Gene Kelly’s widow says she never ‘thought’ about 47-year age gap

Gene Kelly’s widow has reflected on her nearly 50-year age gap with the Hollywood legend.

Patricia Ward Kelly met the Singin’ in the Rain star in 1985, when she was working on a television special about the Smithsonian Museum that he happened to be hosting. She was just 26 at the time, and Kelly was 47 years her senior.

“The age issue was not an issue for me,” she told Fox News in an interview published 20 March. “And the funny thing is, I never really even thought about it because he was so young at heart.”

Upon meeting the On the Town star, Ward Kelly revealed that she “didn’t know” who her future husband was at the time. However, the author and public speaker admitted that it was perhaps “the best way to meet” Kelly because she had “no preconceived notions of him”.

About six months after working on the documentary, the choreographer invited Ward Kelly to his Los Angeles home and to help him write his memoir. That began the start of their relationship, until Kelly’s death in 1996 at age 83.

The couple were married in Santa Barbara in 1990, though Ward Kelly previously admitted to the Irish Times that she told the press her age was 36 and not 31. She explained that she didn’t pay any mind to their age gap “until the tabloids started making such a big deal about it”.

“And then I didn’t even add up the difference until they made a big deal,” Ward Kelly added. Her parents, on the other hand, were more accepting of her relationship with the An American in Paris actor. “My parents understood and didn’t see it as any problem. They knew I’d always kind of coloured outside the lines a little bit,” she recalled. “And so it seemed perfectly natural to them. There wasn’t anything strange about it.”

Ward Kelly acknowledged that being “suddenly thrust into this spotlight” and having the public “passing judgment” on her and her relationship was more of an issue than their age gap.

“That was harder to take, if you go from anonymity to being the poster child at the checkout counter at the grocery store,” she told the outlet. “But it is strange when people are following you, taking pictures and certainly nothing like what people are experiencing today, what these mega stars experience in terms of violations of privacy, but we were just on the edge of it.”

Reflecting on her love story with the Academy Award nominee, she explained how she initially fell in love with Kelly’s “words” and their shared passion for etymology - the study of the origins of words. Although Kelly was enigmatic on screen, she noted that he was “very quiet” in private.


Throughout their relationship, the couple spent most of their time “sitting next to each other on the couch” or in front of the fire and reading books. She described Kelly as the “epitome of romance” and recounted moments when he would “wake me up in the middle of the night just to go out on the balcony to see the full moon”.

The most challenging moment in their relationship, she recalled, was when their “privacy” was exploited during the final years of his life in the hospital. In 1994, Kelly suffered a stroke and was hospitalised for seven weeks. He suffered another stroke the following year, and passed away on 2 February 1996.

Looking back, Ward Kelly shared that she still misses the “brightness of his mind” and the “little valentines he would leave sprinkled around the house for Valentine’s Day”. However, the widow maintained that her late husband’s legacy is “never going to go away” and “he’ll just keep going”.

Prior to his relationship with Ward Kelly, the Hello, Dolly! director was married to actor Betsy Blair from 1941 to 1957. They shared one child, daughter Kerry Kelly. In 1960, he married his choreographic assistant Jeanne Coyne, and they welcomed two children: son Timothy Kelly, and daughter Bridget Kelly. Their marriage lasted until Coyne’s death in 1973 aged 50.