From her charming retail shop to her three marriages, here’s everything to know about Kris Jenner’s mom
Kris Jenner learned everything she knows about being a beloved matriarch from her own mother, Mary Jo “MJ” Shannon.
“If it weren't for your love, support and guidance, I wouldn't be the woman or the mother I am today,” the Kardashian/Jenner momager wrote in a heartfelt caption celebrating her mom’s 87th birthday.
Calling her the “rock” of their family, Kris gushed, “You are the greatest mother, grandmother, friend and mentor. I thank God every day for choosing you to be my mom.”
Kris’ admiration and appreciation for MJ is deeply shared by the entire Kardashian/Jenner family, who frequently express their love for their “most wonderful grandmother” on social media and in real-life moments captured on their reality TV shows over the years. She even stepped up as one of the only two witnesses for Kourtney Kardashian’s courthouse marriage to Travis Barker in May 2022.
So who is MJ Shannon? From her short-lived first marriage to the advice she’s dolled out to her daughter and granddaughters over the years, here’s everything to know about Kris Jenner’s mom.
Her first marriage only lasted 2 months
Born in Arkansas on July 26, 1934, MJ was a model in her youth and married her high school sweetheart (who also happened to be her first kiss!) at age 18. While they’d dated for 4 years, the union only lasted two months after tying the knot, much like her granddaughter Kim Kardashian. (Kim famously tied the knot with NBA star Kris Humphries for 72 days in 2011.)
“We have a lot in common. We both got married for two months once,” Kim said to MJ during a candid chat that was posted to the SKIMS founder’s website and app in December 2017.
“We have so much in common. History repeats itself,” MJ agreed. “I can’t believe it because I was married for two months at 18. Right out of high school I was given an engagement ring, a guy I had been going with for four years,” MJ said. “And then I just thought, ‘You know what? This isn’t really that much fun,’ so I got out of it."
“Once you got married you realized it. ‘What did I do?’ And you try to stay in there for a month or so and really try hard and you just can’t,” MJ continued. “You think, ‘I shouldn’t waste his time.’ ” she explained.
Kim was quick to concur. “Yes! I get it, Grandma. I feel you.”
She went on to marry two more times
Soon after splitting from her first husband, MJ wed Robert Houhgton, with whom she welcomed daughter Kris at age 20, and another daughter, Karen Houghton, shortly afterwards. Their marriage was also short lived; they divorced in 1962, when Kris was 7 years old. MJ then raised Kris and her sister Karen on her own before meeting and marrying her third husband, Harry Shannon.
MJ and Harry’s union lasted for 40 years, up until his death after a car crash in 2003. Kris considered him to be a father figure, previously referring to him as “my dad” in a 2015 Haute Living profile and acknowledging that his death “was so devastating for my family.”
She owned a children’s clothing store for decades
Kris’ entrepreneurial spirit traces back to her mom, who opened up a now-shuttered children’s boutique called Shannon & Company in 1980. MJ helmed the La Jolla, California, store for decades, with Kris even pitching in during her teenage years.
“I used to work there when I was young. My dad was in a car accident in 2003, and when he was in the hospital, my mom wanted to close the store, but I said I would run it for her,” Kris told Haute Living. While Harry recovered over the next 14 weeks, she drove back and forth to the store from her home in San Diego every day. “I was exhausted trying to make it all work from San Diego, but I knew my mom and dad needed me.”
Sadly, Harry died from complications of the accident soon after. Kris then decided to open her own children’s store, following in her mother’s footsteps. “I knew I had to find something to throw myself into that I was good at,” she explained, adding that Kourtney helped her to run the store, which was the first of the family’s boutique empire that later became the original focus of their reality show.
MJ’s grandchildren spent plenty of time in the store throughout their youth as well, she revealed to the Daily Beast. “They grew up playing in the store,” she said, adding, “I recall Kim sitting on this very floor and counting money. She would sing, ‘Counting is the game, and money is my name,’ or ‘Money is my name and counting is the game.’ Something like that.”
She’s made a few forays into the spotlight
MJ has been one of KUWTK’s most beloved guest stars over the years, appearing on several memorable episodes. Perhaps her most famous cameo is when she convinces Kris to take weed gummies with her, and the mother-daughter duo end up giggling as they eat popcorn on the couch together. She inadvertently makes Kris cry in another episode, during which Kris interviews her mother in order to create a video tribute to MJ’s legacy.
