Meg Ryan has been a Hollywood fixture for the better part of four decades. Best known for rom-com romps such as Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, the actress’s off-screen life has been equally romance and comedy-filled. But the cutesy "girl-next-door" also has a less than family-friendly side that few know about.
1. Her Parents Taught Her Right
Margaret "Meg" Mary Emily Hyra was born in 1961 in Fairfield, Connecticut. By all accounts, she was adorable from birth—even as a screaming baby. Her mother was a former actress turned English teacher and her father was a math teacher. It’s too bad that neither was a marriage counselor—because they could have saved her from some future heartbreak.
2. She Was Always Cute
Even as a teenager, Meg Ryan was a regular heartbreaker. Her signature trout-pout was already working its magic. In her senior year of high school, for example, her classmates voted her homecoming queen and named her the "cutest" girl in school. She would ride on those signature girl-next-door looks all the way to the top of the rom-com world.
3. She Was Almost Never An Actress
Despite everyone thinking she was just the cat’s meow; Ryan wasn’t satisfied to rest on pretty. The soon-to-be A-lister attended the University of Connecticut and then New York University to study journalism. Little did she know then that instead of covering the news, she would be making the news. Her life of rom-com roles and Hollywood hunks was closer than she knew.
4. She Was An Instant Hit
Meg Ryan wasn’t going to let her good looks go to waste. In order to pay her way through university, she took up modeling and acting, landing small roles in commercials. It wasn’t long, however, before big-time television producers saw the potential in the cutesy girl. Ryan quickly found her way onto the set of As the World Turns—and it forced her to make a tough decision.
5. She Was A Dropout
Now that she was making money as an actress—probably more than she could ever make as a journalist—Ryan reassessed her career prospects. With just one semester left before graduation, Ryan did what all parents dread and dropped out of university. Needless to say, she would never need that silly piece of paper called a degree anyway. Onwards and upwards…
6. She Was Tops
It wasn’t just her classmates who were immune to Ryan’s charms. So was Hollywood. With little acting experience under her belt, Ryan landed her first feature film credit on the set of a would-be classic, 1982’s Top Gun. Acting alongside Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, it was a career-making film for Ryan. But the budding actress walked away with a lot more than just a promising career.
7. She Dated A Co-Star
Meg Ryan played the role of Carole, the wife of Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), in 1982’s Top Gun. While things were definitely steamy on-screen between Ryan and Edwards, it was also getting hot behind the scenes. Ryan and Edwards began dating on the set and Ryan wasted no time moving in with her on-screen hubby. Ryan would develop something of a habit of dating her co-stars.
8. She Moved On To Bigger Things
Using Top Gun as a springboard, Ryan moved on to bigger things in her career—and in her romantic life. The actress’s next big role came in 1987’s Innerspace. In the film, Ryan portrays Lydia Maxwell, the love interest of Dennis Quaid’s Tuck Pendleton. And, once again, Ryan’s on-screen romance bled right into her real life.
9. She Found True Love
Meg Ryan was living with Edwards when filming began on Innerspace—but there was trouble in the cards for these lovebirds. It wasn’t long before she realized that she was with the wrong man. The actress ditched Edwards and slowly began a romance with her Innerspace co-star, Dennis Quaid. It was just the beginning of a romantic but not-so comedic relationship for the rom-com star.
10. Her Relationship Was D.O.A.
Ryan just couldn’t shake Quaid. One year after making Innerspace together, they made D.O.A., and that’s when things really heated up. She quickly kicked Edwards to the curb and began dating Quaid in 1988. By 1991, Ryan and Quaid tied the knot and began a decade-long marriage—an eternity in Hollywood years—in which they would have one son, the actor Jack Quaid. It seemed like the power couple was going to last.
11. She Was Struck By Cupid’s Arrow
In a storyline that she could have lifted right off the pages of one of her romantic comedies, Meg Ryan married Dennis Quaid in style. The Hollywood couple said their "I dos" on Valentine’s Day in 1991. But even with the power of Cupid’s arrow, her marriage to Quaid would not have a rom-com ending. Unless you consider bitter jealousy and hidden affairs to be funny.
12. She Wasn’t The Obvious Choice
Ryan worked hard for her success. The actress sky-rocketed to the top of Hollywood rom-com stardom with 1989’s When Harry Met Sally… But she wasn’t a shoo-in for the part—or the ensuing mega-stardom. The film’s director, Rob Reiner, wanted just about anyone but Ryan to take the lead role.
13. She Was The Last One Picked
The role of Sally Albright in When Harry Met Sally… was a career-defining role for Meg Ryan. Despite the fact that her girl-next-door looks were a perfect fit, Reiner originally wanted Susan Dey. When Dey turned it down for scheduling issues, Reiner considered Elizabeth Perkins, Elizabeth McGovern, and Molly Ringwald before finally giving the role to Ryan. It was a decision he wouldn’t regret.
