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The Secret Behind Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson’s Long-Lasting Marriage

Few couples have been together for as long as Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Hollywood pairing with a love story that rivals theirs. The two actors met when they were both in college and over the past 50-plus years, they’ve managed to keep their union strong by staying true to themselves and each other. 

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Here’s what we can learn from Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson decades-long love story:

Before Samuel L. Jackson became “Hollywood’s most bankable star,” he was a student at Morehouse College and a “keen proponent of on-campus politics,” per The Guardian. While studying at the historically black institution, he became increasingly involved with the civil rights movement and was even an usher at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968, but as he told The Hollywood Reporter, he was drawn to more radical figures than King. That’s because “it was easier for me to side with their ideology or understand that ‘violence is as American as cherry pie,’” he explained, adding, “That made sense to me, you know? Somebody hits you, you hit them back.”

It was around that time that Jackson met a student from another black university, Spelman College, and fell in love. Her name was LaTanya Richardson and she shared his devotion to advocacy, and acting. Richardson would go on to become a successful stage and TV actor, appearing regularly on Broadway and garnering close to 60 acting credits on the small screen with shows like Blue Bloods and Grey’s Anatomy.

They began dating and have “been trying to be revolutionary ever since,” as Jackson told The Guardian. “We met in a revolutionary situation, and we get involved in revolutionary situations all the time,” he noted, sharing how important it was that they both agreed they’d never “compromise who we are to do the things we do. It’s imperative that we be who we are,” he concluded.

Building on a strong foundation 

Samuel L Jackson and his wife, actress LaTanya Richardson in 1997. (Photo by Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Not only did Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson see eye-to-eye when it came to politics and being true to themselves, but they also shared similar career aspirations and family values and when you sum that all up, you get a strong foundation on which to build a life together. While many young couples grow up and grow apart, Jackson and Richardson grew together as they worked towards a shared future. 

After a decade of dating, Jackson proposed and they tied the knot in 1980 before welcoming their first and only child, daughter Zoe Jackson, in 1982. As Richardson shared on “The Graham Norton Show” in 2020, it was a special family member’s dying wish that pushed them down the aisle after 10 years of dating. 

Reminiscing about their engagement, Richardson recalled telling her then-boyfriend, “My grandfather is very ill and he’s going to die and he’s very concerned that we are not married, so we have to get married now so that he can walk me down the aisle.” Explaining that her grandpa’s concern was “that I was the last of his grandchildren not to be walked down the aisle and married,” she shared how she told Jackson, “You have to ask him if you may marry me and then you have to ask me will I marry you and you did.” Because when something is important to the one you love, it becomes important to you.

At the time, the wedding ceremony was totally private, but Jackson shared a glimpse inside in a throwback Instagram post in 2019. Choosing to share a photo of himself and Richardson cutting their wedding cake, he wrote, “You’re my rock and reason to get up every day [and] work on giving you the best I have to offer.” He gushed, “You are Love, walking, talking, challenging and everlasting!” Proof that their bond is as strong as ever!

Learning to forgive and forget 

Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson in 2018 (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage via Getty)

Given that they’ve been together for so long, Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson are often asked about their secret to marital success and they’ve always spoken candidly about what it really takes to make a union last.  

Getting real about the work that’s required, Richardson told ESSENCE that she and her husband rely on love, faith, and forgiveness. “You have to have a big heart and the Lord. You can’t do this without the Lord,” she said, explaining that’s because “you’re going to have to turn to somebody, something — because men, they are different. They’re cut from a different cloth.” Conceding that there will always be tough times, she advised on the importance of not holding onto grudges:

No matter what: don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. I’d be [gritting my teeth, saying] ‘OK good night, I love you. I love you.’ And I’d go to sleep. You gon’ have to forget a lot.

LaTanya Richardson

What’s more, having a personal life in addition to the one you share with your partner is also imperative, especially as a woman. “Keep yourself lifted. Do not [stop working] even if you have a baby,” Richardson encouraged, concluding, “You let your baby see you working.”

Meanwhile, Jackson spoke about the same topic with Us Weekly and said that “the secret to our success” boils down to something even simpler: “We still love each other.” As for how they’ve managed to avoid the Hollywood curse and stay together amidst the fame, he credited their shared foundation in the arts and their ability to be understanding of one another’s needs and aspirations. “You know, we both come from the theater,” he told the outlet, explaining, “She’s on Broadway right now doing To Kill a Mockingbird, I’m out in the world doing movies. We understand the bond we have, the commonality of experiences, the commonality of joy of the theater and of our lives and of our daughter’s life, so it’s easy for us to stay connected,” he said. 

Fight for the right person

Jump to August 2020 and the pair celebrated their landmark 40th wedding anniversary. Taking to Instagram, Jackson reminisced how “50 years ago we started dancing, it was all fun and games. 40 years ago today, s*** got real!” he joked. “The slow drag of our lives pressed together, I led sometimes, sometimes she did. We finally found that rhythm where there was no leader, we moved as one,” he told his followers, underscoring the importance of a healthy, balanced dynamic.

We’re still glued together, hip to hip, holding each other up, not covering as much of the floor, but owning and loving the space that’s ours.

Samuel L. Jackson

Decades-long unions are rare and that’s because they’re not easy. As Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson show us, it is indeed possible to be happily married for over 40 years, but reaching such an impressive milestone requires work from both sides. Forgiveness is key, as is an underlying understanding that each partner is equal and deserves to reach for their own goals while also doing their part to ensure that the relationship only grows stronger. 

Real Love Requires effort
“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

Barbara Pavone

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Barbara Pavone