Meg Ryan Said Russell Crowe Affair Didn't End Marriage to Dennis Quaid: "I Was a Mess"
The co-stars' secret relationship was splashed all over the tabloids.
It's never been easy to be America's sweetheart, not even back in the day when romantic comedies could still rule the box office. That was the era when Meg Ryan broke out as a relatable, girl-next-door heroine with 1989's When Harry Met Sally, which kicked off a string of leading roles. As the actor was falling in love frequently on screen, she also found it in real life. Ryan married Innerspace co-star Dennis Quaid in 1991, and they welcomed their son Jack Quaid (future star of The Boys) in 1992. But the seemingly perfect couple split up by the end of the decade amid a flurry of tabloid stories about Ryan and another leading man. Later, however, the You've Got Mail star clarified that her affair with Russell Crowe on the set of the 2000's Proof of Life wasn't to blame for breaking up her and Quaid. Read on to find out why.
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Ryan's relationship with Quaid started right as her career was taking off.
From 1982 to 1984, Ryan was in the cast of the soap opera As the World Turns, which proved to be a springboard for her. Playing Betsy on the daytime show helped her land supporting roles in the blockbuster Top Gun and the John Candy comedy Armed and Dangerous.
She was a busy working actor—if not a movie star—when she first met Quaid on the set of Fantastic Voyage-inspired Innerspace, from 1987. The next year, they teamed up again for the 1988 remake of the 1950 noir D.O.A. By the time the second film wrapped, the two were an item—just in time for Ryan to take on the career-changing role of Sally Albright.
Quaid admitted later that he struggled when her fame eclipsed his.
Quaid's first marriage to actor P.J. Soles ended in 1983, long before he met Ryan. At the time he and the Sleepless in Seattle star got together, he was dealing with serious substance abuse issues. Quaid told Megyn Kelly Today (via Page Six) in 2018 that he was "doing cocaine pretty much on a daily basis during the '80s" and would drink alcohol to ease the process of coming down. After he became engaged to Ryan in 1990, however, he entered a rehab facility with the aim of getting and staying sober.
Meanwhile, Ryan's star was on the rise. Some of her most notable movies of the '90s include 1993's Sleepless in Seattle, 1994's When A Man Loves a Woman, 1995's French Kiss, and 1998's You've Got Mail.
During the same interview with Megyn Kelly, Quaid admitted that he had to make his peace with his wife being more successful than him during that time. "When we met, you know, I was the big deal. And then my career [came to a halt]," he said, as reported by Us Weekly. "We'd go out on the streets of New York and it would be like, 'Meg! Meg!' And I have to admit it, I actually did feel like I disappeared. I didn't think I was that small, but I was. It was a growth opportunity. I learned from that."
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Ryan fell for Crowe on the set of their movie.
After nine years of marriage, Quaid and Ryan appeared to some fans to be a Hollywood couple who were going to make it. So when their publicists announced in July 2000 that the actors had already separated, the public was shocked. By that time, according to The Washington Post, British tabloids had already been running articles claiming that Ryan and Crowe (who was single) had kicked off a torrid affair working together on the thriller Proof of Life. The rumors turned out to be true, and her relationship with Crowe was presumed by many to be the obvious cause of her split from Quaid.
Ryan recalled the experience of being at the center of the firestorm speaking to W Magazine for their November 2000 issue. As reported by E! News, she told the outlet, "I found myself in a hotel lobby in London a few months ago thinking, all of a sudden, 'So this is what it feels like to be the Scarlet Woman. Oh! I'm having that experience now!'"
She detailed the experience further in The Guardian in 2003. "This thing happened, and I was all over the tabloids, and I walked through the lobby, and the place stopped," the actor said. "People stopped talking and stared at me. And then I got to the elevator, and instead of falling apart and going, 'Ooh,' I just started laughing. This thing that people are so afraid of all the time—public censure or disapproval—has no power if you know yourself."
The public may not have liked Ryan and Crowe together—Proof of Life didn't even make back its budget and director Taylor Hackford called the tabloid attention "disastrous" for the film—but her friends were more supportive. The late Carrie Fisher joked to People approvingly in 2001 that Crowe was "a tough thing to resist."
She's adamant that Crowe didn't end her marriage, however.
Over the years, Ryan has said several times that her affair with Crowe was the symptom of a crumbling marriage and not the cause. "[My marriage] dissolved before it became sport for the press," she told W Magazine back in 2000. "The public and the press tuned in way after."
In 2008, she made some more pointed allegations to InStyle magazine. "Dennis was not faithful to me for a long time, and that was very painful," she said, as reported by Today. "I found out more about that once I was divorced." (Quaid responded to the claim, saying through his publicist, "It was eight years ago, and I find it unbelievable that Meg continues publicly to rehash and rewrite the story of our relationship.")
Ryan also explained that she believed Crowe was treated unfairly by the press and the public. "I think he took a big hit," she said. "But Russell didn't break up the marriage. He was definitely there at the end, but it wasn't his fault. I was a mess. I hurt him, too, at the end. I couldn't be in another long relationship; it wasn't the time for that. So I got out." After all the drama, Crowe and Ryan were done by June 2001.
In the wake of their breakup, Crowe told the Melbourne Herald Sun (via The New York Post), "Meg is a beautiful and courageous woman. I grieve the loss of her companionship, but I haven't lost her friendship."
Everyone involved moved on.
Since his divorce from Ryan, Quaid has married twice more. He was married to Kimberly Buffington from 2004 to 2018, and they welcomed twins. In 2020, he married his current wife, Laura Savoie. Crowe went on to marry actor and singer Danielle Spencer, who he had begun dating for the first time back in the '80s, in 2003. They divorced in 2018.
As for Ryan, she's kept her love life largely private in the years since her affair with Crowe was splashed across the headlines. While she's been rumored to have dated other stars, her most recent confirmed relationship was with singer-songwriter John Mellencamp. After being on-and-off for several years, they became engaged in 2018 but ended it the next year.
Now, she looks back at the public implosion of her private life as a gift, telling The New York Times Magazine in 2019, "I remember letting go of needing to correct anybody." She added of all the attention, "Divorce is hard. Love is hard. All those things were so personal. They weren't for mass consumption. The complexity of a life or a marriage is never going to exist in a headline or a tabloid."