The Stunning Transformation Of Kris Jenner's Mom, MJ Shannon

Mary Jo "MJ" Shannon is best known as Kris Jenner's mother and the quiet, rarely-seen matriarch of the Kardashian-Jenner family. Born on July 26, 1934, in Arkansas, Shannon has lived quite a life for a woman of her generation. Her path was unconventional and likely controversial in her day, but Shannon's journey on the less-beaten path makes every bit of sense when you consider the family that she built. 

She is, among many things, a two-time divorcée, ending two marriages before she turned 30 years old. Shannon is also a passionate — and very successful — entrepreneur, turning a beloved childhood hobby into a business that sustained her for many decades. In fact, her entrepreneurial spirit and love for a certain industry lives on in the generations of women that came after her. The Kardashians and Jenners are all iconic in their own right, but MJ Shannon is the original legend when it comes to the famous family.

Mary Jo 'MJ' Shannon fell in love with fashion at a young age

When she was a child, Mary Jo "MJ" Shannon became fascinated with fashion thanks to her mother, who unknowingly sparked a generational love for all things style that would make her great-granddaughters some of the most well-known women in the world. During an interview for The Zoe Report, Shannon opened up about the special bond she shared with her mom. Shannon had a passion for fashion design from a young age, and her mother was talented when it came to sewing, so they often teamed up to bring Shannon's outfit ideas to life. Jackie Kennedy Onassis inspired many of her designs — "I always designed the Jackie O look and had to have the sleeveless dress and look that way, and I loved it. That was my style," Shannon shared. She also fondly recalled a prom dress she designed and her mom sewed, telling the outlet: "One was this strapless gold lamé, body-hugging to the hip, and then black tulle, princess style, for my prom. It was black and gold, and I've always loved black with gold for evening." 

As she grew older, her mom taught her how to sew, and Shannon went on to create clothes for her own two daughters many years later. Shannon's passion would eventually lead to a decades-long career as an entrepreneur, during which she owned and ran several successful clothing boutiques.

She married — and quickly divorced — her high school sweetheart

MJ Shannon has been married several times, with her first wedding taking place when she was just 18 years old. She had been going steady, as they would say during that time, with her high school sweetheart for four years. He asked her to do him the honor of becoming his wife, and Shannon said yes — but the marriage ultimately ended two months after they exchanged vows.

Shannon bonded over her short-term marriage with her granddaughter Kim Kardashian, who married and divorced Kris Humphries in 2011. During a conversation recorded for Kardashian's app in 2017, Shannon said: "We have so much in common. History repeats itself." She confessed to her granddaughter: "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. And then I just thought, 'You know what? This isn't really that much fun,' so I got out of it." Talk about an iconic take! Shannon continued to explain she realized the marriage wasn't meant to be after she said "I do," and though she initially tried to make it work, she ultimately decided it was better for both herself and her partner to find happiness elsewhere.

Her second marriage didn't last either, but two daughters resulted from the temporary union

Not long after divorcing her first husband, MJ Shannon met and married her second husband, Robert "Bob" Houghton. When she was 20 years old, Shannon gave birth to her first daughter — Kristen Mary Houghton, better known as Kris Jenner — on November 5, 1955. Almost exactly three years later on November 24, 1958, Shannon and Houghton welcomed their second daughter, whom they named Karen. 

Though the union lasted far longer than her first marriage, Shannon and Houghton divorced in 1962. Kris was 7 years old, and Karen was 4. While the reasoning behind their divorce is unclear, Star alleged Houghton battled alcoholism and had an abusive streak (via Radar). According to an ex-girlfriend, Leslie Johnson Leech, Houghton's drinking caused him to become estranged from his daughters and eventually led to their breakup. His fiancée at the time of his death, Vicky Thomsen, told the outlet that Houghton decided to drive drunk after a margarita-fueled night out in Mexico in 1975. The pair were heading back to their hotel when Houghton swerved in front of a truck, resulting in a head-on collision. Thomsen survived, but Houghton succumbed to a fatal injury caused by the steering wheel crushing his torso.

She was married to her third husband for decades before his tragic death

A few years after her divorce from Robert Houghton, MJ Shannon proved that the third time really is the charm when she married Harry Shannon. The couple remained husband and wife for 40 years until Harry's tragic death in 2003. After being involved in a car accident, Harry was rushed to a hospital, where he died weeks later due to a staph infection. Of the loss, Kris Jenner told Haute Living: "It was so devastating for my family." 

Though the Kardashian-Jenner family doesn't often speak of Harry, Scott Disick once asked MJ what the dynamic was like between Kris' birth dad and stepdad. The conversation was captured during an episode of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," during which MJ told Disick that while Houghton and Harry weren't close, they did know each other. She said to Kris: "Harry would be proud of you," then turned to Disick to add: "Her stepdad adored her."

Her daughters have been at odds for years

It isn't a well-known fact that Kris Jenner has a sister, and that's because she and Karen Houghton haven't gotten on well as adults. In fact, since the Kardashian-Jenner family's rise to fame, Houghton has publicly slammed her older sister several times, including to InTouch Weekly. Houghton criticized Jenner's proclivity for work and material items, namely designer bags and luxury cars, when speaking to the outlet. "It's called wanting power, Gucci purses, Bentleys, all the things I don't care about that she does." She claimed that Jenner used work to fill a void in her life, opining: "It's an addiction and it's because you are unhappy. You do these things because there's a hole that's not filled." 

