What Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey's Marriage Was Like on Newlyweds—and in Real Life

Twenty years after MTV's Newlyweds premiered, it's easy to forget that Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson weren't always the poster exes for why couples shouldn't do reality TV.

By Natalie Finn Aug 19, 2023 7:00 AMTags
Watch: Did Nick Lachey SHADE Ex Jessica Simpson on Love Is Blind Reunion?

When Nick Lachey quipped that marriage "is always better the second time" during the Love Is Blind third season reunion last November, that could've just been a bit of throwaway banter. But it caught viewers' attention.

Because they remember Lachey's first time. And don't we all, for that matter?

It's been almost 21 years since he wed Jessica Simpson and, even though they've long since moved on and each have three children with their current spouses—marriage being better the second time for both—the energy they once sparked in the celebrity universe remains. And thanks to TikTok, everything retro is new again.

"It's amazing what publicity can do," Simpson cracked to Bustle about the Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica clips being shared this summer, ripe for a closer look.

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But to be fair to all still-obsessed parties, Lachey and Simpson intentionally invited a lot of people to go on their journey with them, and millions merrily RSVP'd.

Theo Wargo/WireImage

Because, once upon a time, it didn't automatically feel like the worst idea ever for couples to do a reality show about their lives.

And Simpson and Lachey, who tied the knot on Oct. 26, 2002, were instrumental in ushering in a whole new genre of entertainment—for the world and for MTV—when they agreed to star in Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica.

They weren't exactly newlyweds anymore when the show premiered on Aug. 19, 2003, with gauzy images of their wedding and sexy shots from home unfolding to the strains of 98 Degrees' "I Do (Cherish You)." But close enough—and what doesn't scream "till death do us part" like immediate synergy in the form of Nick singing the theme song?

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Fast-forward just a few years and they would become the poster exes for why it's almost never a good idea for couples to do a show that's going to focus mainly on the inner workings of their relationship (the stories of emerging unscathed from such a venture are now the exception).

Move ahead several years more and Lachey and Simpson would both be happily settled in new relationships, with children and doting partners and all the evidence that being married to the other was only a pit stop on the road to their real destination.

But though Simpson has said she doesn't regret doing Newlyweds "at all," their oft-televised union (remember the Nick and Jessica Variety Hour?) has suffered in the retelling, becoming a marriage of moments: Chicken of the Sea; "Sweetest Sin," Jess' musical ode to losing her virginity; her Friday night divorce filing in December 2005; etc.

"It was the most amazing moment of my life," Simpson told Blender about their wedding night. "I'm so lucky I didn't lose my virginity in the back of a Jeep or something. Instead, I had this amazing, elaborate wedding and I topped it off with that."

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Sex can be a great motivator, as can an unparalleled opportunity to build a brand and earn some money, but Simpson and Lachey—for all the show revealed them to not have in common—did originally intend to live happily ever after.

They started dating in 1999 after falling for each other on tour, and Lachey later told CBS News, in a joint interview with Simpson, "The first time I ever heard her sing, I got chills. And I told the guys [in 98 Degrees]...'I'm going to marry that girl one day.'"

Simpson chimed in, "We definitely knew—no ifs, ands or buts—we're totally in love." To which Lachey added, "You know, it sounds kind of hokey and cheesy, but at the same time, it's cool."

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So why not share all that hokey, cheesy love with the world?

It was the blushing bride's father and then-manager, Joe Simpson, who brokered the deal for their show with MTV (and would continue, along with Jess' mom, Tina, to be really involved in the couple's life), and Jessica readily admitted she thought it would be a good way to promote her new album, In This Skin.


And it was apparent that Nick and Jessica were stronger together, at least at first. Of course their fans wanted to know more about their sex life, not to mention watch it play out in PG-rated form in music videos, see inside their spacious Calabasas home, and Simpson's closet in particular, and watch them playfully bicker and make up. Nick also always seemed to be carrying her around—they were so hot!

All of that translated into more opportunities outside the marriage, especially for Simpson, who launched her edible beauty line Jessica Simpson Desserts and started formulating what would eventually become her booming, billion-dollar fashion and lifestyle brand.

But the whole incompatibility thing soon got in the way. Though the phrase "reality TV curse" is often invoked, according to observers at the time, their marriage would have unraveled anyway—and possibly faster if they hadn't let the cameras, which gave them a common purpose, into their lives.

"We were young and pioneering our way through reality television, always miced and always on. We worked and we were great at it but when it came time to being alone, we weren't great at it anymore," Simpson wrote in her 2020 memoir, Open Book. "We really got crushed by the media and by ourselves. I couldn't lie to our fans and I couldn't give somebody hope that we were this perfect golden couple."


Remember the time Lachey got mad at Simpson for spending $750 on La Perla lingerie, or $1,200 on sheets? Or wasn't all that welcoming to her BFF CaCee Cobb when she was around? Or the two of them not being able to agree—after all that damn exposition—on how often they should have sex? In one episode, Lachey tried to negotiate three times a week, and Simpson looked rather, um, put out by that prospect.

"You could feel there was tension between the two of them. They were very different people," Newlyweds producer Sue Kolinsky recalled in a 2017 interview with Complex that proved folks were still interested in a little dirt on the long-defunct Simpson-Lachey marriage.