14. She Passed Up An Oscar Nomination
Meg Ryan campaigned hard to get the role of Sally Albright in When Harry Met Sally…. She even turned down potentially huge roles including the role of Shelby in Steel Magnolias. That role would eventually go to Ryan’s rom-com competitor, Julia Roberts, who ultimately snagged an Oscar nomination for the part. Ryan might have missed out, but considering how iconic When Harry Met Sally... has become, I'll say that she didn't miss out on much.
15. She Almost Missed Her Ticket To Seattle
Despite her cutesy looks, box office successes, and obvious comedic chops, Ryan was rarely—if ever—any director’s first choice as a leading lady. In fact, not only did Reiner nearly pass her over for When Harry Met Sally…, but she also almost never landed another one of her iconic roles. The part of Annie Reed in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle could have gone to just about any other Hollywood A-lister.
16. She Was Sixth In Line
For a while in the late 80s and early 90s, Ryan was second to none at the rom-com box office. But she was far from first in the casting room. Ryan was the sixth choice to play Annie Reed in Sleepless in Seattle. Julia Roberts, Kim Basinger, and Michelle Pfeiffer all turned down the role before Ryan even had a chance at it.
17. She Had Courage Under Fire
After fighting hard for her biggest roles, Meg Ryan tired of her innocent, girl-next-door stereotype. Following the success of Sleepless in Seattle, the actress tried her hand at other, more dramatic parts. Critics, however, were not receptive to Ryan’s foray into dramas such as Courage Under Fire. She didn’t exactly walk away empty-handed, however.
18. She Was A Cashier
With no success in dramas, Ryan returned to rom-coms by the late 90s. The actress decided that if she couldn’t get serious roles, she would take her roles seriously. In order to prepare for 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, Ryan actually worked as a cashier in a real bookstore in NYC. If you’re ever in Manhattan, check out Books of Wonder—though, I’m sure Ryan quit that gig a long time ago.
19. She Learned To Laugh It Off
In 2000, Quaid and Ryan ended their marriage, and the tabloids went wild. Living in a tabloid hurricane with her reputation tossed to the torrential wind like debris wasn’t all bad for Ryan. The actress still managed to find ways to entertain herself and put the "com" back into rom-com. Ryan later recalled finding humor in being a social pariah. When she entered the lobby of a hotel in London she said, "…the place stopped. People stopped talking and stared at me".
The girl-next-door turned Jezebel quietly made her way past the prying eyes to the elevator and laughed to herself once the doors closed.
20. She Made The Cut
After her divorce, Ryan continued to tear down her girl-next-door reputation. She appeared in the brilliant 2003 mystery thriller In the Cut alongside Mark Ruffalo. While audiences were happy to see Ryan back on the big screen, they hardly expected to see so much of her. For the first time in her career, Ryan bore it all in a prolonged and particularly provocative love scene.
For all of her, shall we say, bravery, neither critics nor audiences cared much for the film. But it was just the beginning of Ryan’s good-girl-gone-bad era.
21. She Was Weary Of Journalists
Following her on-screen escapades, the typically reserved and friendly Ryan had an uncharacteristically awkward interview. To promote the film In the Cut, Ryan appeared on BBC’s Michael Parkinson’s talk show. The two had a terse exchange in which Parkinson accused the actress of being weary of him and other journalists. Considering what followed, can you really blame her?
22. She Called It A Wrap
During the interview, Meg Ryan revealed that she had studied journalism at university but hadn’t graduated. After insulting the actress and reprimanding her for her cool demeanor, Parkinson asked her how she would conduct her interview if she were in his shoes. Ryan replied by saying that she would "wrap it up". And she had more words for her British interviewer.
23. She Doesn’t Like Nuts
If Parkinson thought that Ryan was "cool" during their interview, then she was downright frigid after it. In another interview with Marie Claire magazine, Ryan let it be known exactly what she thought of Parkinson. She said, "That guy was like some disapproving father! It's crazy. I don't know what he is to you guys, but he's a nut". To be fair, she had some nutty behavior of her own.
24. She Doesn’t Like Attention
Ryan’s "cutesy" looks got her considerably more attention than she was comfortable with. From her high school classmates to her co-stars and the paparazzi, she just couldn’t escape those prying eyes. Or could she? Allegedly, some of Ryan’s film contracts had a bizarre stipulation. According to rumors, it said that extras couldn’t look at her in her eyes. Her co-stars, however, could do much more than that.
