Gena Rowlands Has Alzheimer’s Disease, Son Nick Cassavetes Says

Gena Rowlands, whose stellar roster of film roles includes performances in A Woman Under the Influence, Faces and Gloria, has Alzheimer’s disease and is “in full dementia,” her son Nick Cassavetes says.

Cassavetes, the son of Rowlands and the late actor-director John Cassavetes, revealed the sad news in an interview with Entertainment Weekly on the 20th anniversary of the film The Notebook. Cassavetes directed the film in which his mother played Allie, a woman with dementia.

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

Shortly after the film was released in 2004, Rowlands, now 93, said in an interview with O magazine that her own mother had suffered from the disease.

“This last one — The Notebook, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks — was particularly hard because I play a character who has Alzheimer’s,” Rowlands said. “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.”

The film, which co-starred Rachel McAdams as the younger version of Allie, has been adapted as a Broadway stage musical and stars the Tony-nominated Maryann Plunkett in the role played onscreen by Rowlands.

Rowlands’ last film performance was in the 2014 comedy-drama Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks with Cheyenne Jackson. She has since retired from acting.

Twice Oscar-nominated (for 1974’s A Woman Under the Influence and 1980’s Gloria, both directed by husband Cassavetes), Rowlands received an Honorary Academy Award in 2015. She is a four-time Emmy winner (for The Betty Ford Story, 1987; Face of a Stranger, 1992; Hysterical Blindness, 2003 and The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie, 2004).

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