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Twenty years after she played a character in the movie The Notebook who eventually suffers from dementia, actress Gena Rowlands is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

The heartbreaking update was revealed by her son Nick Cassavetes, who directed the romantic drama in 2004.

The movie was based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same name. It follows the love story of a young couple from different social classes in the 1940s.

The movie achieved significant success, becoming a beloved classic and grossing over $115 million at the box office.

Rowlands played the role of an older version of Allie Calhoun, whose younger version is played by Rachel McAdams. The older Calhoun suffers from dementia.

Rowlands’ character is visited by her husband Noah, played by James Garner, in a nursing home. There, he reads their love story to her from a notebook in an attempt to help her remember their past.

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Gena Rowlands, Who Starred In The Notebook, Has Alzheimer’s

In a gutwrenching instance of art imitating life, Cassavetes revealed that Gena Rowlands has been quietly suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for years.

“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,” the director told Entertainment Weekly.

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

In a 2004 interview with O magazine, Rowland herself recalled how the role of an older Allie was difficult to play because of her own mother having the disease.

The Notebook … was particularly hard because I play a character who has Alzheimer’s,” she said at the time.

“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,” Rowland added. “It was a tough but wonderful movie.”

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Career Spanned Nearly Seven Decades

Gena Rowlands, born in 1930, had a Hollywood career spanning nearly seven decades. During her career she earned four Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards.

She is best known for her collaborations with her late actor-director husband John Cassavetes, appearing in ten of his films.

Some of her biggest successes include a few Oscar-nominated performances. She was honored for A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Gloria (1980). As well, of course, as her role in the popular film The Notebook.

A review of The Notebook by the Village Voice gave Rowlands and Garner props for their portrayal of the older couple.

“Amid the sticky-sweet swamp of Jeremy Leven’s script, Rowlands and Garner emerge spotless and beatific, lending a magnanimous credibility to their scenes together,” they wrote.

“These two old pros slice cleanly through the thicket of sap-weeping dialogue and contrivance, locating the terror and desolation wrought by the cruel betrayals of a failing mind.”

If anything can provide hope for families of loved ones suffering from dementia, it is The Notebook. In the story, Allie is still able to connect with her husband Noah, even if only for brief moments.

The message is that even amid the disease, the person with dementia is still sometimes there. Their relationships and memories can still be meaningful.

While those in the throes of the disease might not be able to recover such glimpses of their life, the hope that it gives to their loved ones can not be understated. My mother suffered from dementia toward the end of her life. I saw those glimpses.

It’s something I’ll never forget.

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