Movie Legend Gena Rowlands Diagnosed With Alzheimer's

Gena Rowlands tapped into her family experience with Alzheimer's disease for 'The Notebook.'

Celebrated actress Gena Rowlands has Alzheimer's disease, her son, director and actor Nick Cassavetes, shared with Entertainment Weekly. The four-time Emmy and two-time Golden Globe Award-winning actress' health update came amid a discussion with Cassavetes about working with his mother on The Notebook for the beloved romance film's 20th anniversary.

Rowlands, 93, played an older version of Rachel McAdams' character Allie, who also had dementia. "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 outlet. "She's in full dementia. And it's so crazy – we lived it, she acted it, and now it's on us."

88th Annual Academy Awards – Arrivals
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In 2004, the actress, whose seven-decade career included two Oscar nominations and an honorary Academy Award, told O magazine that she drew on her own mother's struggle with Alzheimer's while playing Allie.

"This last one – The Notebook, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks – was particularly hard because I play a character who has Alzheimer's," she told the outlet. "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."

Rowlands "loved" having her son direct her in the film. "The first day of shooting, Nick said, 'Okay, Mom. Action!'" she continued. "James Garner turned to me and said, 'Action, Mom! That's the first time in my career I've ever heard that one.' James laughed so hard he ruined the take." 

"The Notebook" Photocall at the 30th American Deauville Film Festival
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The A Woman Under the Influence star thought it would be the "opposite" on set and that her son would "try to distance himself" from her. "It struck me right then that he was so completely in charge as the director, but at the same time he was able to pull off a lovely show of tenderness and respect toward his mom," she gushed at the time. "If a scene went really well, he'd give me a little smile and a wink. Then afterward, he called me Gena again. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, yet I do remember thinking, That's my little guy! Except he's 6'5".

Today, Cassavetes told Entertainment Weekly that he's proud the film he and his mom made "holds up pretty good" after two decades. "It's always a shock to hear that as much time has gone by as it has, but it makes sense. I'm just happy that it exists," he said, adding, "It seems to have worked and I'm very proud of it."