MJ has also joined her family for other major public events, including on Celebrity Family Feud in 2018.
While MJ herself doesn’t have a public-facing profile on social media, she’s managed to “keep up” with her famous family thanks to a private Instagram account. "My grandma has a creep IG account to see what we're all up to," Kim shared on Instagram, revealing the “fun fact” about her grandmother in a caption alongside a since-deleted photo of herself, Kris, and MJ coordinating in cream-colored tops and matching blonde hairstyles.
She’s survived cancer twice
Over the years, MJ has battled both breast and colon cancer, Kim revealed on an episode of KUWTK.
“When she had cancer, the radiation shrunk her intestines, so once a year she had these crazy fits where she would be throwing up all night and literally think she was gonna die,” Kim told her sisters. Noting that MJ survived cancer twice, she added that her grandmother had been feeling “sicker and sicker” lately, and that she wanted to ensure the family joined together to spend some quality time with the matriarch while she was feeling down.
She was one of two witnesses at Kourtney’s wedding
When granddaughter Kourtney Kardashian tied the knot with Travis Barker in May 2022, MJ was one of two witnesses present for the official courthouse nuptials in Santa Monica. She was the only representative from the Kardashian/Jenner family, as the other witness was Travis’ dad, Randy Barker; the Poosh founder and Blink-182 drummer decided to hold one of their three ceremonies closer to home for the two of them, as neither was able to travel abroad to their lavish wedding in Italy.
Kourtney reminisced on the special moment later that summer while wishing MJ a happy birthday. Alongside photos from the special day, she wrote, "My special, sweet, chic, sophisticated, smart and most wonderful grandmother. Happy birthday my MJ ❤.” She continued, "So happy you could be one of the only two guests we had when we were legally married, I will always remember this day and night with you."
She’s supportive of her grandkids embracing their sensuality
MJ may dress a bit more modestly these days, but she’s all in favor of her granddaughters wearing whatever suits them (including nothing at all).
"I think you like to be nude, all you guys," MJ told Kim on an episode of KUWTK. "And half the people on the internet. I think it's a thing now,” she said. “I don't got it, so I don't flaunt it,” she joked of her current style, noting that she didn’t always feel that way — back in her youth, her typical uniform was a bikini.
“I always wore a bikini when I was younger. Even at home, I'd be dusting with an apron on and I'd have a bikini,” she said. “So I always liked to be free."
Beyond her apparel choices, MJ has long been a free spirit in terms of sensuality as well. Kim recalled some special advice that she’d once shared with her about the most luxurious places to get intimate — and how she’d recently acted on MJ’s words of wisdom with then-boyfriend Pete Davidson.
"You know what's so crazy?" Kim asked her grandmother on an episode of The Kardashians. "Pete and I were staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel last weekend, and we were sitting in front of the fireplace, just talking for hours, and I was like, 'My grandma told me that you really live life when you have sex in front of the fireplace,' and so we had sex in front of the fireplace in honor of you."
MJ was quick to clarify some details about the story, expressing concern that Kim had opted to have intercourse in the hotel lobby. “Not in the lobby!” Kim exclaimed. "But how creepy to think about your grandma before you have sex?"
MJ wasn't fazed by the awkward discussion. "I know, but I was younger once. I was younger once," she said.
The entire Kardashian/Jenner family adores her
Kris and all of her children look up to MJ with respect and reverence, often sharing their love and appreciation for her on social media.
While that most often takes the shape of exuberant birthday messages, Kylie opted for a more tactile tribute back in 2016: a tattoo in MJ’s honor. The red, script tattoo reads “Mary Jo” — her “grandmothers name in my grandfathers handwriting,” she explained in the caption at the time.
Kim has gushed over her appreciation for MJ in various birthday messages, expressing her gratitude for all the lessons she’s learned from her. “You are the woman who taught me my work ethic and have taught me so much about life, love and relationships," Kim wrote to celebrate her 87th birthday in 2021, adding that she can always rely on MJ to “keep it all the way real with me!"
For her 88th birthday, Kris wrote a thoughtful note to her “very beautiful mommy,” sharing a slideshow of photos of the duo and calling MJ “my best friend, my heart and my hero.” Most recently, Khloe called her grandmother “a keeper of secrets and a storyteller like no other,” adding that she could listen to her tell stories forever.
For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on People.