The ‘momager’ of the Kardashians, Kris Jenner, is no stranger to off-screen drama
She’s the most famous matriarch on reality TV and the executive producer on E!’s most successful show Keeping Up With The Kardashians. But behind 59-year-old Kris Jenner‘s reveal-all exploits on TV and her trademark black eyeshadow, there’s been a lifetime of drama.
Born Kristen Mary Houghton in San Diego, California, on 5 November 1955, Kris‘s parents divorced when she was seven years old. A year later she developed a cancerous bone tumour but, thankfully, after surgery she was given a clean bill of health.
In 1976 Kris began a career as an air stewardess but she had specific plans about her future. ‘Since I was 16 my dream was to grow up and have six kids,’ she says. It was at this time that she met Robert Kardashian, a young, successful lawyer who swept her off her feet and introduced her to the high life of Beverly Hills. They married in 1978 and the next year Kourtney was born. A year later came Kimberly, then Khloé in 1984 and son Robert in 1987.
By now strains had emerged in the marriage. Kris had an affair with Todd Waterman, as she later revealed in her 2011 autobiography, referring to him as ‘Ryan’. In 1989 she and Robert divorced, citing irreconcilable differences. ‘It wasn’t fun,’ she says. ‘It was so scary and I was so young and I had four kids. And then we ended up best friends.’
Kris stayed single for a while and shunned blind dates proposed by her friends – except for one, with Olympic decathlon gold medallist Bruce Jenner, also divorced with four children (sons Burt, Casey, Brandon and Sam Brody). Kris fell for Bruce immediately.
‘We were thinking about moving in together,’ she recalls. ‘Then I thought to myself: “I must be out of my mind. We’re not even engaged!” And that night he just busted out a move and dropped to his knee. He said: “I’m totally in love with you, would you marry me?” I was very surprised.’
They married five months later in April 1991. Kris began to manage Bruce‘s career, transforming him from athlete to celebrity, motivational speaker and even TV star.
In 1994, the unimaginable happened: Kris‘s best friend Nicole Brown Simpson, ex wife of former football player OJ Simpson, was found stabbed to death – and OJ was the prime suspect. Kris‘s ex Robert, a close friend of OJ‘s, was on his defence team for what would become one of the highest-profile murder trials in history. OJ was found not guilty.
‘It was devastating for me and for my family,’ says Kris. ‘The night before the trial started Robert wrote me and the kids an amazing letter and said: “I hope you can someday understand what I need to do and I’m doing this for my friend. I’m by his side because I need to be.” And that, to me, was such an amazing thing for him to do.’
In 1995, Bruce and Kris had Kendall, the first of two daughters. In 1997, while pregnant with Kylie, Kris developed gestational diabetes. ‘I gained a whole bunch of weight and got really sick,’ she says. At that point she decided she’d have no more kids – as she puts it: ‘I closed up shop!’
In 2003 Robert was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. He died just eight weeks later, leaving his children in turmoil. To this day, talking about her ex’s death makes Kris cry and every year the family celebrate his birthday at a traditional Armenian restaurant.
Further drama hit in 2007 when the infamous sex tape of Kim – who’d been carving out a career as a socialite on the LA scene with pals Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton – and rapper Ray J was leaked. The Kardashians were suddenly making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
But Kris had an idea of how to turn it around. Sharon Osbourne had spotted a gap in the market for fly-on-the-wall series about famous families, which resulted in The Osbournes. Now the Kardashian-Jenner clan was screaming out for a TV show of its own. Kris approached E! and a series was commissioned, premiering in October 2007. It fast became one of the most-talked-about shows in the US.
Kris and Bruce divorced last year and now Kris concentrates on her kids. ‘I’m a unique combination of mother and manager,’ she says. ‘I’ve trademarked the term momager, which is what I am.I spend 18-hour days creating, nurturing and juggling the insanely busy careers, endless personal appearances and business enterprises of my six children. My lifelong motto is: “If someone says no, you’re talking to the wrong person.”‘