There was a time when singer-actress LeAnn Rimes was considered as clean cut as they come.
Once hailed as a country music ingnue, she first captivated fans as a 13-year-old with a mature-beyond-her-years voice and a poised stage presence. After selling millions of records and amassing Billboard Music Awards and Grammys, Rimes was often held up as an example of a child star who managed to avoid the pitfalls of fame and emerge with a successful career and a happy marriage. Then rumors surfaced that she was allegedly having an affair with actor Eddie Cibrian. Now the two have both separated from their respective spouses and the ensuing scandal has cast a shadow over Rimes’ wholesome, good-girl image. “I kind of feel like the public’s perception is changing towards her,” said Lindsay Powers, staff editor for Us Weekly. “She hadn’t even announced [her] divorce yet and here she was on a beach in Cabo [San Lucas], wearing a little bikini with Eddie Cibrian rubbing suntan lotion all over her. She’s like flaunting their relationship while her husband is piecing together his life in New York City on his own.”
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Such relationship woes among celebrities are as old as Hollywood itself. Stories of celebrity hookups on movie sets, be it Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1960s or Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the 21st century, are the stuff of which tabloid dreams are made. But Rimes, who married former dancer Dean Sheremet in 2002 when she was 19 and he 21, seemed an unlikely candidate to star in such a drama. Unlike other young celebrity couples, Rimes and Sheremet were unlikely tabloid targets, choosing to live quietly and often being captured smiling and embracing on the red carpet. The pair appeared devoted to each other and appeared to take a swipe at critics of their young love when they reportedly held a “seven year itch” party to toast their union. In her book, “What I Cannot Change,” Rimes wrote glowingly of her spouse. “My husband, Dean, has changed my heart — and life — in more ways than I can ever imagine,” she wrote. “We met in Los Angeles when I was hosting the Academy of Country Music Awards. It was almost an instant attraction.” Rumors began swirling about the singer and “CSI: Miami” actor Eddie Cibrian after they co-starred in the Lifetime movie “Northern Lights.” During an interview with Matt Lauer in April on the “Today” show, Rimes sidestepped questioning about her relationship with Cibrian. “I refuse to discuss tabloid rumors,” Rimes said. “I’ve grown up in the press my entire life. I think people are fascinated by my personal life, and I totally get it.” Soon after, Cibrian’s wife and mother of his two young sons, Brandi Glanville, was quoted as demanding Rimes leave her husband alone. Now, Glanville is being as vocal about the breakup of her and Cibrian’s marriage. She told PEOPLE in August that she sensed her husband was attracted to Rimes after double-dating with the singer and Sheremet. Rimes and Cibrian have been seen publicly golfing, vacationing and attending a concert. She announced on her Web site that she and Sheremet were ending their marriage. Jonathan L. Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management Inc., said fans are often very forgiving of stars for their bad behavior. “The public is very tolerant of a wide range of behaviors from celebrities,” said Bernstein. “To the extent the public truly expected her to be someone with a clean-cut image, she may lose some fans there.” “On the other hand, there are some people who like celebrities who lead racy, unpredictable lives, so she could gain fans at the same time.” Bernstein, the author of “Keeping the Wolves at Bay; A Media Training Manual,” said, “Everybody wants to read the juicy gossip,” but Rimes could mitigate potential damage to her career if she is real and does “not pretend to be one thing and then be the other.” “People like watching real-life soap operas,” he said. “Ultimately, if people love [Rimes’] singing, they are going to come to her concerts.” Us Weekly’s Powers said Rimes and Cibrian’s situation mirrors that of actress Tori Spelling and her husband, Dean McDermott. Like Rimes and Cibrian, Spelling and McDermott were both married to others when they met on the set of a Lifetime movie in 2005. Spelling and McDermott divorced their spouses, married and now are the parents of two children and stars of their own reality show on Oxygen network. As was the case with fans who rallied around Jennifer Aniston because they believed she had been wronged by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Powers said she believes Rimes’ estranged husband, Sheremet, will emerge the winner of public sympathy. “Celebrity history will show that people tend to feel bad for the person who is scorned,” Powers said. “I think people are always going to feel bad for [Sheremet] with the fact that LeAnn not only left him after seven years of marriage, but ran off with this man she met on the set of her movie.”