All About Reese Witherspoon’s Parents, Betty and John Draper Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon was born to mom Betty and dad John Draper Witherspoon on March 22, 1976

<p>Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic</p> Reese Witherspoon and her mom Betty Witherspoon.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Reese Witherspoon and her mom Betty Witherspoon.

Reese Witherspoon has always stayed true to her Southern roots.

The Big Little Lies star was born Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon in New Orleans on March 22, 1976, to mom Mary Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Reese and dad John Draper Witherspoon. Her parents raised her and her older brother John in Nashville — a city that is still beloved by the family.

Growing up, her parents were both in the medical field — her mom as a nurse and dad as a surgeon — instilling a sense of independence and ambition in Reese early on.

"My mother worked night shifts, she worked weekends, so I had to kinda take care of myself; my brother and I would make dinner and everything,” Reese recalled on an episode of The Drew Barrymore Show in 2021.

Despite their busy schedules, her parents always encouraged Reese to follow her passions. "My parents were always incredibly supportive," she told Vanity Fair in a 2009 interview, recalling the first time she was “bit” by the acting bug as a kid after appearing in a local florist’s commercial. "I came home and told my mother I wanted to be an actress. It all came from me. It was all self-generated,” she told the outlet.

Reese’s parents separated in the mid-’90s but have remained married for over 50 years. Their relationship made headlines in 2012 when John allegedly married another woman, prompting Betty to seek legal action to get the alleged marriage annulled. She and John later reconciled.

Here is everything to know about Reese Witherspoon’s parents, Betty and John Draper Witherspoon.

Her parents met as students

<p>Reese Witherspoon Instagram</p> Reese Witherspoon and her mom Betty.

Reese Witherspoon Instagram

Reese Witherspoon and her mom Betty.

Betty and John first met while they were studying at the University of Tennessee in Nashville, according to a 2002 Vanity Fair interview with Reese. They wed in 1970, welcoming their first child together, son John, two years later. In 1976, they expanded their family once again when daughter Reese was born.

Both of her parents were exceptionally ambitious and talented students — a trait they passed down to their daughter.

"You wonder where all my drive comes from? My dad scored a perfect score on his S.A.T.'s and a perfect score on his MCATS, and graduated at the top of his class from Yale,” Reese recounted to Vanity Fair. “My mom has five or six degrees. My brother and I both went to college, but neither one of us graduated." Reese was accepted to Stanford University, but left to pursue her already budding film career.

"My parents used to call me Little Type A," she told the outlet, revealing the inside joke behind her first production company, Type A Films. "I was always very busy and driven. Part of that is great, and part of that can tear you up."

They raised Reese in Nashville

Reese Witherspoon/Instagram Reese Witherspoon and her dad.
Reese Witherspoon/Instagram Reese Witherspoon and her dad.

The actress and producer is proud to have been raised in the south, where she attended weekly manners classes and church on Sundays. She strives to instill the same values in her three children (who are Betty and John's grandchildren) — lookalike daughter Ava Phillippe and son Deacon Phillippe from her previous marriage to actor Ryan Phillippe, and son Tennessee Toth whom she shares with ex Jim Toth.

“I grew up in Nashville and my parents taught me to respect my elders. We’d say things like ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘no, sir’ to adults. But kids in Los Angeles don’t do that,” she told PEOPLE in 2009, noting that while she raised her children far from her own hometown, she was determined to maintain some of the same southern etiquette.

Reese explained, “I’ve drawn the line at my children calling adults by their first names. I tell them they can call people ‘Miss Shannon’ or ‘Miss Heather’ but that using only first names is too familiar. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned.”

She also brought her kids to church with her when they were younger, seeking to recreate the “real sense of community” she’d found by going to services with her family while growing up in the south.

Her father was in the army

Soon after Reese was born in New Orleans, the family moved to the city of Wiesbaden in Germany, where her father was stationed as a lieutenant colonel in the United States reserves while he served his draft obligation for the Vietnam War, according to Vanity Fair. The family lived there for four years.

When they returned to the U.S., they settled in Nashville, and John began working as an otolaryngologist. According to Cleveland Clinic, an otolaryngologist is a health care professional who "treats conditions affecting your ears, nose and throat." In addition, they may also "perform head and neck surgeries, including surgeries on your ears, mouth, throat, nose, neck and face."

Her mom was a nurse

Reese Witherspoon/Instagram Reese Witherspoon and mother Betty
Reese Witherspoon/Instagram Reese Witherspoon and mother Betty

Betty earned a Ph.D in pediatric nursing, per Variety, and went on to teach nursing for 30 years at Tennessee State University. During a 2021 appearance on The Drew Barrymore Show, Reese opened up about her mom’s incredible dedication to her patients, and the huge impact it’s had on her.

“She was so tired, but she just loved her patients," The Morning Show star said. "She did labor and delivery, she did neonatal intensive care. I would bring her donuts, her and the other nurses."

The Oscar winner praised her mom’s "endless compassion for other people,” adding that it was something she is "in awe of."

While chatting with Barrymore, she revealed that she’d actually seen her mother “save people’s lives” while growing up.

"As an actor, we get so much attention," said the actress, "but ... I've watched my mother save people's lives. Whether it was save a kid from drowning, she helped her very best friend who had a bad accident when we were very little, and I watched her resuscitate her on the side of a highway. We don't focus and highlight the people who do that hard, difficult work of saving lives."

