The Truth About Robert Redford's First Wife

Robert Redford's roles in a myriad of landmark films not only made him a household name, but also a prominent thread in America's cultural fabric. After spending six decades watching and falling in love with the iconic actor, many of us feel we know Redford intimately. But the truth is he has always been pretty private about his often tragic life. Despite being famous for starring in romantic films with frequent unhappy dénouements, Redford has enjoyed a fairly stable love life that he has kept out of the spotlight. For the most part, Redford has been in two longterm relationships in his life. 

Redford has been with artist Sibylle Szaggars since the 1990s and they have mostly lived in his desolate 5,000-acre property in Utah, according to The Telegraph. They made their union official in 2009 in a private ceremony in Szaggars's native Germany, Reuters reported at the time. "The ceremony was very important to them," pastor Frank Engelbrecht, who married them, told The Telegraph. After 25 years together, Redford and Szaggars are still going strong. "She's a very special person. She's younger than I am, and European, which I like, so that's a whole new life," Redford said of his wife in a 2011 interview with AARP The Magazine

Before sharing his life with the German painter, Redford was married for 27 years to Lola Van Wagenen, with whom he had four children. Read on to learn about the eventful, and often difficult, journey that was Redford and Van Wagenen's marriage.

Lola Van Wagenen is a historian and activist

Robert Redford and Lola Van Wagenen met when he was 20 and she was 17 in Los Angeles, per AARP The Magazine. Shortly after, in 1958, they eloped in Utah, where Wagenen, a Mormon, hails from, according to Mirror. "I was just 19 when we married. I met him in California, where we happened to live in the same apartment building. He was an unknown, struggling young visual artist then," she told Seven Days. Then 19, Van Wagenen dropped out of college and moved with Redford to New York City, The Sun noted. 

The couple welcomed their first child, Scott, in September 1959. Just a year into their marriage, Redford and Van Wagenen were struck by tragedy. That same year, their infant son died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), per Mirror. They went on to have three more children, daughters Shauna and Amy, and son, James, who died of liver cancer in 2020, as reported by Mirror.

In the 1980s, when her children were older, Van Wagenen returned to school and graduated with a degree in American history, according to Seven Days. She continued to invest in her education, earning a master's and a PhD. Since her youth, Van Wagenen has been passionate about social issues. She has been involved with different nonprofits, including the Vermont Historical Society and Shelburne Farms. In addition to her work as a historian and activist, she also executive produces films, Seven Days detailed.

Robert Redford doesn't talk about his marriage to Lola Van Wagenen

Robert Redford has long avoided discussing his marriage to Lola Van Wagenen. He told The Guardian in 2004 that he would "rather not" talk about it. "I don't think it's right, do you mind?" Redford said. But he had previously opened up about the need he felt to break away from that union. "I got married very young, at 21. Obviously I don't want to denigrate the person I married, there were a lot of good reasons ... But when you ask me a question, like 'Why?', I have to say it was to save my life. That's what it felt like at the time," he told the publication. Van Wagenen has also tried to maintain that part of her life away from the public eye. "I've tried to be a very private person with a very private life," she told Vermont's Seven Days in a 2002 interview.

In 2020, Redford and Van Wagenen shared another heartbreak when they lost their son James, who had followed in the footsteps of his parents to become an activist and filmmaker. He was 58. Before the cancer, James had already undergone two liver transplants in 1993, per The New York Times. "The grief is immeasurable with the loss of a child," Redford's publicist said in a statement at the time, as BBC reported. "His legacy lives on through his children, art, filmmaking and devoted passion to conservation and the environment," the statement added.