The truth behind the affair that halted Meg Ryan’s career

Once upon a time, Meg Ryan was synonymous with perfectly formed romantic comedies that regularly co-starred Tom Hanks. However, her status as America’s queen of romance quickly plummeted when news of her alleged extramarital affair with Russell Crowe broke. The New York Post appeared to confirm the couple’s fledgling relationship following months of rumors in July 2000, when they attended Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible 2 party in London. But since Ryan had only just announced her separation from Dennis Quaid at the time, tabloids speculated as to whether the Sleepless in Seattle star had actually cheated on her husband of nine years with the New Zealand native.

Ryan and Crowe first met just ahead of filming Proof of Life earlier that year, and would split by early 2001 — but not before sharing a very public whirlwind romance. According to multiple reports and interviews in the years since, there’s so much more to this story than meets the eye. Let’s shine a light on the truth behind the reported affair that halted Meg Ryan’s career.

Meg Ryan's ex-husband wasn't an innocent bystander

While it was Meg Ryan’s relationship status with superstar Russell Crowe that hit the headlines hard, the actress’ actual marriage to Dennis Quaid apparently wasn’t as strong as the public had first assumed. Ryan broke her silence on the media’s biased reporting while speaking with InStyle in 2008. Revealing that her ex-husband had allegedly committed adultery himself, she said, “It was a great story, but what wasn’t in the story was the reality of my marriage.” The When Harry Met Sally starlet added, “Dennis was not faithful to me for a long time, and that was very painful. I found out more about that once I was divorced.” 

As of this writing, it’s still unclear whether or not there was a definite overlap between Quaid and Crowe, but it certainly seems as though Ryan was already struggling with her married life long before ever meeting the Gladiator star. “I am not a victim,” she continued. “I was there. I was in that marriage for a really long time.” According to Australia’s The Daily Telegraph, Ryan also appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show around that time, saying, “Russell wasn’t a homewrecker … I did not leave my marriage for him. I left because it was not working.”

The press didn't tell the whole story behind Ryan's alleged affair

Just as crucial details about Ryan’s marriage to Quaid were overlooked for years, the Kate & Leopold actress felt unfairly portrayed by the media when the news of her tryst with Crowe broke. “I’d never felt like I was all that concerned with what people thought of me,” Ryan told The New York Times in February 2019. That is, until the press caught wind of her romance with Crowe. Her divorce “never got told right,” Ryan claimed, but added, “It’s a real gift when you know you can’t ever really manage an image or a story and you stop caring.” 

In the end, this misunderstood movie star got used to hearing only a skewed and ultimately negative perspective on her early 2000s relationships, but suggested that it was impossible not to feel “like [she] was the bad guy” at the time. “Divorce is hard. Love is hard,” Ryan continued. “All those things were so personal. They weren’t for mass consumption. The complexity of a life or a marriage is never going to exist in a headline or a tabloid. That was a freeing thing to know.”

Was it just a little crush for Meg Ryan?

Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe met just prior to filming Proof of Life, and subsequently spent a lot of time together during production. According to a so-called pal cited by People in 2001, the You’ve Got Mail actress was apparently “extremely infatuated” with her co-star by the time she and Quaid officially announced their separation. One of Ryan’s most famous friends, the late Carrie Fisher, also spoke to the magazine about the actress’ then-new love interest. “He’s a tough thing to resist,” she teased of Crowe’s masculine wiles in true Fisher fashion. Yup, we imagine a lot of people would agree with this assessment.

In fact, the Star Wars icon went on to joke, “I was just glad I had a friend that got him. If I can’t have him, I want to hear what he’s like — at some point, when she’s willing to talk.” To be honest, that goes for the rest of us, too. 

Did Ryan's alleged affair with Crowe move too fast?

Despite the fact that Ryan was allegedly “extremely infatuated” with Crowe, other sources cited by People at the time suggested their relationship may have moved too fast for the recent divorcée. “Russell wanted to marry Meg and have kids with her,” an insider told the magazine. However, having only just called time on a nine-year marriage to Quaid — with whom Ryan shares a son called Jack – the City of Angels actress understandably wasn’t in a rush to settle down again. As People put it, “Ryan felt that Crowe’s attention and gifts — including a puppy and a vintage 1963 Buick Riviera — were ‘too much too soon. It was overwhelming.'”

Another theory floating around at the time? A Proof of Life crew member suggested, “I think it was your typical costar fling, destined to run its course and burn out.” Hm. Either way, it sounds as though the connection between these two stars was quite intense, but perhaps the heightened media scrutiny surrounding their romantic tryst only added to the pressure they felt once thrust into the spotlight.