"I've learned a lot about hard work from my mother," Reese told Southern Living in 2017. "She was a nurse for 35 years and a teacher. And, you know, just loving what you do makes a job not feel like a job. She taught me to have a passion for my interests and to work into those interests."

Betty and John separated in 1996

While Betty and John are still married, the pair separated and began living apart in 1996. News of their separation came to light in 2012, when Betty took legal action against John in Tennessee in an attempt to annul his alleged marriage to Tricianne Taylor, on the grounds that he was still her husband.

At the time, Reese's mom, under her full name Mary Elizabeth Witherspoon, filed a petition for annulment, saying, “No person in Tennessee can marry another while being married at the same time of the second marriage.”

“I love my husband and I don’t want a divorce,” Betty said in the affidavit. “We have been married 42 years. He needs help."

In the filing she added that the pair had separated in 1996 and “lived in separate households.” She also noted in the papers that she had discovered the alleged marriage via a local newspaper announcement.

“When I confronted my husband, he said he didn’t know who Tricianne Taylor was and that he did not remember getting married,” Betty also said in the affidavit.

At the time she sought the annulment, Betty also alleged that her husband may have dementia and other health problems, though a petition filed by Reese to have her father placed under conservatorship following the alleged marriage to Taylor was dismissed by a Tennessee judge in June 2012, according to a report at the time from the Washington Post, citing the Nashville Tennessean.

Years later, in 2018, Betty informed the Australian outlet Women’s Day that the pair had reconciled. “He has moved back in with me,” she told the outlet when they spoke to her in Nashville, adding that they had been back together for “quite a while” and were “still married.”

They’re “unconditionally supportive” of their daughter

<p>Reese Witherspoon Instagram</p> Reese Witherspoon and her mom Betty.

Reese Witherspoon Instagram

Reese Witherspoon and her mom Betty.

Betty and John were both by Reese's side in Los Angeles in 2010 when she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her mom was also by her side in 2015 when Reese hosted Saturday Night Live for Mother’s Day — even appearing during her daughter's monologue.

On Mother’s Day in 2022, the actress shouted out “unconditionally supportive” moms in the caption of an Instagram video of her and Betty talking. In the clip, Betty revealed she’s a big fan of her daughter: “I like Reese Witherspoon,” she playfully said to the actress when explaining why she enjoys The Morning Show, which Reese stars in and produces.

The two also discussed Reese’s acting career in the clip, with the actress asking her mom which of her roles she likes best; after a long period of silence (which Reese overlays with the sound of crickets), Betty responds, “I liked Walk the Line, and I liked Wild,” she said. “The comedies are cute, funny. Legally Blonde was funny."

“Should I make more comedies?” the Sweet Home Alabama star then asked. “I think you’re great at comedy,” Betty replied.

Reese also asked her mom where she got her “funny” from, with Betty suggesting, “Your uncle,” prompting Reese to crack up. “Oh really? I thought I got it from you,” she laughed, insisting that her mom is “very funny.” “Yeah it’s probably me, it might be me,” Betty admitted.

In 2024, the actress celebrated Mother's Day with a carousel of images of herself with Betty, as well as shots of her mom solo and with others.

"Every day with you is a gift @grandma_busybetty 💗☀️🤗Happy Mother's Day, Mama! 💐" she wrote alongside the snaps.

They celebrated her Oscar win together

<p>J. Vespa/WireImage</p> Reese Witherspoon and her mom Betty at the 78th Academy Awards.

J. Vespa/WireImage

Reese Witherspoon and her mom Betty at the 78th Academy Awards.

Both Betty and John have supported their daughter at a handful of premieres and other public functions through the years. They were both by her side — along with then-husband Ryan — at the Academy Awards in 2006, where Reese took home her first-ever Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line.

She gave them a sweet shout-out during her acceptance speech, telling the audience, “My mother and my father are here."

She continued, “I just want to say thank you so much for everything, for being so proud of me. It didn’t matter if I was making my bed or making a movie, they never hesitated to say how proud they were of me, and that means so very much to a child. So thank you Mom and Dad."

Reese and her mom share a close bond

<p>Reese Witherspoon Instagram</p> Ava Phillippe, Betty Witherspoon, and Reese Witherspoon.

Reese Witherspoon Instagram

Ava Phillippe, Betty Witherspoon, and Reese Witherspoon.

The Cruel Intentions star has shared plenty of glimpses of quality time spent with her mom on social media over the years, including Christmases and Thanksgivings spent together.

In an interview with InStyle in November 2021, Reese opened up about wanting to spend more time with her mom as she gets older.

“That is one of the great things about getting older — it just clears out so much space,” she told the outlet. “I want to be with my mom, my kids, and the people who fill my tank. And everybody else, I wish them well."

Reese often shares sweet tributes to her mom on social media while documenting their adventures together. “Happy Birthday to the best mom I could ever dream of!” Witherspoon wrote on Instagram in 2023 alongside a photo of her and her mom smiling together. “Thank you for always believing in my dreams and cheering me on... and making me Laugh everyday. I love you, Mama! 💗🌸🤗.”

The year before, the actress shared a birthday tribute on Instagram to “the most amazing Mama in the whole world.”

“Every day I get to hear you laugh while you tell the best stories is such a gift! Please keep bringing the sunshine into our lives," she also wrote in the post's caption.

While she documents time spent with her dad less frequently, Reese shared a rare smiling selfie of her and her dad on a walk together to celebrate Father’s Day in 2020.

"Hey Dad!" she wrote alongside the photo of the pair getting some fresh air together, which she posted on her Instagram Stories.

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