Why Did Bruce Springsteen Divorce His First Wife? He Says He ‘Failed Her as a Husband and Partner’

Bruce Springsteen is well-known for his music, and he’ll go down in history as one of the greatest rock/folk artists of our time. While his music will always be remembered, we can’t forget how Springsteen has had plenty of personal battles of his own. And his deteriorating marriage to his first wife, Julianne Phillips, affected both of them greatly.

Here’s why Springsteen divorced his first wife, Phillips, and why he said he “failed her.”

Bruce Springsteen married Julianne Phillips in 1985

Bruce Springsteen and Julianne Phillips
Bruce Springsteen and Julianne Phillips | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Phillips was an actor and model when Springsteen married her in 1985, and it seems he immediately was attracted to her when they first met. The List notes Springsteen described her as “24, tall, blond, educated, talented, a beautiful and charming young woman,” in his autobiography, Born to Run.

While he was smitten with Phillips, it seems he feared commitment. Prior to his marriage, Springsteen had relationships that only lasted for a few years at most. And he had trouble getting emotionally invested in his marriage. Not only that, but Springsteen reportedly felt a lot of inner anger which also prevented him from getting close to his then-wife.

It seems Springsteen and Phillips may have had different desires when it came to living the celebrity life, too. Springsteen became quite famous for his music and shows, and Phillips reportedly preferred her privacy. When the two ultimately divorced in 1989, Phillips wanted a no-talk divorce settlement so she could focus on her own work.

Springsteen said he felt as if he ‘failed’ Phillips for the divorce

Bruce Springsteen carrying Julianne Phillips
Bruce Springsteen carrying Julianne Phillips | Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

While Springsteen was married to Phillips, he found himself drawn to Patti Scialfa, his bandmate closer to his age. Showbiz 411 reports Springsteen wrote in his autobiography about how he started to convince himself Phillips was just after him for his fame. However, this wasn’t the case.

“There, as we politely chatted by candlelight, hand in hand, a part of me tried to convince myself that [Phillips] was simply using me to further her career or to get . . . something,” Springsteen wrote. “Nothing could’ve been farther from the truth. Julianne loved me and didn’t have an exploitive [sic] or malicious bone in her body.”

Ultimately, Springsteen had to come clean to Phillips regarding his growing relationship with Scialfa. In Born to Run, he noted he dealt with the split “abysmally” by insisting everything between them remain quiet as they divorced, which fueled the rumor mill. Ultimately, Springsteen admitted he was “emotionally stunted” and unavailable for love by Phillips.

“She’s a woman of great discretion and decency and always dealt with me and our problems honestly and in good faith, but in the end, we didn’t really know,” he continued regarding Phillips. “I placed her in a terribly difficult position for a young girl and I failed her as a husband and partner.” 

Springsteen is now married to Patti Scialfa


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While Scialfa was older and reportedly less classically beautiful than Phillips, she was the perfect match for Springsteen. People notes Scialfa was signed on with the E Street Band in 1984 as the only female member. And since Springsteen was such a perfectionist when it came to his music, it’s clear he saw something special about her backup vocals and tambourine playing.

While Scialfa was originally seen as “one of the guys,” she always had a soft spot for Springsteen. “Patti’s been in love with Bruce for as long as I can remember,” Curtis K. Smith, her art teacher at Asbury Park High, explained. “We’d always heard this and that about Patti and Bruce from [her brother] Michael. It wasn’t a big surprise around here when it finally came into the open.”

While it was a rocky road for both Springsteen and Scialfa to settle into their relationship due to scrutiny from the public, they managed to make it work. They married in 1991 and are still together today.

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