Gena Rowlands Has Alzheimer’s Decades After ‘The Notebook’

Gena Rowlands has Alzheimer’s disease, a late-life challenge for the Oscar-nominated actor who captivated Hollywood in the 1970s with her performance in “A Woman Under the Influence” and later portrayed a character with dementia in “The Notebook.”

Rowlands’s son, Nick Cassavetes, the director of “The Notebook,” revealed the diagnosis in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, telling the magazine that she had been living with the disease for five years.

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

A former theater and television actress, Rowlands, 94, made 10 films across four decades with John Cassavetes, the independent film pioneer who was also her husband. She was nominated for the Academy Award for best actress for two of them: “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974), in which she plays a wife and mother who cracks under the burden of domestic harmony, and “Gloria” (1980), about a woman who helps a young boy escape the mob.

When Rowlands received an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar in 2015, Laura Linney praised her as an actor who “smashed and destroyed the female stereotype of her time.”

“Her work declares: You want to see a modern woman? Here is a modern woman,” Linney said.

In 2004, a new generation of filmgoers came to know Rowlands for her portrayal of the older version of Allie in the romance drama “The Notebook.” (Rachel McAdams played the character in her younger years.)

Rowlands’s tearful performance in a pivotal scene moved audiences and critics alike. Jessica Winter of The Village Voice credited Rowlands with “locating the terror and desolation wrought by the cruel betrayals of a failing mind.”

In an interview with O magazine published the year “The Notebook” was released, Rowlands said her own mother had experienced Alzheimer’s.

“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.

After “The Notebook,” Rowlands made several more appearances in films and television shows, including in “The Skeleton Key” and the detective series “Monk.” Her last appearance in a feature film was in 2014, when she played a retiree who befriends her gay dance instructor in “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.”

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