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The legendary lothario who loved one woman for nearly 60 years

In spite of his relentless womanising and affairs with the likes of former Miss World Marjorie Wallace, Sir Tom Jones remained devoted to his late wife Linda, who died recently after a short battle with cancer, writes Darragh McManus

So in love: Sir Tom Jones and wife Linda, who were together for almost six decades
So in love: Sir Tom Jones and wife Linda, who were together for almost six decades
Centre stage: Jones performs in front of adoring fans in 1967

Tom Jones has reinvented himself in recent years as a judge on The Voice and, particularly, with last year's album Long Lost Suitcase, which saw him revisit the roots music that inspired him as a child.

But he'll always be most associated in the public mind with big booming show tunes, tight trousers, Vegas-style bombast and knickers thrown at the stage.

The Welshman may have grown up around gospel songs, but for the last half-century he's been a bona fide sex symbol. And Sir Tom has the philandering past to match - but at the same time, intriguingly, he remained married to Linda Woodward (Tom's real surname) for a staggering 59 years.

She died last weekend, and such was the closeness of their union that Tom has previously admitted he would find it hard to go on without her.

In October, the 75-year-old recounted to Jonathan Ross how, during her earlier battles with cancer, he had told his son (and manager) Mark: "If your mother doesn't make it, I don't know whether I can sing. A lot of the songs I do, I think of her, so it would be hard if she wasn't there to be able to sing."

He was by Linda's side when she passed away on Sunday.

Their relationship stretched into the distant past. As recalled in his autobiography, Tom had been in love with her since the age of 12. He would watch Linda walk up the hill to school, sometimes being rewarded with a smile.

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He left school at 15 and they started dating, marrying shortly after her 16th birthday in March 1957 (Tom was a few months shy of 17). He remembered how he had "never had that feeling for anyone else... don't think you can fall in love more than once." But, on the flipside, he was also an incorrigible womaniser who once boasted of having had sex with 250 women in one year on his "workbench" - the Jonesian euphemism for a backstage room used for entertaining groupies.

In a slightly weird, but perhaps apt coda this week, a former girlfriend even passed on her condolences to the grieving widower. Charlotte Laws claims she had a three-year affair with the singer, from 1979. She tweeted Tom to assure him that Linda "knew she was the love of your life... I'm heartbroken for you".

"The love of my life" was also how Tom described his late wife, yet he cheated on her countless times. His more high-profile flings included Mary Wilson of The Supremes and former Miss World Marjorie Wallace. Tom described his relentless adultery as "fun and games", and, in fairness, you get the impression this is not meant as a slight on Linda. He seems to have mentally separated these two elements of his life. While not admirable, it's at least mitigation to some degree.

Charlotte said Tom never spoke disrespectfully about his wife (although last year he was slated for saying, "She doesn't look like she did. I don't look like I did either, but I try my best. She's lost her spark.") He also told her back then that his marriage was based on the principle of "don't ask, don't tell."

In that Ross interview, he claimed they had "never discussed" his infidelity, adding: "Linda is a wonderful person and she would never put me on the spot. She loves being married to me and I love being married to her."

What Linda made of all this is unknown, because she stayed out of the limelight for decades. However, in a rare interview given in 1964, she admitted feeling uncomfortable by all the attention he received from female fans.

So, we have a man devoted to his wife, head-over-heels in love with her, but who sleeps around with nary a second thought. It's all very contradictory, but such is the nature of celebrity marriage. These people inhabit a strange, surreal bubble of existence. Many operate to a completely different ethical code than us civilians. Their relationships must be filled with compromise, shades of grey and wilful blindness to reality.

Indeed, given that the world of celebrities is largely defined by ego, narcissism, a childish need for attention and inflated self-confidence, the only surprise in most cases is that they ever manage to drag themselves away from the mirror long enough to get married in the first place.

It doesn't take Nostradamus to predict a short, sharp end to most celebrity unions. Britney Spears' marriage to childhood friend Jason Alexander lasted a scarcely credible 55 hours in 2004. Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman, meanwhile, were together for just five months, and even at that he had tried to get an annulment after nine days - the same length of time as Cher and Gregg Allman's marriage survived. Drew Barrymore lasted 19 days with Welsh barman Jeremy Thomas.

Elsewhere, Colin Farrell's marriage to Amelia Warner was four months - around the same length as Lisa-Marie Presley and Nicolas Cage. But the all-time record is held by silent-movie legend Rudolph Valentino, who was married to Jean Acker for six hours. Yes, we said hours.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, meanwhile, walked up the aisle nine times. And even seemingly normal, down-to-earth sorts such as Kate Winslet aren't immune - she's only 40 but has had no less than three husbands.

Yet, there are exceptions to the rule. Tom and Linda, for one, stayed together all those years because, he reckoned, they came from the same place and so understood each other. "How do you walk away from somebody that you get along so well with?" he asked.

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman were together for 55 years until his 2008 death. The pin-up once said: "Why fool around with hamburger when you have steak at home?" Posh and Becks have been married since 1999 (albeit with a few hiccups along the way). Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick since 1997, Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness since the year before. John Travolta and Kelly Preston wed 25 years ago, Bono and Ali Hewson 34 years.

Meryl Streep married Don Gummer way back in 1978, Alan Alda his beloved Arlene even more way back in 1957. Even that once-notorious lothario Warren Beatty has been with Annette Bening since 1992.

So why do some celebrity marriages succeed, where so many others fail? Funnily enough, it's usually down to the same reasons most people manage to make their unions work - 'work' being the operative word.

Denzel Washington and Pauletta Pearson are married since 1983, together since 1977, and he has said: "I just think that you have to work at it. Not give up on each other. It's a commitment. It's not all the honeymoon. It doesn't last forever, so you work at it."

Will Smith, married to Jada Pinkett for almost 20 years, echoed those same sentiments when commenting last year: "Really, at the end of the day, it's just not quitting. You can't expect it to be easy."

Alternatively, fellow celebs could heed the words of the great Jamie Lee Curtis, who has been married to Spinal Tap creator Christopher Guest since 1984. She wryly advised: "Don't get divorced. It's a fascinating thing. I could write a book on marriage called Don't Leave."

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