Absence didn't make Meg Ryan's heart grow fonder

Russell Crowe gave a rare statement about his split from Meg Ryan to Melbourne’s Herald Sun in February 2001. “Meg is a beautiful and courageous lady,” the Noah star said (via People). “I grieve the loss of her companionship, but I haven’t lost her friendship.” However, with Ryan located in the States, Crowe felt the need to stay at his cattle farm in Australia, where he could “wake up in the sun [and] walk around under the trees” (via People). Noting that his relationship with Ryan had given him “a lot of light, mate,” he added, “I can’t sustain myself through the course of the year without filling up on home, and Meg needs the same.” 

Basically, Ryan and Crowe came from two very different worlds, which made their relationship difficult to sustain in the long term. But despite being on the other side of the globe, the actor seemed to only have love and respect for Ryan — and when compared to the norm of brutal celeb breakups, that’s pretty heartwarming, to say the least.

Not all publicity was good publicity for Meg Ryan's career

One person who wasn’t all that happy with Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe’s off-screen romance was Proof of Life director Taylor Hackford. In early 2001, the filmmaker discussed the alleged affair with reporters against the backdrop of the ill-fated thriller’s tepid box office performance. “It had an indelible and very destructive effect on the release of the film in the U.S.,” he said (via The Guardian), “because the real life story overpowered the film.” Yikes.

Around the same time as Hackford’s interview, Ryan and Crowe had called it quits in real life … meaning the award-winning star of A Beautiful Mind star wasn’t very pleased when he heard about his former director’s opinion. “He said that?” a reportedly “outraged” Crowe asked in disbelief, before he opined to reporters, “He’s a f**king idiot. No seriously — what a knob.” It’s probably safe to say there was no love lost between actor and director in this particular instance. 

Was Meg Ryan the dumper or the dumpee?

Despite a plethora of rumors regarding the nature of Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe’s split, it was apparently the rom-com stalwart who broke up with the Les Misérables star. Ryan seemed to admit as much during her 2008 interview with InStyle. “I was a mess,” she explained (via People). “I hurt him too at the end. I couldn’t be in another long relationship. It wasn’t the time for that. So I got out.”

As People previously reported in 2001, Crowe was perhaps blindsided by the breakup. “The guy is probably used to getting everything he wants,” a source close to Ryan claimed. “I don’t know that he could figure out what else he could do to make it work.” While the Ryan-dumping-Crowe narrative might seem legitimate now, gossip rags were convinced at the time that it was the other way around. The media outlet suggested that the actor’s so-called “failure” to set the record straight might have been particularly upsetting for Ryan. “He never came to her aid,” the insider continued. “It still works to humiliate her.”

Breaking up (an alleged affair) is hard to do

Meg Ryan may have been the one to end her romance with Crowe, but she initially struggled with her choice. “I empowered myself by not staying in the thing with Russell,” the star told Hello! magazine in 2008 (via Marie Claire UK). “I felt it was going to be repeating some similar patterns that I’d just gotten out of and it was a drag because I was crazy about him.” 

Basically, Ryan was every bit as besotted with Crowe as previous reports made out, but simply wasn’t in a place in her life where she could commit to another long-term relationship. “It’s very difficult to be a career person and have a relationship,” she continued. “I didn’t succeed at doing it at all. It’s incredibly hard.” By the sounds of it, the actress wrestled with this decision for a long time, but later had nothing but wonderful things to say about her former beau and co-star: “Russell was incredibly gracious to me during a really hard time and in the aftermath.”

Meg Ryan realized the only way out is through

While Meg Ryan and her career unfortunately felt the wrath of the press throughout her split from ex-husband Dennis Quaid and subsequent alleged affair with Russell Crowe, the movie star ultimately gained a lot of insight from the experience. While speaking with The New York Times in February 2019, Ryan called her vilification in the media “incredibly liberating.” She continued, “Now I was utterly free. I didn’t have to care about what people thought. I have gotten to do what I guess I secretly wanted to do. Be totally under the radar and live my life.” 

That August, the rom-com starlet further reflected on the matter with InStyle. “I said I had an inability to accept myself as lovable. That was harsh,” she said. “I think it stemmed from starting over after my marriage ended.” Having since made peace with that tumultuous time in her life — and the relationships she shared during that period — Ryan explained, “I became a better person after all of that. And I grew up a lot.”

Oh, and she’s engaged to musician John Mellencamp, too. It seems Meg Ryan has managed to well and truly move on from the alleged affair that halted her career.

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