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Young and in love: a look at history's most beguiling and iconic couples on camera

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Anna Brech
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"We dig being together all the time. Both of us could survive apart but what for?"

The following photos capture some of history's most captivating couples when they were young and head over heels in love.

Some went onto have life-long and happy relationships, others fizzled out in a blaze of drama and recriminations. 

But in this one moment, they are besotted with one other. Their body language speaks of a kind of chemistry that's so intense, everything else becomes background noise.

From the lustful magnetism of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg to fiery creative passion of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and the sweet grungy romance of Johnny Depp and Kate Moss, come remind yourself of the stories behind some of history's most beguiling and love-up couples.

  • Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg (August 1969)

    The story: It was love at first sight when Jane Birkin met Serge Gainsbourg on a film set in 1968, sparking a passionate and unique 12-year affair made infamous by their erotic duet Je t'aime... Moi Non Plus (a song that hit the big-time after it was banned by the Pope). 

    She says: "When I gave birth to our daughter Charlotte in 1971, Serge said it was the happiest night of his life. He wanted us to marry, but I’d been married to John [Barry, the composer] and that was enough. Now I regret turning Serge down."

    How did it end? His gradual descent into alcoholism caused a rift between the pair and they split in 1980. They remained friends and she was devastated by his sudden death in 1991, aged 62.

  • Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (1940)

    The story: Brilliant and volatile, these two Mexican artists married in the face of her parents' disapproval (they referred to the couple as "the elephant and the dove"), with a relationship characterised by their vivid and stormy creative dynamic. 

    She says (in a letter to Diego): "Nothing compares to your hands, nothing like the green-gold of your eyes. My body is filled with you for days and days."

    How did it end? Both artists had affairs and they divorced and re-married again in the same year (1940). Frida died aged 47 in 1954, possibly from an overdose. Diego later wrote that it was the most tragic day of his life - too late, he said, he had realized that the most wonderful part of his life had been his love for her.

  • Bruce Willis and Demi Moore (1993)

    The story: These two's chemistry was electric in the early days - every picture taken of them showed them young, happy, in love and generally having a wonderful time. They married three months after they first met in 1987. 

    She says: "He was just so ready to embrace and give me love."

    How did it end? They had three daughters together but separated in 1998, after eight years of marriage. They remain good friends - Demi attended the 2009 wedding of Bruce to model Emma Heming (with whom he has two daughters) and he was apparently angry with Ashton Kutcher when his marriage to Demi broke down in 2011, amid rumours of infidelity. 

  • Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman (1959)

    The story: One of Hollywood's most enduring love stories began on-set The Long Hot Summer in 1957. Paul and Joanne tied the knot one year later in Las Vegas, and weathered 50 years of marriage, through the creative differences of working together and the drug overdose death of Paul's son (Joanne's stepson) Scott. 

    She says: "From the beginning, Paul and I had an advantage: we were good friends before we were lovers. I mean, we really liked each other. We could talk to each other. We could talk to each other, we could tell each other anything without fear of ridicule or rejection. There was trust."

    How did it end? They had three children together (along with Paul's three children from his previous marriage) and lived in Connecticut, attributing their happy marriage to patience and affection. Soon after they celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2008, Paul died of lung cancer aged 83. 

  • Richard Burton and Liz Taylor (January 1964)

    The story: Their tempestuous relationship began in suitably explosive style when, both married, they met and became lovers on-set Egyptian epic Cleopatra in 1963. Richard quickly became Liz's fifth husband and the pair famously married and divorced twice. 

    She says: "Richard was magnificent in every sense of the word. He was the kindest, funniest and most gentle father. All my kids worshipped him."

    How did it end? Her tantrums and his battle with alcoholism put pressure on their relationship and they called it quits after their second divorce in 1976. Days before his unexpected death from a haemorrhage in 1984, he sent her a letter saying that he was happiest when he was with her and that he wanted to 'come home'. She kept it by her bedside until her own death, in 2011. 

  • Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow (1996)

    The story: Their relationship only lasted two and a half years but it was intense. They fell head over heels on the set of 1997 thriller Seven; later that year, he picked up an Oscar and tributed Gwyneth, his ''angel, the love of my life.'' They resolved never to be more than two weeks apart, despite their frantic film schedules. 

    He says [after getting engaged]: "I can't wait, man... walk down the aisle, wear the ring, kiss the bride. Oh, it's going to be great." 

    How did it end? Six months after getting engaged in December 1996, their relationship came to an abrupt halt. "When two people aren't supposed to be together, they're not supposed to be together,'' Gwyneth later commented. She went onto marry Chris Martin (they're now separated) and he married and divorced Jennifer Aniston before embarking on a long-term relationship with his now-wife Angelina Jolie. 

  • Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (May 1945)

    The story: "Bogie and Bacall" met on-set 1944's To Have and Have Not where, in one of the sexiest scenes from cinema history, she taught him how to whistle. They quickly married and became an one-screen dream team, with two children to boot. 

    She says: "I was so blinded by Bogie I couldn't think of anything else. All I thought of was being with him."

    How did it end? Humphrey did of lung cancer in 1957 (she nursed him throughout his illness). Lauren was devastated and placed a whistle on his coffin in memory of their first role together.

  • Denzel and Pauletta Washington (1996)

    The story: Denzel and Pauletta met back in 1977 when he was filming his first TV role in Wilma and are rare proof that love really can last the distance in Hollywood. They married in 1983 and have four children together. 

    He says: "People who say they knew [if their spouse was the one] right away are lying! It's a marathon, not a sprint."

    How did it end? This lovely, low-key couple have kept the romance going throughout Denzel's stratospheric movie career. They renewed their wedding vows in 1995 in South Africa with Archbishop Desmond Tutu officiating and are regular pictured happily together, 33 years into their marriage. 

  • Wallis Simpson and Edward, Prince of Wales (January 1942)

    The story: Edward VIII was captivated by the charismatic and sexy Wallis Simpson but he paid a huge price for love - he famously sacrificed being King of England (and scandalised society in the process) by abdicating the throne in 1936, in order to marry the divorced American socialite .

    He says: "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love."

    How did it end? The pair were exiled from Britain, first spending a short period in the Bahamas during the Second World War before living out the rest of their lives together in France.

  • Liberace and Scott Thorson (1979)

    The story: Scott Thorson was so taken with his lover, the flamboyant American pianist Liberace, that he underwent plastic surgery aged 20 to look like him. Their six-year relationship (from 1976) was extravagant and wild, marked by mink coats, diamond rings, fabulous cars, lawsuits and drugs.

    Scott says: "I was so young, I would do anything that I could to please him. It was a very one-sided relationship. He could be very generous but he was very possessive."

    How did it end? With a $113 million (£71 million) lawsuit filed by Scott in 1982 - the first same-sex palimony case filed in US history. Scott felt as though he had been discarded by Liberace, whom he said treated him like a disgruntled employee, not an ex-lover. They settled out of court and reconciled shortly before Liberace's death in 1987. Scott wrote a book about the relationship, which was made into the 2013 film Behind the Candelabra with Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. 

  • Bob Geldof and Paula Yates (1980)

    The story: "The princess of punk" fell hard for Bob, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, in the 1970s and they wed in Vegas in 1986 after 10 years together. Irrepressible and eccentric, they seemed the perfect match and had three daughters together. 

    She says:  "Bob is still perceived as St Bob, and me as his wayward wife."

    How did it end? In tragedy. In the mid-90s, Paula left Bob for Australian singer Michael Hutchence, amid a storm of controversy. The two embarked on bitter custody battle over their children, but Paula was devastated by Micheal's suicide death in 1997 and took her own life in 2000. Bob took on custody of Paula and Micheal's four-year-old daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily. 

  • John Lennon and Yoko Ono (March 1969)

    The story: This was a meeting of mind, body and soul in the truest sense of the phrase. They met at one of her shows at the Indica gallery in London, 1966. He was immediately attracted to her "ticking mind" and a week after wedding in 1969, they held a week-long "Bed-In-for-Peace" honeymoon at the Hilton hotel in Amsterdam.

