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Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones: A look back at their lasting love story

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Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones appear more in love than ever just months after celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary together.

As the couple return to the romantic spot where Michael proposed on New Year's Eve 1999, we take a look back at their love story, which has endured various challenges over the last 17 years.

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The Mask of Zorro was the big screen outing that catapulted Catherine into the movie world. But it wasn't just film pundits who were impressed with her role as the ravishing Elena in the 1998 adventure.Michael saw the blockbuster at a private screening, and he was captivated by the smouldering brown-eyed beauty. "He says he fell in love with me the first time he saw me on screen," recounts Catherine.The pair met for the first time that autumn at the Deauville Film Festival. Catherine was there to promote Zorro, while Michael was unveiling his thriller A Perfect Murder."The first time I saw him was in the hotel lobby," says Catherine. "He walked right past me, carrying his golf clubs."The two were seated next to each other at dinner that evening, and immediately bonded when they discovered they shared the same birthday. There was an instant attraction. "I was on a mission. There was no doubt. The first time I saw Catherine it was like, Wow," says Michael.She says he told her: "I want to father your children".

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Under a shroud of secrecy, the pair began dating. Things moved slow initially. "I knew this was something special," says Catherine. But with work keeping them apart, "we never even kissed until nine months later."They went public with their romance at the Edinburgh premiere of her thriller Entrapment in June 1999."Michael is here tonight," Catherine told reporters, "because we wanted to publicly say that we are together." For his part, Michael added: "I am a very lucky man".

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A year into their relationship the couple celebrated their joint birthday – her 30th and his 55th – with a big party at a trendy New York night club.At one point in the evening, says a close friend: "Michael gave a toast and said how he'd known Catherine for a year and how much she meant to his life." But there were still no wedding bells.Michael's marriage to his wife of 22 years, Diandra, was still legally binding.The former couple – who have a son, Cameron – separated in 1995 but their divorce had yet to be finalised."Before Michael can marry," Diandra said at the time, "he has to divorce me - or become a Muslim so he can have two wives."

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On New Year's Eve of the same year, Michael went down one knee in Aspen, and asked for her hand in marriage.By this time she was pregnant with their first child. Dylan Michael was born on August 8 the following year, and Catherine's pregnancy was incorporated into her role in Traffic.After Michael's divorce came through the couple (pictured at their rehearsal dinner) wed at the Plaza Hotel in New York on November 18, 2000, surrounded by showbiz pals including Danny DeVito and Goldie Hawn.A traditional Welsh choir sang at the ceremony and Catherine's gold wedding ring – which was bought in Aberystwyth - included a Celtic motif.

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After the wedding, Catherine's star was on the rise. And no-one was prouder than Michael as the brunette beauty received the highest of accolades – an Oscar for her all singing, all dancing role in Chicago.Meanwhile, Michael was more than happy to take a back seat, a positive effect of their age gap, said Catherine."We're in different places in our lives career-wise, so we're not vying for attention – there's no tug of war." Weeks later the couple's second child, daughter Carys Zeta arrived.

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The couple settled in Bermuda, where they had an idyllic life of golfing, sailing and just walking on the beach – and enjoying being fairly anonymous."It's just easy and removed," said Catherine. "And it's a great place to bring up kids. You should see me taking them to school with my baseball cap on – but why am I hiding? Nobody's going to recognise me, anyway!"

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They are also united by their shared sense of fun, with Michael's youthful approach to life meaning the age gap is meaningless."Until someone actually tells me he's 25 years older, I don't actually think about it," says Catherine.

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Catherine has always been close to Michael's troubled son Cameron, who has had long battles with drug addiction.When he faced charges of intent to supply drugs in 2007 the actress stepped in give her support, writing a letter to the judge presiding over the case.She said her stepson has been an "exceptional" brother to her two children, and called him a "caring, considerate worthy human being".

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There was a surprising dedication in store when an excited Catherine picked up a Tony Award in June 2010 for her role in Broadway musical A Little Night Music."See that man there? He's a movie star and I get to sleep with him every night," she told the audience, who roared their approval.She later admitted she'd been caught up in the excitement of the moment, adding: "It wasn't the most elegant thing to say, was it? I don't think I knew what I was saying. I had no control what was coming out of my mouth."Standing up there I felt speechless but obviously I said something but it was such a surprise that my brain didn't really connect to my mouth."What I said about Michael was heartfelt. Although thinking about it now I can't believe I said something as crass as that."

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The couple faced a testing time later that year, when Michael was diagnosed with throat cancer.Catherine said: "The hardest part is seeing his fatigue, because Michael is never tired. If there's anything Michael has, it's strength." True to form, the couple vowed not to let the disease beat them.As Michael embarked on chemotherapy and radiotherapy he put in a brave appearance with Catherine on the red carpet for the premiere of the second Wall Street film."My doctors are optimistic, I'm optimistic," he told reporters at the bash. "Life goes on. It's just another chapter."

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Michael didn't let his illness get the better of him and continued to ensure he spent quality time with Catherine and their two children Dylan and Carys.

The actor's optimistic spirit showed as he enjoyed a day out to Disneyland with his children in November 2010, in the middle of his intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.

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Michael and Catherine have always been endlessly supportive of each other, so it comes as no surprise the Welsh actress had her family on hand when she was presented with a CBE at Buckingham Palace in February 2011.

Catherine said she was "absolutely thrilled" by the honour, and was especially pleased that her husband was in good health to attend the service with her.

"It means a lot to come home with my family and to be honoured in this way – very emotional, rather nervous I must say, and it was worth (it) to have Michael in good health to be able to enjoy it," she said.

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Michael and Catherine went through a difficult period in 2013, and briefly separated due to stress caused by Michael's cancer battle and Catherine's struggles with bipolar disorder.

The pair reconciled just a few months later, confirming that they were back together by putting on an affectionate display as they attended the opening night of drama play The Library in New York in April 2014.

Far from damaging their relationship, Michael has since said that he and Catherine are "stronger than ever" following their separation. He told Ellen DeGeneres that he was still "crazy" in love with his wife during an interview in 2015.

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The family put on another united front at the premiere of Ant-Man in July 2015, just days after Michael's mother Diana lost her cancer battle at the age of 92.

It was a rare red carpet appearance for the couple and their two children, who appeared poised and grown-up as they walked the red carpet hand-in-hand with their parents.

michael douglas15 © Photo: Instagram

The Hollywood couple appeared more in love than ever as they celebrated 15 years of marriage in November 2015. Sharing a sweet throwback photo to mark their special day, Catherine wrote: "Happy Anniversary dearest Michael! Loving our life together, here's to the next 15!"

As for how the couple maintain their long-term relationship? "I think it's just moment to moment," Michael told reporters at the AARP movie awards in February. "Catherine reminds me, I like to say sometimes, we all make more effort with strangers than we do to the people closest to us."

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