Robert Wagner and Jill St. John Found Love After Tragedy: ‘Their Love Has Definitely Stood the Test of Time’
Robert Wagner wakes up every morning feeling lucky. Outside his window in Aspen, the sun drapes Elk Mountain in golden light and he often spies elk, deer and fox roaming his forested property. “As Jill says: ‘There are only so many front-row seats, and we are fortunate to have one,” he says.
Part of the reason Robert, 92, who friends call RJ, feels so grateful is the presence of his wife, former Bond girl Jill St. John, 81. The pair were married in 1990, but their friendship goes back to the 1960s when they met as young actors at Fox Studios. Though it took terrible heartbreak for their love to blossom, their marriage remains one of Hollywood’s happiest. “It’s a cliché, but their love has definitely stood the test of time,” says a friend.
Jill, who played sultry sexpot Tiffany Case opposite Sean Connery’s James Bond in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, is an LA native who began her professional acting career as a child. Back then, she took dance classes at the Panaieff Ballet Center, where her classmates included RJ’s future wife Natalie Wood and his Hart to Hart co-star Stephanie Powers. “The three of us were very friendly,” says Jill, who recalls feeling jealous of Natalie’s gold ballet slippers. “They were never best friends,” explains a pal, “but they respected each other.”
Detroit-born RJ, meanwhile, remains one of the last classic leading men of the studio era. He made his big-screen debut at age 20 and reached Hollywood’s A-list playing a soldier with PTSD in 1952’s With a Song in My Heart. Included among his more than 150 acting credits are two films with Jill in the late 1960s. “After they worked together, they remained friendly,” says the pal.
Of course, Jill heard about Natalie Wood’s accidental drowning off the coast of Catalina Island in November 1981. “Along with the rest of the world, she was saddened by the tragic news,” says the friend. “She reached out and sent Robert a nice note and flowers.”
Two months later, RJ and Jill met at a dinner party hosted by a mutual friend. She empathized with RJ’s grief because she had lost her ex-husband, race car driver and Woolworth heir Lance Reventlow, in a devastating 1972 plane crash. “Much of Lance stayed with me,” Jill says. “We remained friends as long as he lived.”
After RJ and Jill’s fateful meeting, they stayed in touch and eventually began dating. “They both found comfort in each other,” says the friend. In the media firestorm surrounding Natalie’s death, RJ felt grateful to be with someone he could trust. “I’ve had friendships with some truly outstanding men, and I believe one of the things they like about me is that I never talk about them,” said Jill in 1982. The pair married eight years later during a small family celebration at RJ’s home in LA.
Though it was the fourth time down the aisle for both RJ and Jill, their 32-year marriage has been the longest lasting of both their lives. Jill, who never had children, helped raise Robert’s daughters. Courtney was 7 when her mother Natalie died; her half-sisters Katie Wagner, then 17, and Natasha Gregson, then 11, were also reeling from the loss. “I get along beautifully with RJ’s children,” Jill said in 1982.
Though Robert’s career has been more active, he and Jill collaborated on work, too, appearing in several movies together as well as the famous “Yada Yada” episode of Seinfeld. Before the pandemic, Jill still made trips to LA with RJ so he could film the recurring role of Anthony DiNozzo Sr. on NCIS.
Since 2007, the couple have made their 7.5-acre estate in Aspen their year-round home. “I just can’t imagine living anywhere else. To be in nature like this, it’s such a blessing,” says Jill, who first settled in Colorado in the 1970s. “I really feel that being immersed in nature like this prolongs your life.”
Of course, the tragedy of Natalie’s death has not been forgotten. “It’s very difficult for our family. We’ve had some very, very difficult moments,” acknowledges RJ. The reopening of the investigation into the circumstances of Natalie’s death in 2011 caused fresh pain. “They really can’t escape those questions, not even in Aspen. But the Wagner family has no room for negativity or dredging up ridiculous stories and theories about Natalie,” says the friend.
RJ and Jill would rather not dwell on the tragedy that brought them together. They’re just grateful for every day they can share their love. “They have that thing couples who enjoy each other have. They banter and finish each other’s sentences. Jill is just good for Robert,” says the friend, who calls them soulmates. “They’re very much alike, they respect each other, and that’s key to their lasting relationship.”
RJ even plans to make his eternal home with Jill in Colorado. “When my time comes, I will be buried in Aspen,” he says. “It’s absolutely pure and totally peaceful.”
—Reporting by Rick Egusquiza
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