Houghton also picked on Jenner's weight when she was younger, alleging it was an insecurity that led the business mogul to embrace plastic surgery as an adult. Then, in a twist of irony, the younger of the two siblings went under the knife for a facelift in 2016, seemingly modeling her desired results after Jenner's visage (per the Daily Mail).

Jenner, for her part, has largely chosen not to comment on her sister's claims. After Hougton's InTouch interview hit magazine stands, Jenner told Radar: "Unfortunately, my sister has been dealing with demons for years. I am not in touch with her. But I wish her the very best." Their mother, MJ Shannon, has also refrained from publicly commenting on their relationship.

MJ Shannon owned and ran several retail stores

Kourtney, Kim, and Khloé Kardashian weren't the first women in the family to monetize their love for fashion by creating their own clothing boutique, Dash, followed by several other businesses including SKIMS and Good American. Their grandmother, Mary Jo "MJ" Shannon, paved the way for her granddaughters to turn a passion for fashion into a thriving business many decades before they became globally recognized figures. 

After spending her childhood fostering a love for clothing design alongside her mother, Shannon went on to own and run three clothing boutiques, as well as a candle shop and antique store, as an adult. Her most well-known store was Shannon & Co., a children's clothing boutique, which opened its doors in 1980. The entrepreneur reflected on her desire to open a kids' apparel store during an interview with The Zoe Report, explaining that her childhood love for fashion coupled with having two daughters of her own inspired her business decision.

Shannon maintained ownership and operated the boutique for nearly five decades before it closed in the late 2010s. Her granddaughters spent much of their youth in the beloved store, and a vintage photo of 7-year-old Kim hung on the wall behind the check-out counter many years after her childhood. Shannon told the Daily Beast: "They grew up playing in the store. I recall Kim sitting on this very floor and counting money."

She's a two-time cancer survivor

MJ Shannon has battled and beaten cancer twice in her life. During an episode of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," Kim Kardashian revealed that her grandmother had overcome two types of cancer: breast and colon. In conversation with her sisters, Kardashian explained: "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."

Kris Jenner has also briefly touched on her mom's bout with breast cancer to help raise awareness for preventative exams. In 2018, she documented her experience of having a mammogram done, sharing a photo of the machine and an encouraging caption on Instagram. "Just reminding everyone to go get their Mammogram!! So important and can save lives," Jenner wrote. She added: "My Mom MJ is a breast cancer survivor and so are dozens of my friends," going on to explain that she stays on top of her preventative exams as a way to honor those in her life who have faced a cancer diagnosis. Her initial post got so much support that Jenner followed up with a second post revealing she also had a breast ultrasound done, explaining the process to those who keep up with her on social media.

MJ Shannon encourages body and sex positivity

MJ Shannon is quite progressive, having publicly heralded body and sex positivity on more than one occasion. She once remarked about her granddaughters' affinity for being naked, sharing her opinion on the matter with Kim Kardashian for a segment on her app. Shannon averred: "I think you like to be nude, all you guys and half the people on the internet. I think it's a thing now that people want to show their bodies." Though she said she didn't feel confident doing so anymore, Shannon shared that she loved to wear a two-piece swimsuit when she was younger. "Even at home, I'd be dusting with an apron on and I'd have a bikini," she revealed.

Years later during an episode of "The Kardashians," the SKIMS founder confessed that Shannon was the source of inspiration for a certain location for sexual activity between herself and then-boyfriend Pete Davidson. Kardashian explained she and Davidson were enjoying a stay at a hotel, and their room had a fireplace in it. "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," she told Shannon. Kardashian quipped that it seemed strange to think of her grandmother during sex, but Shannon assured her that she understood.

She returned to her modeling roots for a KKW Beauty campaign

When she was a teenager, Mary Jo "MJ" Shannon dabbled in modeling, and many decades later when she was in her mid-80s, she got back in front of the camera for a very special project. When Kim Kardashian revealed that her now-defunct makeup brand, KKW Beauty, would be releasing a line of concealer kits in 2018, she did so with a touching — and strategic — marketing campaign that involved the many generations of her family. To effectively sell the concept of her three-step undereye-concealing products, Kardashian enlisted the help of her mother, Kris Jenner, and Shannon, her grandmother. Kardashian wanted to show that the kits work on a wide range of ages, so she positioned herself, Jenner, and Shannon as the stars of the marketing images. The beauty icon told Allure: "We really had to make sure that the concealer worked on different skin types and ages as well, so it was important to show that in the campaign."

Kardashian explained the concept of the brand's stunning photo shoot, in which Kardashian, Jenner, and Shannon all don blond hair. She told the outlet: "I wanted something different, and for them to be seen in a way that they really haven't been seen before. My grandma's never worn a blond wig before. I thought she looked so good." Kardashian added: "We had the best time on set and it was such a good memory for us."