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen’s marriage.
From dream crush to reality
Let’s face it, everyone became a Ted Danson fan thanks to his role as bartender Sam Malone on Cheers, the NBC sitcom that aired for over a decade and was one of the most popular shows of its era. Mary Steenburgen was no exception. “I always thought Ted was brilliant,” she recalled to Closer about swooning over her future husband from afar. “When I was going through sad times, I’d watch Cheers at the end of the day to make me feel better,” she remembered. But looking back at how she ended up marrying her on-screen crush, she joked, “Then I discovered it was easier to just sleep with Sam the bartender.”
Prior to dating one another, Danson and Steenburgen were both struggling in the relationship department. “I announced to all my friends — not dramatically, but very seriously — that I was done with relationships,” Steenburgen recalled to Closer. At that point, she had divorced from her husband. Danson had also been through divorce — twice. And so, he, too, claimed to be “done with relationships,” Danson remembered to Closer. Even thought it appeared as though his days of finding lasting love would never come, things changed. “Ironic how life works in those moments,” Danson said, adding, “Once you throw up your arms and surrender, a lot of times things come your way.”
How did Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen meet?
Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen met as so many Hollywood couples do — on the set. The two were cast in the 1994 film Pontiac Moon which was shot in California. One day while filming, the two reportedly went “on a five-hour canoe ride on California’s Big River,” according to Closer. And Danson remembered about the day that he and Steenburgen “paddled in sync.” That description seems to refer to both the physical paddling of the boat as well as the instantaneous emotional affection that occurred. “We went out as friends and by the time we came back, we were in love,” Danson said.
While Danson’s side of the story is a picturesque tale of romance, Steenburgen remembered her first impressions a little differently. She told CBS’ Sunday Morning that Danson showed off his “new hair extensions” he received for the film. “My first thought about him is, this is the most ridiculous creature I’ve ever met in my entire life,” she said. But Danson jumped in to clarify, “And she was mine from that moment on!” Later, according to UPI, Danson asked Steenburgen to marry him at the Beach Plum Inn in Menemsha, part of the charming Martha’s Vineyard island.
The stars came out for Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen's wedding
One could call Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen’s connection a whirlwind romance. “After less than one year together, they tied the knot in 1995,” Closer reported. At that point in their careers, both were well-respected actors with plenty of experience in the industry. And along the way, Danson and Steenburgen picked up several famous buddies. So, for their wedding, the guest list sounded like the red carpet arrivals at the Academy Awards. As recounted by AARP, “Tom Hanks, Woody Harrelson, James Taylor and Laura Dern” were among the members in attendance at the wedding.
The couple picked Martha’s Vineyard as the setting for the nuptials. And the events surrounding the marriage also included the secret service. That’s because Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton all attended the rehearsal dinner and the wedding. Hillary and Bill, who was president at the time of the wedding, both know Steenburgen personally. According to Britannica, the Powder star was born and raised in Newport, Ark., the Clintons’ home state.
Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen have a huge immediate family
As Mary Steenburgen kicked off the ’80s with the huge professional accomplishment of winning an Oscar, she enjoyed some personal milestones as well. In September 1980, she married English actor Malcolm McDowell. The following year, Steenburgen and McDowell welcomed their first child, Lilly, less than three months before Steenburgen won the Best Supporting Actress award. “I was so crazy in love with my daughter that it slightly eclipsed the Oscar — which in Hollywood is an almost sacrilegious thing to say,” Steenburgen told Closer. She and McDowell had a second child together, Charlie McDowell (above right), prior to separating. So, Ted Danson became the proud stepfather of two children after marrying the Steenburgen. Danson also brought children from his previous relationship in the new household. The actor had two children – Kate Danson and Alexis Danson (above left), with his ex-wife Casey Coates, via Closer.
The family continued to grow when Ted and Mary became grandparents. “He is an amazing father, an amazing stepfather and an amazing grandfather,” Mary told People in November 2018, adding, “We have been grandparents now for six years. We have two granddaughters, and they can’t stop climbing on him. They just adore him,” she explained. And what do the little kids call their famous actor grandfather? “Teddy.”
