Inside Hilarie Burton and Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Incredibly Private Marriage

When you're able to pull off a secret wedding because everyone assumed you were already married, well, Hilarie Burton and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, you've achieved master levels of discreetness.

By Sarah Grossbart Apr 22, 2024 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Why Hilarie Burton Morgan Practices MAGIC Around Her Kids

Celebrity couples tend to fall into one of two camps. 

There are the public and very online pairs that roast each other on social media, work through marriage problems on their shared podcasts and take to YouTube to divulge their origin stories. They talk about mandatory date nights and their partner's penchant for buying flowers just because or leave love notes in the medicine cabinet. It's all very sweet and gives us a reason to comment #goalssssss and instruct our significant others to step up their game. 

And then there are those who feel they've turned over a certain portion of their private lives to fans and that their relationship is the one thing that they can keep to themselves. They rarely offer personal anecdotes in interviews, shut down any line of questioning that could lead to their romance and wouldn't dare subject themselves to a shared red carpet stroll. 

Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hilarie Burton: Romance Rewind

Save for a few public displays of Instagram-ing, the occasional joint step-and-repeat and their pandemic-era AMC series Friday Night in With the MorgansHilarie Burton and Jeffrey Dean Morgan fit squarely into category number two. Before they revealed in 2010 that they had welcomed their first child, son Gus, no one had any idea One Tree Hill's Peyton Sawyer was even dating Denny Duquette from Grey's Anatomy

And up until fall 2019, when the couple released a few select photos from their intimate, early October vows, everyone had kinda assumed The Walking Dead's Negan had already quietly married his love of a decade

The Morgans/AMC

At some point in 2014, a rumor began that the duo, who'd taken to using "husband" and "wife" as pet names, had gotten secretly hitched.

And the premise seemed reasonable enough that everyone just ran with it, including the 58-year-old—celebrating his birthday April 22—and his 41-year-old future bride, who has gotten a bit more comfortable sharing the magic behind their romance.

"For years, publications have reported that we got married in 2014 or 2015 and that I've been married and divorced before," she wrote in her Instagram wedding reveal. "All untrue. But WE knew our truth. So it felt silly to try and correct anything."

Basically, it's hard to be 100 percent certain just what is going on in their lives at any given moment. And that's just the way Mr. and Mrs. Morgan like it. 

Since the first did-not-see-that-coming reveal that they were together and already parents, the twosome have gotten a bit less cagey about their coupling. Or, perhaps, it's just that Morgan has gotten a little worse about holding back his joy. Either way, the pair tend to share just enough to let us know we should be jealous of their union.

For instance, there's the holiday tradition of watching Les Misérables, one Burton admits Morgan doesn't love, but indulges anyway. 

"My family watches the same two movies every Christmas and it kills my husband," she shared with Us Weekly in 2018. "He likes the Die Hard of it all. We can definitely fit Die Hard in, and then Les Mis. My son is obsessed with Les Mis. My whole family is obsessed with Les Mis, and poor Jeffrey is just like, 'I don't understand why they're singing, like why are they singing?'"


And who didn't melt a little when Burton revealed she was wearing a shirt with Morgan's likeness on it so that Dad was "here to represent" during then-infant daughter George's nap time? 

Or when she shared how playing mercurial antagonist Negan made Morgan a "good cop at home"? As she put it to Entertainment Tonight in 2017, "He gets all his bad cop stuff out of the way at work and then he comes home and he's happy dad."

Not a strategy most can employ, allowed the actor, but it's served him well. "I'm sweet all the time. And my kid thinks I'm cool, so that works," he said. "I think that's the key. The key to success with home life is to be a crazy person on TV."

A little tequila doesn't hurt either. That's what was on hand when his Supernatural costar Jensen Ackles set him up on a blind date back in 2009.

"I happened to be single and Jensen said, 'I've got a girl you should meet,'" Morgan recalled in a 2015 interview with Huffington Post Live. The mystery woman was, of course, Burton, who worked with Ackles' wife Danneel Ackles on One Tree Hill. "So I went to a bar and I met Hilarie at a bar with Jensen and Danneel, and the rest is history…We ended up back at my house drinking shots of tequila."

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Perhaps it was liquid courage, or lowered inhibitions, but either way Morgan got Burton to cancel a planned trip to France so that she could join him on the set of his 2011 horror The Resident. "I talked her into, instead of going to Paris, to come and see me in New Mexico, he recalled. "And I ruined her life and now she's stuck with me."

Well, not stuck, per se, but certainly committed. Because by the time they let fans in on the fact that they were a duo, they had already become a trio. True to form, initial details on their son were scarce, with Burton electing not to share his name or his March 2010 birth date because as she told the Associated Press "I want to protect them like a mama wolf should." 