"He was a blue collar guy—he did a lot of things himself, like he and his brother would build things," Kolinsky said. "He was frugal, and she had excessive taste. In the end they weren't suited for each other. The only thing they really had in common was their music. She was really young; I think he's seven years older than her. He wanted a family, and her father thought maybe she was too young. Her father was very involved in her life. "

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When Simpson later joked that her first marriage was her "biggest money mistake," she wasn't talking about extravagantly priced panties. (And Simpson made that crack in a 2015 interview on CNBC's Closing Bellan indicator all on its own of financial success.)

She said on Dr. Oz in 2020 that Nick had suggested they sign a prenup, "but I was, like, so offended." Basically she did not like the implication that they weren't really in it to win it forever.

Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage

During the marriage, their careers and personal brands did not seem to be taking off at the same rate. Lachey was still the hunky 98 Degrees singer, but Simpson, the breakout star of Newlyweds, was fast becoming more than a pop star. (And she could have been in The Notebook, she divulged in Open Book, but "turned it down because they wouldn't budge on taking out the sex scene.")

But while their show is remembered more as a recipe for divorce court, there was a real relationship at its core. One that many fans also mourned after it ended.

While Simpson confidently built on the starry-eyed early days of their marriage, Lachey scored a hit with the tear-jerker title track of his 2006 album What's Left of Me, which is still the biggest single of his solo career.

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"It's not in any way vindictive or an assault on her," Lachey explained the album in the companion MTV special What's Left of Me, which aired in April 2006, five months after Simpson filed for divorce. "In a lot of ways, it's more of an assault on me."

Acknowledging how broken he sounded in some of the songs on the album, which came out that May, Lachey said he felt "blindsided," but hopeful that he'd find love again.

"Do I believe that I'll fall in love again one day? I certainly hope so. I certainly hope I'm not going to be the jerk, uncle, bachelor the rest of my life," he promised. "You know, it's not what I envisioned for myself, but at the same time, when I got married, that was it for me, you know, that was my life."

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Simpson put her side of the story to productive use as well.

In August 2006, she released her album A Public Affair, which would have been really disappointing if none of the songs had anything to do with her divorce.

"'A Public Affair' is a play on words; it's not about what you think it's going to be about," Simpson explained the title track to MTV News. "People probably expected [it to be about Lachey] because of everything going on in my life, but it's not about him at all. It's about me going out with my girlfriends and forgetting everything that's around me, which is paparazzi, and just having a fun night. Because [paparazzi] can ruin a night."

Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage.com

But her cover of Patty Griffin's "Let Him Fly" did have a particular meaning.

Simpson recalled listening to the song with sister Ashlee Simpson (now Simpson-Ross) in December 2005, as her marriage was unraveling, and the effect it had.

"We laid there listening to the song and just cried and cried like babies," she said. "In a lot of ways, my sister really gave me the strength to pull through this really hard time. And it was just lying there and being with her that got me through it. I knew everything would be OK. The song is about how sometimes you just have to know when to let something go. And that was that moment. And I had to sing it."

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Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Jessica Simpson Collection

Simpson went on to high-profile relationships with John Mayer and Tony Romo before ultimately meeting her future husband, Eric Johnson, in 2010. They wed in 2014 and share daughters Maxwell Drew, 11, and Birdie Mae, 4, and son Ace Knute, 9.

Lachey, meanwhile, came face to face with Mrs. Right just months after the divorce.

There was a little off-and-on turbulence before Nick and Vanessa Lachey (née Minnillo, her name back when she was hanging out with Nick and Jessica as a host of TRL) tied the knot in 2011. But their instant connection when she starred in his "What's Left of Me" video prompted Lachey to bounce back pretty quickly from the depths of his woe.


"It's life, man," he told Access Hollywood in 2009 about the breakup of his marriage to Simpson. "Why does any marriage end? There are probably more reasons than either one of us will ever understand or want to talk about. Sometimes people are in your life for a period of time for a reason and… that situation changes."

Lachey noted at the time that he and Simpson were no longer in touch—but when he and Vanessa got engaged the following year, Simpson told Ryan Seacrest on KIIS-FM that she was "extremely, extremely happy for him."

Nick and Vanessa Lachey Romance Rewind

As for the instantaneous rumors that she was actually quite saddened by the news, she pleaded ignorance.

"You know, our relationship was over a really long time ago, so it would be nice if everybody could move on with us and really just celebrate the love between him and Vanessa," Simpson said. "I do, and I wish them nothing but the best."

Lachey confirmed on SiriusXM's Andy Cohen Live in November 2021 that, almost two years after its release, he'd never read his ex-wife's book nor was it on his to-do list.

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"I lived it," he pointed out. "I know what the truth is, so I don't need to read it, read someone's version of it in a story."

Lachey, for his part, is living a whole other existence now as Vanessa's husband and dad to sons Camden, 10, and Phoenix, 6, and daughter Brooklyn, 8. 

"I am thrilled to be where I am in life," he told Andy Cohen. "[Marriage to Simpson] was 20 years ago. It's honestly the last thing on my mind these days except when someone brings it up...I understand why people want to ask, but it's just so not a part of my life anymore that it's not even on my radar. She is doing her thing and I am doing mine and that's the way it should be."

Seriously, isn't it the worst when someone brings it up?

But while Simpson and Lachey actually had a much easier time of it than some stars who parted ways and yet remain haunted by their exes in headline form, the reminders continue that audiences once fell in love with Newlyweds—and they committed for the long haul, even when the newlyweds themselves realized it was time to move on.

(Originally published July 11, 2017, at 1:34 p.m. PT)