25. She Found Love…For Five Months
In 2003, two years after her divorce from Quaid, tabloids linked Ryan to another one of her co-stars. This time, rumors abounded that Ryan was dating a fellow voice-over co-star from 1997’s Anastasia. The story goes that Ryan and John Cusack dated for five months in 2003. While it clearly didn’t work out, Ryan had ties to other celebs.
26. She Had A Friend
Paparazzi spotted Ryan getting cozy with another famous actor in 2007. The You’ve Got Mail actress shared what appeared to be a romantic dinner date at Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles with Friends actor, Matthew Perry. That wasn’t the most scandalous part of the night though. A friend of Ryan’s also claimed that Perry booked a hotel suite. Whatever happened later that night, Ryan didn’t stay for long.
27. She Was Frank With Hank
Later that same week in 2007, paparazzi spotted Ryan once again getting cozy with another actor. This time, Ryan was in Manhattan at The Waverly with Hank Azaria enjoying what appeared to be a double date. Once the actress spotted the snap-happy paparazzi, however, she took pains to avoid their lenses and stepped out of the shot. Maybe she didn’t want her "friend" in LA to know where she was.
28. She Heard The Music
Meg Ryan was definitely making trails in late 2007. Just one week after paparazzi got a glimpse of the actress in Manhattan, she was back in Los Angeles reconnecting with her "friend". Ryan attended a concert with Matthew Perry that week, but there was no third date. It was beginning to look like the rom-com star wouldn’t find any "rom" in her off-screen life.
29. She Adopted A Baby Girl
Following a string of mildly successful films and wildly unsuccessful romances, Ryan took a hiatus from both the screen and love. But the actress still had love in her heart and adopted a 14-month-old girl from China whom she named Daisy True. In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Ryan expressed the emotional rollercoaster that was the adoption process. "I never laughed harder or cried more," the actress said. "I was so nervous about the whole thing".
30. She Went Back To Dating
Meg Ryan was ready to try her luck in love once again. In 2010, the 49-year-old actress began dating the 59-year-old musician, John Mellencamp. But if Ryan thought that the adoption process for her daughter was topsy-turvy, she had no idea what this relationship would be like. The on-again-off-again couple would spark a tabloid frenzy that was all too familiar for Ryan.
31. She Was The Other Woman This Time
In 2010, when Ryan and Mellencamp began dating, Mellencamp was in the middle of divorcing his wife of 18 years. Technically, Mellencamp and his wife had separated when Ryan entered the picture—but they hadn’t signed the divorce papers. Given her own past with Quaid and Crowe, it should have been déjà vu for Ryan, but she did not heed the warning signs.
32. Her Star Shone Too Brightly
Despite their questionable beginnings, Ryan and Mellencamp managed to have a happy relationship for almost four years. But once again, Ryan’s fame became a wedge issue that would drive them apart. A friend of Mellencamp said, "I don’t think he loved all the attention he got just from dating an actress". There were also practical reasons for the split.
33. She Couldn’t Go The Distance
Ryan was living in New York City when she started dating Mellencamp. While Ryan clearly had no problem jetting from LA to NYC back in 2007, she was less keen to visit Mellencamp. At the time, the musician was living in Indiana and the long-distance was just too much. But Mellencamp gave yet another, far more scandalous, reason for their split.
34. She Hated Him
In an interview with Howard Stern, Mellencamp took all of the blame for his split with one of America’s sweethearts. He said, "I loved Meg Ryan. She hates me to death. I think it’s because I’m a child. I throw fits, I gripe, I complain, I’m moody…She just doesn’t want anything to do with me. I can’t blame her". He was wrong about one thing, however. She did want something to do with him.
35. She Made Him Come Running Back
Mellencamp’s interview with Stern made it sound like he and Ryan would never be an item again. But just three short months after Mellencamp’s interview, he would have to eat his words. Despite their differences, tabloids spotted Ryan and Mellencamp sharing an intimate embrace on the streets of NYC. The pair had gotten back together…for now.
36. She Kept It A Secret
Mellencamp finally mustered up the courage to propose to Ryan and the couple became engaged in 2018. Despite the heavy media attention, Ryan managed to keep the details of their engagement and any plans for their wedding under wraps. In fact, Ryan wouldn’t even spill the tea with Mellencamp’s daughter. There might have been a good reason for her near-total silence though.
37. She Was Graceful
As it turns out, the likely reason for Ryan’s silence on the wedding plans was simple. She didn’t have any wedding plans. In an August 2019 interview, Ryan told InStyle that she was "going to get married at some point" but that "…for now this engagement thing is a state of grace". What happened next is a mystery that only Ryan can solve.
38. She Had No Regrets
By October 2019, Ryan’s "state of grace" was over—and she left people shocked. For reasons that only Ryan knows, she abruptly called off her engagement to Mellencamp. Someone close to the pair told Us Weekly, "She had enough and ended [their engagement]" adding that Ryan "had no regrets". "No regrets" could be the slogan for the rom-com star’s whole life.
