When we think of ’80s couples, some that come to mind are Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Madonna and Sean Penn, Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr., and Heather Locklear and Tommy Lee. A pair we didn’t recall — though they apparently received a lot of attention at the time — were Barbra Streisand and Don Johnson.
Thirty years ago today, the odd couple — with the great hair — appeared on the cover of People magazine. The romance between the acting and singing sensation and the younger Miami Vice star who had been dubbed Don Juanson (seriously) began when they were introduced at a party in Aspen, over Christmas 1987, and they made their official couple debut a month later, at, of all places, a boxing match, where fellow celebrities included Donald Trump. The cover story in the glossy looked at whether or not they would settle down and possibly marry. Spoiler: they didn’t — though they have seven marriages between them (mostly his).
People reported they were introduced at a star-studded bash at Chez Juanson, which was also attended by Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas, Oprah Winfrey, and Bruce Willis. Streisand had just broken up with ice cream heir Richard Baskin while Johnson was dating a model after a failed marriage, his third, to Melanie Griffith and a romance with actress Patti D’Arbanville. The heat between them “could have put the ski season in serious jeopardy,” according the writers at People.
Babs’s own publicist said he was shocked by the coupling (“I said, ‘What?!’” he recalled) because, another quote from the magazine, Barbra and Don “possess two of the biggest egos this side of Frank Sinatra. The princess, 46, has a reputation for being as hard as her well-tended nails. The prince, 38, is as stubborn as he is stubbly.”
After their official coming out at the Mike Tyson-Larry Holmes fight on Jan. 22, 1988 — holding hands and appearing to have matching highlights — they enjoyed date nights at home at her place with food “prepared by her Korean chef.” Other public appearances included a Lakers-Sonics game, ShoWest, and a lot of time in Aspen.
Here they are at their first public appearance. Bonus cameo by Donald Trump because he was all into boxing there for a bit and the fight took place at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City:
“Some women do everything for their man, and Barbra is one of them,” a close friend of hers told the magazine. “She goes completely gaga when she falls in love.” And Don lived up to his nickname, one of his friends said. “When Don wants to turn on the charm, all he has to do is look at you. He never has to say a word to women to lead them on. Underneath all her glitz, Barbra is still the ugly girl that everybody shunned when she was a kid.” Another friend said, “They’re probably the best thing that has ever happened to each other.”
Then a TV superstar on Miami Vice, Don was excited when Babs visited the set, with an eyewitness telling the mag he was “gooey-eyed.” And he actually got her to make a cameo in the episode “Badge of Dishonor,” which aired March 18 of that year. It was supershort, but a wink to their relationship. As he stepped out of his sweet ride with Philip Michael Thomas (Crockett and Tubbs forever!), she walked by and his head turned.
The People story questioned Don’s motives though, saying Babs was known to help open doors for her partners — and Miami Vice was nearing the end of its run with lower ratings. (It went off the air in January 1990.) “She’s now swinging professional doors wide open for Johnson. Maybe she thinks that’s the way to keep them steady and faithful,” said a source. Ouch.
The story also addressed wedding rumors. “Two sources say Streisand is pressuring Johnson for a late-summer ceremony but that Johnson is ‘a little nervous.’ A friend of Streisand’s, however, doesn’t think it will happen. ‘Why should it?’ she asked. ‘Barbra’s worth too much money. Besides, why would she need it? She has the man anyway.’”
Barbra spoke about the romance in the June 1988 issue of Ladies’s Home Journal, which described Johnson as an actor who “not so long ago was addicted to drugs, drinking, and fast living” and ”the bad boy women go for even though they know they should know better.'” (He started dating Griffith when she was 14 and he was 22, and they were briefly married in 1976. He had two marriages prior to that that were annulled.)
“I’m happy, very happy. And I have never been very happy, so it is something I’m learning; it’s as if I were a child again,” she said. “Like me, he’s often misinterpreted and called tough and difficult — and it’s not true. That is one of our common bonds. And when I’m with Don, I can enjoy my celebrity because I don’t have to apologize to the man I’m with for getting all the attention. Don gets as much attention as I do.”
As for whether it would last, “How do I know?” she replied. “All I know is this moment. Would I marry again? Yes. But don’t ask if I would marry him. I don’t know.”
In addition to popping up on Miami Vice, Streisand and Johnson did a duet on the title track of her album that year, Till I Loved You. (He was also a singer, releasing the album Heartbeat in ’86, and they were on the same label.) However, by the time it came out in October and their song was a Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, they had already parted ways. Though even after their split there was a collaboration when she contributed background vocals on his song “What If It Takes All Night,” which appeared on his 1989 album Let It Roll.
Here their big duet, “Till I Loved You,” which was a Top 40 hit:
By the time Let It Roll came out, Johnson had already reunited with Griffith, married her, and had a baby on the way. That would be Dakota Johnson, who arrived in October 1989. Don and Melanie split again in 1996, freeing him up to romance Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, who played his daughter on Nash Bridges, and they became engaged. That fizzled and he married his current wife, Kelley Phleger, in 1999.
As for Streisand, whose marriage to Elliott Gould ended in 1971, she dated tennis star Andre Agassi after Johnson. Then she fell for actor James Brolin, and they’ve been hitched since 1998.
Though Don and Babs have long parted ways, it wasn’t a bitter split. In 2014, Johnson talked about their romance, saying, “I found her fascinating. A profoundly interesting and funny woman. She opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t even considered. We’re still close. We don’t see each other much, but when we do it’s like that. [He snapped.] Like a minute hasn’t passed.” Though he made it clear that he was never going to marry her. “No. My complications and her complications were not going to fit.”
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