Kim Kardashian is once again at a crossroads in her meticulously documented life. The 40-year-old reality star and mogul filed for divorce from her third husband, Kanye West, in February. And this week, Keeping Up With the Kardashians—the E! reality show that made her a household name—is officially ending, with a finale that promises to at least somewhat delve into the drama that led up to the split. The last time Kim had this much upheaval in her public image, she was getting a divorce from her second husband, Kris Humphries, after 72 days of marriage.
You remember that, of course. The year was 2011, Keeping Up With the Kardashians was a two-year-old juggernaut, and the season wrapped up with the show’s grandest event yet: “Kim’s Fairytale Wedding.” But just two weeks after the two-part special aired, the fairytale, hm, ended. Kim filed for divorce, inspiring a wave of ridicule and outrage at the show’s apparent fakery. She got married for TV, said everyone. And well, she kind of did.
The reaction to the Kimye dissolution has not been quite so cynical, but fans still have a lot of questions about why Kim chose this particular moment to officially separate from her third husband: How long had they been living apart? Was she waiting for the show to end to pull the plug? Did she vote for Kanye for president?
Whether Kim will address any of these questions, and in what fashion, remains unclear. But to predict how Kim—and the rest of her family—might stage-manage this high-profile uncoupling, we can look to the past, specifically the moment Kim addressed her last divorce, during a sit-down interview with Oprah.
“MISTAKE OR FAKE?”
When Kim filed for divorce from Kris Humphries on October 30, 2011, the public outcry was swift and unyielding. Us Weekly, which had just finished running cover after cover about Kim’s “fairytale” wedding, reprinted her bridal portrait with the coverline, “MISTAKE OR FAKE?” Outlets like The Hollywood Reporter totaled up how much the Kardashians earned for the televised wedding and its many brand-sponsored elements, underlining the possibility that Kim entered into marriage for a check, publicity, or both.
In the face of the biggest PR problem the family had faced since the sex tape that started it all, Kim—and obviously, Kris Jenner—tried to take back narrative control. The Kardashians released the second season of one of their many spinoff shows, Kim & Kourtney Take New York, in late November. The season highlighted Kim’s seemingly immediate regret in her choice of partner. (The first episode was titled “The Honeymoon Is Over.”) During the finale episode, Kim cried to her sister Kourtney and Kourtney’s then-boyfriend, Scott Disick, about how much she wanted the marriage to work and how badly she felt that she had “wasted everyone’s time.”
When the finale aired, however, things were looking up in Kim’s personal life. She had started spending time with an old friend: Kanye West. In April 2012, the couple went public with their relationship—TMZ memorably reported that their “first date” was an afternoon showing of The Hunger Games. (The first harbinger of doom?)
During this time, Kris Jenner began to stage-manage a new era for Kim and the entire family. She secured a two-part interview special with the greatest celebrity interviewer of all time, Oprah. In June, Oprah announced that the entire family would be answering her questions about Kim’s divorce, her new relationship with Kanye, and many other minor Kardashian scandals.
“I genuinely wanted to know why they have become a cultural phenomenon?” Oprah said in her announcement, which was posted, like everything else in 2012, on Facebook. “Why do so many people love to watch their every move and why do so many others love to hate them. Are they completely ego centered? Are they really ‘famous for being famous’ or is there something more?”
“Her answer leveled me”
The special aired on two consecutive Sundays in June and covered just about every aspect of the family’s life at the time: There were segments on Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom’s marriage, Scott Disick’s status as the “black sheep” of the family, and Kendall and Kylie Jenner’s fledgling fashion careers (the girls, then 16 and 14, gave Oprah a somewhat depressing tour of their closets). But the most anticipated aspect of the special was, obviously, Kim’s discussion of her 72-day marriage.
In the lead-up to the premiere, Oprah wrote on Facebook that Kim provided “another level of forthrightness and honesty” during her interview. “Why did she leave after 72 days? Her answer leveled me.”
This may have been a bit of an over-sell on Oprah’s part. While Kim did speak at length about the speedy end of her marriage, she didn’t make any particularly wild claims. She was careful to confirm that Humphries was not abusive, and that “nothing big” happened that caused her to file for divorce. She was also adamant that the wedding was not a stunt, and that she went into it with the best of intentions.
“Anyone that knows me knows that I love so hard,” said Kim. “I fall in love fast. And I was in love and I wanted a life that I always pictured my fairytale life to be.”
She did admit that she didn’t know Humphries that well before walking down the aisle, noting that they never spent more than a week together before the wedding. “You know when you just have that feeling that ‘he’s the one’?” she asked Oprah. “Once we moved in, I knew that he was not the one.”
Of course, Kris Jenner had to offer her take on the quickie marriage, too. In a separate segment, Oprah pressed her on the family’s decision to go ahead with a televised wedding. Kris admitted that she had doubts about her daughter’s choice of partner and expressed them to her “a week before the wedding.”
When Kim came to her a couple months later seeking a divorce, Kris said she was supportive. “My advice to her was you have to follow your heart,” she said. “You can’t stay married because everybody else expects you to.”
Kris also noted that after Kim filed for divorce, she found comfort in—of all things—a random Alec Baldwin tweet she saw in the midst of the scandal. (It said this: “What’s worse than being married for 72 days? Being married for 73 days.”)
All of this was probably easier to talk about given that Kim had already moved on in her romantic life. Having settled the matter of Mr. Humphries, Oprah moved on to a segment about Kim’s new boyfriend: Kanye West. “I can see he makes your whole heart smile,” said Oprah to Kim.
Oprah’s approval kicked off a new era for Kim. Just six months later, Kanye announced—on-stage, naturally—that Kim was pregnant with their first child. Then came the couple’s first appearance together at the Met Gala (and Kim’s high-fashion metamorphosis), the stadium-sized proposal, the wedding at a literal castle in Italy. With one interview, Kim set aside one marriage and embarked on another.
A new content deal
Now, nine years later, Kim will have to figure out a way to start another new chapter in the media. So far, her PR strategy is even more polished than the last time: With her attorney Laura Wasser (who also represented her in the Humphries divorce), she hammered out a settlement agreement with Kanye before she even filed for divorce, thus keeping the personal details of their split out of court and the press.
And as she did during the Humphries divorce, Kim waited to address the breakup on her show, in a surprisingly similar format. On last week’s episode, the family showed a brief few minutes of Kim crying to her sisters about how she felt like a failure for ending her third marriage—echoing the on-camera conversation she had with Kourtney and Scott about Humphries back in 2011.
Now that that’s out of the way, will she call Oprah again and submit herself to more probing questions about what went wrong with Kanye? In February, the British tabloid The Sun reported that she was planning to do just that, but the story reads more like wishful thinking. As Kim’s star has risen, she’s relied less and less on traditional media to express herself. (To announce they were ending Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the family simply released a statement on Instagram.)
Perhaps, Kim—and the rest of the family—are saving the gossip for a new content deal. In December, the family announced they had signed a multi-year pact with Disney and Hulu to produce “new global content” about themselves. The first show under this arrangement is expected to premiere later this year, by which time Kim’s third divorce could be finalized, allowing another new public-relations era to begin.