A TV divorce confused Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen's friends
Based on their adorable stories, photos, and history, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen appear to be the perfect couple. That made it even more shocking when it appeared things ended between the famous couple. Both appeared in recurring roles on the HBO comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm., portraying comedically exaggerated versions of themselves. In earlier seasons, the two were married on the show just like in real life. But then, things appeared to fall apart during season nine of the series, when Danson’s character revealed that he and Steenburgen were divorced for several months. “When Cheryl Hines’s character asked him where Mary was, he replied that they had been separated for the last three months, adding that they’re better friends now than when they were married,” Yahoo! Entertainment recapped.
The portrayal was so realistic that some viewers believed the scenario. Recalling how the plot line caused confusion with their real life friends, Danson told Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest, “People would call us, who we’d had dinner with a month before, going, ‘Oh, really?!'” Thankfully, art did not imitate life in this instance, as the couple’s publicist confirmed to Yahoo! Entertainment, “The show is fictitious and it is just a make-believe storyline.”
COVID-19 didn't stop Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen's anniversary
Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen hit a big milestone in their relationship in 2020. They celebrated their 25th anniversary, showing incredible dedication and proving that Hollywood romances don’t always fall apart at warp speed. The longevity of the pair also meant that the big anniversary was also part of a very different era compared to when they got hitched in 1995. This is, of course, because in the fall of 2020, much of the world was under restrictions from the COVID-19 crisis.
Still, the longtime lovebirds managed to commemorate the occasion with an apparent trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, a spot Danson previously described to Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest as a “magical” getaway the he and Steenburgen enjoy. During the 2020 trip, Steenburgen posted a selfie on Instagram of her and Danson cutely smiling (above). Explaining the odd appearance of her longtime husband, Steenburgen wrote, “This was SUPPOSED to be a sweet loving anniversary photo but you have a big piece of salad in your teeth … True, that is a big a** piece of salad but even that doesn’t mar your legendary beauty,” Steenburgen continued. She also added adorable sentiments about Danson to complete the post: “Thank you for making me laugh today and every single one of the last 9,125 days. You are the goofiest, wisest, kindest, dreamboat in the world,” and “I can’t believe how lucky I am.”
Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen say adorable things about each other
Throughout many interviews, whether together or apart, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen usually take the opportunity to express their deepest feelings for one another. “I’m ridiculously in love with him,” Steenburgen told Closer about Danson in 2018, adding, “I find him endlessly fascinating. He surprises me all the time and most of all he makes me laugh.” In the same interview, Danson had equally affectionate words to say about his wife of many years, admitting that he “get[s] nervous around her because [he] want[s] to impress her.” The actor continued gushing, “I am the luckiest. When I die, I will have known in this life what it is to love as a human being and to be loved, and I am so grateful.”
And because all relationships go through ups and downs, the bond between Danson and Steenburgen is no different. But the couple appears to handle anything that comes their way. “You just need to have a lot of faith in each other,” Steenburgen admitted in a separate interview with Closer, adding, “We’re free and absolutely honest with each other. That helps a lot. It’s amazing to have a partner who gets you.”
Need more examples? In January 2021, Danson was still laying praise at his wife’s feet, telling ET, “We delight in each other, and we’re pretty disciplined about being celebratory of what we have.” Yes, Ted, we can tell.
Here's how Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen navigate a Hollywood relationship
As two highly sought-after actors, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen are often working on their next project. Unfortunately, this means “there’s never a time when we’re both free,” she revealed to Closer. We assume then, that when the two have been able to land work on the same, including their aforementioned recurring roles on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, they must relish in the opportunity.