39. She Inspired Jealousy
When Ryan and Quaid’s ten-year-long marriage came to a sudden and highly publicized end, fans were stunned. The A-list pair separated in 2000 and then finalized their divorce in 2001. The reason why is cringe-inducing. In an interview years later, Quaid stated that he wanted out of the marriage because of jealousy. But he wasn’t jealous of Ryan’s long list of non-existent extramarital lovers.
40. She Cast A Long Shadow
If Meg Ryan wasn’t having any affairs—or, at least, none that we know of—what did Quaid have to be jealous of? After their marriage ended, Quaid spoke out about living in the increasingly cold shadow of his box office topping wife. He was jealous of her fame and success. In an interview, he said, "I have to admit, I actually did feel like I disappeared". That wasn’t their only problem, though.
41. Her On-Screen Romances Became Real
In 2000, Ryan starred alongside Russell Crowe in Proof of Life. Ryan’s character had an on-screen romance with Crowe’s but, in Hollywood, who can tell the difference between fact and fiction anyway? True to form, it wasn’t long before Ryan’s on-screen romance seeped into her real-life—but this time, it had the consequence of a huge scandal.
42. She Was Full Of Crow
At the time, in 2000, Ryan was still technically married to Quaid, but the couple had separated. That was all the opening that Crowe needed. While the film’s cameras were rolling, the paparazzi’s cameras were snapping. Tabloid newspapers became full of pictures of Ryan and Crowe holding hands and reports of the two "smooching" and "nuzzling" at restaurants all over London.
43. She Was Served
Quaid later talked about his jealousy of Ryan’s fame being the main reason for their divorce. But seeing his nearly estranged wife with the hunky action hero star Russell Crowe could not have helped things. With the tabloids abuzz, Quaid filed for divorce from Ryan. Of course, Ryan wasn’t about to take that lying down.
44. She Pointed The Finger
By now, the tabloids were vilifying Meg Ryan as a cheater, accusing the actress of being the opposite of the innocent girl-next-door characters she so frequently played on-screen. Perhaps to salvage her tarnished reputation, Ryan shot back at Quaid. She had him served with divorce papers of her own—and their contents were shocking.
Ryan accused Quaid of having had affairs throughout their marriage. In later interviews, she said, "Dennis was not faithful for a long time and that was very painful". So was what Quaid did next.
45. Her Husband Had Affairs
There might have been some truth to Ryan’s accusations about Quaid's extramarital activities. She wasn’t the only party in the separation enjoying some time apart. While Ryan was canoodling with Crowe in London, Quaid was getting busy himself. The actor took up with the Spanish model Mar Saura. Ryan wasn’t exactly crying over it, though.
46. Her Affair Tanked Her Career
Not everyone found the Meg Ryan-Russell Crowe romance to be charming. Quite apart from Quaid—who was shivering with jealousy by this time—the director of Proof of Life was less than impressed with his film’s stars. Following a lukewarm reception from audiences and critics, director Taylor Hackford’s reaction was utterly chilling.
He blamed Ryan’s news-snatching affair for overpowering the film itself. Crowe later called the director an "idiot" and a "knob".
47. She Was Overwhelmed
Ryan and Crowe had a hot and fast relationship. Even before she finalized her divorce from Quaid, Crowe was making big plans for the pair. Apparently, Crowe was ready to let Ryan make an honest man of him and even contemplated popping the big question. The two even went house-hunting together. But for Ryan—fresh out of a decade-long marriage and still riding a career-high—it was all "too much too soon".
48. She Got Out
Seemingly before it even started, the Ryan-Crowe relationship ended without a warning. The tabloids claimed that Crowe dumped Ryan, but the reality was quite different. Between the publicity surrounding her whirlwind romance and her bitter divorce, Ryan wasn’t in a place for another long-term relationship. She said, "I couldn’t be in another long relationship. It wasn’t the time for that. So I got out".
49. She Didn’t Blame Crowe
After the break-up—and the divorce—Ryan lost her good-girl image and the tabloids credited Crowe with being a homewrecker, cementing his bad-boy image. But Ryan later said on the Oprah Winfrey show that her marriage should have ended earlier. She said, "…Russell didn’t break up the marriage. He was definitely there at the end, but it wasn’t his fault".
50. She Could Fake It
When Harry Met Sally… is rom-com history and its success is largely thanks to one infamous scene. The now-legendary diner scene in which Ryan’s character loudly—and rather convincingly—fakes a climax in a crowded diner might never have been. The whole scandalous scene was Ryan’s idea. She might have regretted though…they had to do multiple takes.