REUTERS - The world's most famous bachelor, George Clooney, broke a vow to remain single on Saturday and married human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin during a weekend of lavish celebrations in Venice.
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The Italian city of gondolas and palazzi looked like Hollywood on the Adriatic as A-list guests cruised between luxury hotels for the extravaganza, billed as the party of the year even as details were kept largely secret.
Clooney's representative, Stan Rosenfield, broke a long silence about the actor's personal life on Saturday, issuing a statement confirming the marriage.
"Confirmed. They were married Saturday evening in Venice," he told Reuters in an email.
The pair had been expected to wed officially on Monday in a civil ceremony at Venice's 14th-century town hall. It was not clear if that would still take place.
Venice's Grand Canal turned into an aquatic red carpet as the tuxedo-clad actor and his guests crossed the lagoon from the Cipriani hotel for dinner at the seven-star Aman Canal Grande Venice, housed in the 16th-century Palazzo Papadopoli.
Actors Matt Damon and Bill Murray mingled with model Cindy Crawford, Vogue editor Anna Wintour and singer Bono at a reception on the terrace of the plush Cipriani before embarking.
Passing "vaporetti" public boats tilted sideways as passengers crowded to see two-time Oscar winner Clooney, who waved to onlookers and rubbed his hands together on arrival at the Aman, as if to show he was looking forward to a good meal.
Drinks were laid on in a rear garden before dinner in the main dining room of the Aman, where local media had reported the pair was to say vows informally.
Kentucky-born Clooney, who shot to stardom in the television series "ER," had vowed never to remarry after his 1993 divorce from actress Talia Balsam and is said to have made a $100,000 bet with Michelle Pfeiffer that he would stay single.
The Lebanese-born Alamuddin, who had no previous connection to Hollywood, has represented Ukrainian former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko at the European Court of Human Rights, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in extradition proceedings.
"She will keep him on his toes because she is bright," said Judith Graham, 59, of Surrey, England. "He's had all these actresses fawning over him before. I hope he'll be happy."
Alamuddin, who is based in Britain, also advised former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on the conflict in Syria, an issue about which Clooney has spoken publicly.
Last month she turned down an appointment to the UN Human Rights Council's three-person panel to investigate the recent war in Gaza, citing her "existing commitments." But she also stated, "I am horrified by the situation in the occupied Gaza Strip, particularly the civilian casualties that have been caused, and strongly believe that there should be an independent investigation and accountability for crimes that have been committed..
Clooney has also led campaigns to highlight the plight of refugees in Darfur, Sudan, and is expected to donate the fees earned from selling rights to the wedding photos to that cause.
What better spot?
As the sun shone over Venice, locals and tourists alike were excited to witness a memorable moment in the city's long history of hosting stars for its film festival, the world's oldest.
"I thought he was like the world's most eligible bachelor so I didn't realize he was ever going to get married, but I guess if you're going to get married what better spot than a beautiful Italian city like Venice?" said Canadian tourist Philip De Vooght.
A slick, wooden speedboat called "Amore" brought the couple into the city on Friday in a convoy of boats, a modern-day version of the ceremonial entrances of the Doges of the Venetian Republic, which lasted from the late seventh century until 1797.
Alamuddin, who is rumoured to have 12 outfit changes prepared for the weekend, wore a black-and-white striped dress as she arrived with Clooney on the speedboat.
The 36-year-old picked a more formal red dress with black butterfly patterns for a party in her honour on Friday night. She has reportedly chosen an Alexander McQueen wedding gown.
Guests were ferried around the city in speed-boats bearing small flags marked with "AG", for Amal and George, and a brown swagged canopy was put up in front of the Aman on Saturday to shield guests from prying eyes and photographers' long lenses.
People magazine reported that the pair had been married by the former mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, a film buff and Clooney's friend, confirming previous Italian media reports.
Venice's city government said last week it would close a few of the town's narrow pedestrian streets for two hours on Monday, in case the "celebrity status" of the event caused overcrowding and threatened people's safety.