And since they have what seems like the healthiest possible relationship in the world, Danson and Steenburgen are able to take what could be something that strains the partnership, and turn it into professional development. Speaking with Closer, Steenburgen called Danson “ridiculously talented,” adding, “He inspires me to be a better actor.” Danson, on the other hand, joked that he tries to read lines with his wife, but with little success. “You know, she’s the worst line runner for our show ’cause she has hysterics and laughs,” he told ET. But the star also admitted that life outside of Hollywood is much easier. “I’m madly in love with my wife and family, so going away sucks,” Danson confessed to Closer. “Perhaps it didn’t in a previous marriage, but I much prefer being home with my granddaughters,” he admitted.
Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen have a lot of famous friends
It’s unsurprising given their long success as a couple and as actors in Hollywood that Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen have accrued quite the lineup of pals. And their famous friends seem to realize what a special relationship the two share. Kristen Bell, who starred alongside Danson in the life-changing show The Good Place, talked about her experience outside of filming. “It’s almost intimidating spending time with Ted and Mary because of how solid and loving and connected they are,” Bell confessed to AARP. But Bell made sure to add that, “Honestly, it’s beautiful how they obsess over each other.”
But none of their friends may be as well-known and powerful as Steenburgen’s old friends from Arkansas, Bill and Hillary Clinton. Danson explained to AARP what it’s like to hang out with the two famous politicians, revealing, “We talk about anything and everything, but mainly it’s Mary and Hillary talking about movies and books and now mostly grandchildren.” Asked for comment while attending the couple’s 1995 wedding, Hillary told the Chicago Tribune, “We’ve known [Mary] for many years, and we wish Mary and Ted and their families much love and happiness.”
Mary Steenburgen is protective of Ted Danson
As of this writing, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen have been together for over two decades, and are both veterans of the entertainment industry. But even with all of their personal and professional longevity, navigating fame and relationships can be tricky. For example, Steenburgen admitted that she can get jealous of others around Danson. First, Danson’s Cheers role turned him into a ’80s TV hunk that many women adored. And as the actor grew older, so did his status as an actor that everyone loves working with.
With all this popularity, Steenburgen revealed to Closer that it’s tough to see a fan get a little too close to her husband. “People think they know Ted from watching TV, so literally a woman has one drink and she comes up and just wants to sit on his lap!” she said about her man. And she isn’t shy to express her real feelings about these inappropriate fans. Steenburgen admitted, “I want to punch their lights out!”
How do Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen's work so well together?
What’s the secret to success for Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen? In an industry full of affairs that ruin careers and other strange reasons that have tanked marriages, Steenburgen and Danson have found a winning formula to stay dedicated to each other. Danson told AARP that he considers his relationship with Steenburgen full of “creative passion.” And he reflected on the traits that he most appreciates in his wife. “I love her sense of fairness and right and wrong. And I don’t think you’re supposed to say this when you’re almost 70, but she’s very sexy,” he confessed.
Steenburgen expressed how she and Danson often use thoughtful acts to show affection in the relationship. “He is just kind to me every single day,” she told People, adding, “If he has an early call, I try to get up while it’s still dark and make him coffee and send him off and he does the same for me.” And the actor added that while it may seem simple, this consistency only strengthens her bond in the long run. “I think it’s those little kindnesses that completely make up our life that are so appreciated,” Steenburgen said.
Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen spend their free time together
It may seem like Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen stay busy with their A-List schedules. After all, Steenburgen has been known to show off her classy fashion sense at awards shows, and now, their kids are starting to make their own Hollywood headlines, like when Steenburgen’s son and Danson’s step son, Charlie McDowell, announced his engagement to Lily Collins aka Emily from Emily in Paris. But in between their high-visibility antics, Danson admitted to Us Weekly that he and Steenburgen are “always doing something.” The actor revealed, “I love getting a small group of friends and my kids together … That’s what matters.”
Danson also revealed that he loves to spend time with his wife traveling the country. After filming wrapped for a season of The Good Place, Danson had time to join Steenburgen to the Music City. “I’m following her around, she writes music, she goes to Nashville,” Danson explained. “So now I get to follow her and go wherever she goes,” he added. But occasionally, the two like to take a break from so much running around. Danson confessed that in those moments of calm, he and his wife take “major naps” together.
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