But slowly the pair began opening up about the somewhat Rockwellian life they share on a working farm in Rhinebeck, N.Y., some two hours outside the city where they tend to cows and alpaca and deal with the daily happenings at the nearby candy store they share with Paul Rudd

All the Bombshells From Hilarie Burton's New Book The Rural Diaries

"When I decided to go back to hosting," the former TRL emcee noted to E! News last October, "he's been like, 'Awesome.' And when I decided to write books he's like, 'Awesome.' And when we bought the town candy store, he was like, 'Awesome.' And then we started a liquor line and he's like, 'What else do you want to do Hilarie? I'll do all it.' Having a partner that knows that you will always be in transition and loves you for that is so important."

As for parenting, it had its drawbacks, like the phase in which Gus embraced "no" as his go-to word for "everything," as Burton put it: "'What's your favorite color?' 'No.'" But from the beginning, they were living for each little milestone. "Everything is a first," Morgan gushed to E! News at the 2011 Breaking Dawn: Part 1 premiere. "It's been spectacular." 

Instagram / Hilarie Burton

So pretty much everything was perfect, with one notable exception. 

For five excruciating years, the couple struggled to expand their family. It was a deeply personal confession from a generally private pair, but Burton felt compelled to present the February 2018 arrival of daughter George with a message to "all the women out there who are trying" not to give up hope. She likely wouldn't even have posted about the new bundle, except that Morgan was back on the convention circuit and he knew himself well enough to know that he wouldn't be able to hide his elation.

"So before he starts tripping up in an attempt to maintain our privacy," she wrote on Instagram, "he asked that I go ahead and post something about our little girl's birth." 

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It was a long time coming, for starters. "The first time I got pregnant, it took a year and a half. I surprised him on Christmas with baby Seahawk booties. We cried. We celebrated. We picked out names," she shared. "And we lost that baby. More losses followed, and as so many couples know, it was heartbreaking. It still is heartbreaking."

Seeing others celebrate their baby joy made it that much more devastating. "I'd open my computer at the kitchen table and see the news and I'd grow bitter over the endless parade of celebrities showing off their bumps and babies," she continued. "I'd weep out of jealousy for how easy it was for them. Didn't they know something could go wrong? Didn't they know that there were other women out there struggling?" 

She spent the whole of her pregnancy with George obsessively checking her heartbeat and waiving away offers for a baby shower, "And now that she is here, I just stare at her in wonder all day," she said. "I see her in her daddy's arms and I don't take any of it for granted. She screams bloody murder and I smile because she is so wildly alive.


Family finally complete (with Dad delivering both kids with an assist from the midwife), the two couldn't stop gushing about how darn happy they were. 

There were the requisite birthday shout outs, of course, with Burton posting a video in which she and the kids playfully argue over who loves Morgan the most and the actor, in turn, marking the anniversary of her July birth by calling her "the hottest chick on the planet" along with the "greatest mom, partner, and best friend a fella could ask for."

But there were also the for-no-good-reason tributes, Morgan telling the world how much he loved Burton in April 2019, because he "figured a public declaration may put a smile on her face." 

The twosome were just so loved up, so firmly cemented that they soon realized their protestations about marriage really didn't make any sense. They had, as Burton noted in her Instagram reveal, lived their vows to each other for the past 10 years, but now it was time to actually say them aloud.

Instagram / Hilarie Burton

"You just hit a point one day when you want it to be real and our lives are very, very busy," the A Christmas Wish actress told Us Weekly in October 2019. "It became really easy to just be like, 'We're close enough. We're close enough.' But you also want to set an example with your children and we didn't want to be liars anymore! We called each other husband and wife because we lived as husband and wife."

Plus, it saved her from having to dodge follow-up questions. "I've been calling him my husband for years because when you say that you're engaged, everybody's so nosy and they're just, 'When? Where?' You know?" she explained to E! News at the junket for her Lifetime holiday flick. "And so I wanted to do it on our time. And that's what we did. And thankfully we've got a really great core group of people around us that let it stay private and intimate."

So she schlepped into the city for a visit with Carol Hannah to create the perfect buttons-down-the-back strapless white wedding gown she never thought she wanted, booked a weekend at NYC's Bowery Hotel, tapped The Band Method to play, Poppies and Posies to provide the flora and Jensen to officiate alongside Morgan's TWD costar Norman Reedus

Secret Star Weddings and Elopements

The result, she shared on Instagram, "Standing up there with our children at our sides—celebrating all that has been—was bliss." Particularly the part where they excused themselves from pals Sophia Bush and Reedus and the other guests for a little tête-à-tête. 

"We ducked out at the end and went upstairs, you know, totally sober and no debauchery and we just gossiped," she told Us Weekly, "sat in bathrobes and gossiped and that was perfect." 

Private. Personal. A moment shared solely between the two of them—just as they prefer it. 

(Originally published Oct. 25, 2019 at 3 a.m. PT)