Gena Rowlands Of 'The Notebook' Has Alzheimer's Disease, Son Confirms

Actor Gena Rowlands, an Emmy and Golden Globe winner best known to modern audiences for her heart-wrenching performance in “The Notebook,” has Alzheimer’s disease.

Director and actor Nick Cassavetes, who is Rowlands’ son, confirmed his 94-year-old mother’s diagnosis in an interview with Entertainment Weekly published Tuesday. Rowlands portrayed the older version of Rachel McAdams’ character, Allie Hamilton, in “The Notebook,” which Cassavetes directed.

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

Actor Gena Rowlands, best known to modern audiences for her performance in
Actor Gena Rowlands, best known to modern audiences for her performance in "The Notebook," has Alzheimer's disease. Kevork Djansezian via Getty Images

A Wisconsin native, Rowlands made her film debut in the 1958 comedy “The High Cost of Living” after working in television and on the Broadway stage. She and director John Cassavetes, her husband who died in 1989, worked on a total of 10 movies together, including 1974’s “A Woman Under the Influence” and 1980’s “Gloria,” for which she received Oscar nominations. In 2015, she picked up an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement.

When “The Notebook” was released in 2004, it gave Rowlands a chance to endear herself to a new generation of fans. Adapted from Nicholas Sparks’ 1996 novel, the blockbuster romance follows a star-crossed Southern couple’s tender relationship and eventual marriage from the 1940s to the present day.

As the older, dementia-stricken Allie, Rowlands appeared primarily in scenes opposite actor James Garner, who portrayed the older version of Ryan Gosling’s character, Noah Calhoun.

Speaking to O Magazine after “The Notebook” became a smash, Rowlands described the challenging process of playing a character with Alzheimer’s after witnessing her own mother’s experience with the disease.

Rowlands and co-star Rachel McAdams at the Los Angeles premiere of
Rowlands and co-star Rachel McAdams at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Notebook" in 2004. Ray Mickshaw via Getty Images

“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,” she said at the time. “It was a tough but wonderful movie.”

In his chat with EW, Cassavetes shared a heartwarming anecdote about having to ask his mother to return to the set of “The Notebook” for reshoots after the studio felt her character hadn’t cried enough in one critical scene.

“She said, ‘Let me get this straight. We’re reshooting because of my performance?’” he recalled. In the end, however, he said Rowlands was a professional: “I promise you, on my father’s life, this is true: Teardrops came flying out of her eyes when she saw [Garner], and she burst into tears. And I was like, OK, well, we got that ... It’s the one time I was in trouble on set.”

Correction: A previous version of this article said John Cassavetes appeared in 10 movies with wife Gena Rowlands. Cassavetes, who was largely a director, was involved in those movies but not always as an actor.