Gena Rowlands, legendary actress and “The Notebook” star, has Alzheimer’s, family says

For a generation of moviegoers, actress Gena Rowlands is best known for her heartbreaking work playing a woman with Alzheimer’s in the 2004 film The Notebook.

Now, 20 years after that film’s release, the actress’ son announced that Rowlands, 94, has also been living with Alzheimer’s.

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The sad news was announced by Rowlands’ son Nick Cassavetes, who also directed his mother in The Notebook.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in honor of the film’s 20th anniversary, Cassavetes shared his memories of working with his mom, and noted the irony that she is now living with the same condition as the character she played.

“I got my mom to play older Allie, and we spent a lot of time talking about Alzheimer’s and wanting to be authentic with it, and now, for the last five years, she’s had Alzheimer’s,” Cassavetes said.

“She’s in full dementia. And it’s so crazy — we lived it, she acted it, and now it’s on us.”

In The Notebook, Rowlands memorably played older Allie (a character played as a young woman by Rachel McAdams), who resides in a nursing home and has dementia. The events of the film are recounted to her by an elderly man played by James Garner in a framing device.

The role was personal for Rowlands, not only because it was directed by her son but because her own mother, the actress Lady Rowlands, also had Alzheimer’s.

The Notebook … was particularly hard because I play a character who has Alzheimer’s,” Rowlands told O Magazine in 2004. “I went through that with my mother, and if Nick hadn’t directed the film, I don’t think I would have gone for it — it’s just too hard. It was a tough but wonderful movie.”

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Cassavetes shared his memories of directing his mother. He says the two-time Oscar-nominated screen veteran wasn’t happy when he asked her for reshoots.

“We go to reshoots, and now it’s one of those things where mama’s pissed and I had asked her, ‘Can you do it, mom?’ She goes, ‘I can do anything,'” Cassavetes recalled to Entertainment Weekly.

Nick Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands (s_bukley /

Upon its release in 2004, The Notebook received mixed reviews from critics, some of whom felt the romantic drama, adapted from the Nicholas Sparks novel, was overly saccharine and tear-jerking.

But Rowlands received widespread acclaim and is cited in many reviews as a standout performance. In his review, Roger Ebert said she and Garner were “completely at ease in their roles, never striving for effect, never wanting us to be sure we get the message.”

“Rowlands, best-known for high-strung, even manic characters, especially in films by her late husband, here finds a quiet vulnerability that is luminous,” the critic wrote.

While The Notebook introduced Rowlands to a new generation of moviegoers and is perhaps her most familiar role to general audiences, her accomplished career goes back decades, and she is one of the most acclaimed actresses of her generation. Richard Brody of The New Yorker called her “the most important and original movie actor of the past half century-plus.”

Actor John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands talking at their house in 1964, at Los Angeles, California (Photo by Leo Fuchs/Getty Images)

She is remembered for her collaborations with her husband, the late director John Cassavetes, in a number of groundbreaking independent films in the ’70s and ’80s. For two of those films — 1974’s A Woman Under the Influence and 1980’s Gloria — she received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress.

Rowlands received an Honorary Academy Award in 2015: the Academy called her “an original talent whose devotion to her craft has earned her worldwide recognition as an independent film icon.” She also won four Emmy Awards and two Golden Globes.

Headshot of Gena Rowlands, US actress, wearing gold earring and a gold necklace which match her gold top, circa 1960. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Our hearts are with the brilliant actress Gena Rowlands as she battles Alzheimer’s disease, and with her family.

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