Michele Lee and her ex-husband James Farentino’s 15-year marriage was a rocky one, but the two managed to become friends later on. Lee was at Farentino’s side when he took his last breath.
Known for her long-running role as Karen MacKenzie on CBS’ soap “Knots Landing,” Lee has had a successful on-screen career. Her other works also include the films “Color Me Perfect,” “Dark Victory,” and “Cold Fusion,” among others.
James Farentino, on the other hand, is known for his roles in the 1984 ABC series “Blue Thunder,” “Dynasty,” “ER,” and his award-winning role in “Jesus of Nazareth.” He was also the star of the short-lived ABC comedy “Julie.”
The two met when Lee was only 20, in 1963, on the set of the award-winning Broadway play “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
At the time of their meeting, Lee had been dating a friend of Farentino’s. However, following his divorce from his first wife, the two began to get romantically involved and got married in 1966.
They had a civil ceremony as they both subscribed to different religions. Lee was Jewish and Farentino a Catholic. They welcomed their son, David Farentino, in 1969.
In the years that followed, the two had a rough time, and in 1982, they got divorced. Unlike many divorces that end up messy, theirs was amicable, and Lee says they put a lot of work into remaining friends.
She says that despite the separation period being painful for them both, they never disliked each other. That played a considerable role in mending their differences and building a relationship that lasted for decades. Farentino said of their relationship:
“This is a relationship that has lasted. If you deny that relationship and that love, then what was 18 years about, and what was your child about, and what are you about?”
FARENTINO’S SHAKY PERSONAL LIFE
“The Defenders” actor was known for his good looks, and it is no surprise that the ladies could not stay away. But away from his one-off roles in movies such as “The Fugitive” and “Ben Casey,” the leading man had a turbulent personal life.
He was married four times and divorced three. He married his first wife, Elizabeth Ashley, in 1962, but three years later, the two dissolved their marriage and went their separate ways.
In 1966, he married his second wife Lee, but after a stormy marriage, the two called it off. They would, however, remain friends and even work on future projects together.
His third marriage was to actress, producer, and journalist Debrah Farentino, one that ended after only three years. The two first met when Farentino began teaching Debrah how to act.
Before he married his fourth and last wife, he got into a relationship with Tina Sinatra, Frank Sinatra’s daughter. But after the relationship ended, he is alleged to have begun stalking her.
Reports say that he would often make harassing phone calls to Tina, and went as far as violated a restraining order. In March 1994, he had to undergo a probationary period and psychological counseling.
His problems were, however, not limited to his love life. Three years earlier, he was arrested after the police intercepted a package containing cocaine as it was being delivered to his Canadian hotel room.
In 1994, Farentino married Stella Farentino, but three years later, she filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. Soon after, she withdrew the petitions.
In 1998, Farentino also filed for divorce, for the same reasons as his wife, but he also withdrew the petitions. The couple would remain married until he died in 2012. They had a son, Saverio.
The roles became so rare that in an entire decade, he appeared in a single TV film, the 2006 “Drive.” But away from his waning career, his health, too, was taking a nose-dive.
In January 2012, the tall and handsome leading man passed on from heart failure following a long illness. He died at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He was 73.
Lee kept a close relationship with Farentino after their divorce, even teaming up professionally to work on the CBS Sunday movie “When No One Would Listen.”
The movie was based on a harrowing true story, in which Farentino played Lee’s abusive husband. Their son, David, also had a role in the film, where he played a neighbor who also fell victim to Farentino’s wrath.
Lee and Farentino’s bond remained close up until his passing. Lee says that she was there when Farentino waved the world goodbye, together with his wife.
She says they never did refer to each other as exes. Instead, they called each other “my former.” She was close to Farentino’s wife as well, and before Farentino’s passing, the three would often meet up for dinner and even spend holidays together. Lee said of this close bond:
“Yes, our marriage was rocky, but once we calmed down after we split, it was like we found each other again with a great friendship love.”
Today, Lee is married to Fred Rappoport and has been since they met back in 1987. Lee was on “Knots Landing” while Rappoport was in CBS and so their connection was both personal and professional.
Lee still maintains a good relationship with her costars at “Knots Landing.” Long after the show ended, they have held a close bond and are still fond of each other. They always have some fun times whenever they meet up.
Lee also enjoys being a mother to her only son David, who she says changed her outlook on life. It changed her inside out, how she chose things, how long she could stay away on work trips, and even when she could take him with her.
At 79 years of age, Lee continues to work in film and has several projects lined up, including a short monologue, “The Real Housewives of Coburg,” and a full-length stage play, “Rice.”