    He says: "There’s no reason on earth why I should be alone without Yoko. There’s nothing more important than our relationship, nothing. And we dig being together all the time. Both of us could survive apart but what for?"

    How did it end? John changed his name to John Winston Ono Lennon after they wed. They split for 18 months in 1973 but got back together and had a son (Sean Lennon) in 1975. She was with him when he was he was shot in the back four times and killed outside a hotel in New York.

  • Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes and Andre Rison (2002)

    The story: The TLC singer and Atlanta Falcons player had a notoriously explosive relationship - she burned down the Atlanta mansion they shared, along with all his possessions, after a fight in 1994 (she claimed he hit her, a charge which he denied). 

    He says: "We did everything together — shopped, cooked, laughed, cried, went to nightclubs, parks, functions… I still love her, you know."

    How did it end? At her sentencing for felony arson, Andre held Lisa's hand and told her he forgave her. "I can replace a house, but I can't replace... a certain girl," he said. The two stayed together and planned to get married when her life was tragically cut short in a car crash in 2002. 

  • Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner (1950)

    The story: Both strong-willed and vivacious, Hollywood stars Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner fell madly in love with each other in 1948 but their six-year marriage was rocky, marked by lows of "boozing and fighting" and highs of passionate make-up sex. 

    She says: "He was handsome, with his thin, boyish face, bright blue eyes and ­incredible grin. And he was so ­enthusiastic and invigorated, clearly pleased with life, in general, himself, in particular, and, at that moment, me."

    How did it end? Ava had two abortions during her six-year marriage to Frank. They divorced in 1957 but they remained close - both claimed the other was the love of their life. Ava died in 1990 from pneumonia, and Frank passed away eight years later. 

  • Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger (February 1987)

    The story: Supermodel Jerry met Rolling Stone Mick in 1976 and their chemistry was immediate. Their relationship latest 22 years and four children - and his frequent philandering. 

    She says: "I suppose, when you’re younger, you’re looking for an alpha male with lots of testosterone. Mick was very, very charismatic and very funny, but he was also the eternal dissatisfied adolescent. He was so irreverent and loose."

    How did it end? Jerry filed for divorce in 1999, when their youngest child was still a toddler, after discovering that Brazilian model Luciana Morad was expecting Mick's baby. They remain good friends and often celebrate Christmases together, along with Mick's children and partners from preview relationships. 

  • John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy (1953)

    The story: He was famously unfaithful to her throughout their 10-year marriage, but First Lady Jackie Kennedy was devoted to John F. Kennedy, and remained right by his side even as he was assassinated on November 21, 1963.

    She says: "Can anyone understand how it is to have lived in the White House and then, suddenly, to be living alone as the President's widow?"

    How did it end? Jackie cradled her husband (and father of their two children), as he lay dying that fateful day in Texas, 1963, and whispered that she loved him.

  • Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love (September 1993)

    The story: These star-crossed lovers of alternative rock met at the at the Satyricon club in Portland and married on a Hawaii beach in February 1992. They had a daughter, Frances Bean, six months later but as their music careers set alight (he in Nirvana, she in the rock band Hole), their joint drug abuse accelerated hand-in-hand with their whirlwind romance. 

    She says: "I am just the classic person who wants to learn stuff. I want good tutors, and with Kurt I had the best."

    How did it end? On  April 5, 1994, a deeply depressed Kurt committed suicide using a shotgun to his head. He was 27 years old. Courtney read out the note he left behind to crowds of traumatised fans at his memorial service a few days later.

  • Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh (1939)

    The story: These two stars of golden age cinema were besotted with one another - they became lovers when both were married to other people but tied the knot themselves in 1940. 

    She says (in a good luck letter to him): "My dearest sweetheart, my love is with you every second and I know tonight will be a great triumph for you my darling boy, your proud and adoring Vivien."

    How did it end? They portrayed lovers in three films together but divorced in 1960 after 20 years of marriage, Vivien kept Laurence's photo on her dressing table even after the divorce and continued to be referred to as "Lady Olivier" up until her death in 1967. 

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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