Inside Meg Ryan’s rise to rom com queen: A look back at her romances and huge comeback

Meg Ryan was the undisputed queen of Hollywood’s romantic comedy genre in the 1980s and 1990s, with a string of starring roles.

She was also one half of a Hollywood power couple alongside actor Dennis Quaid before her ‘girl next door’ image was tarnished when she embarked on a relationship with Russell Crowe.

In the years that followed, Ryan largely disappeared from our screens, but now she is back with a new movie and a headline-making turn on the 2024 Met Gala red carpet that comes 35 years after her most iconic role.

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Ryan was born Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra in the US state of Connecticut on November 19, 1961.

Her mother, Susan Jordan was a former actress turned English teacher while father Harry Hyra taught maths.

After high school she studied journalism and appeared in commercials in the 1980s, which led to a role in the movie Rich and Famous and the US soap opera As the World Turns.

She left college a month before graduation to become an actress, choosing her grandmother’s maiden name for her stage name.

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Meg Ryan, Tom Cruise in Top Gun

Her big break came when she played Carole Bradshaw, the wife of naval flight officer Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, in the 1986 film Top Gun.

Two years later her star would explode when she appeared in the 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally opposite Billy Crystal.

Ryan ran away with the film thanks to her performance in a scene requiring her character Sally Albright to fake an orgasm while sitting in the famed Katz’s Deli. It led to the famous movie quote: “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Ryan’s star continued to rise thanks to roles in smash hit rom-coms including the 1993 film Sleepless in Seattle and 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, both of which saw her paired with Tom Hanks.

Meg Ryan as Sally in When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Those films – which remain three of the highest-grossing romantic comedies of all time – led to widespread fame. She also received Golden Globe award nominations for each film.

In a 2023 interview with Glamour, Ryan reflected on that period.

“It was a kind of moonshot and was really fun, but it’s just one ride out of the billions of things you could be interested in.”

But fame also had a downside. Ryan had met actor Dennis Quaid on the set of the 1987 film Innerspace. They married on Valentine’s Day, 1991, and welcomed son Jack in April the following year.

Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan at the premiere of Hurlyburly in Los Angeles, 1998.

They were considered the golden couple of Hollywood, but behind the scenes, there was friction.

Quaid later admitted he struggled with his wife’s stardom,

“When we met, I was the big deal,” he later said.

“[But then] we’d go out on the streets of New York and it would be like, ‘Meg! Meg!’ And I have to admit it, I actually did feel like I disappeared.”

In early 2000, Ryan started filming Proof of Life opposite Russell Crowe.

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Rumours soon swirled that the pair had become romantically involved while on location.

In June 2000, Quaid announced their separation. They divorced a year later.

Ryan was painted as a scarlet woman and she and Crowe were followed relentlessly by the media, including on their 2000 trip to Australia.

Ryan has long maintained her marriage was all but over before she met Crowe, telling Oprah Winfrey in 2006 it was a “very unhealthy marriage”.

“I probably should have left it much earlier. I was very sad that it came apart in the way it seemed to have. It was never about another man. It was just about what my and Dennis’ relationship couldn’t sustain.”

Ryan and Crowe broke up before the year’s end. Ryan later said she broke Crowe’s heart but was not in the right place for a serious relationship.

Ryan took a break from acting, and adopted a daughter, Daisy, then two, in 2006.

After appearing in some independent films, she took another four-year hiatus before appearing on TV and making her debut as a director.

In 2023, Ryan told People why she took so much time off.

“I took a giant break because I felt like there’s just so many other parts of my experience as a human being I wanted to develop,” she said. “It’s nice to think of it as a job and not a lifestyle.”

In 2010, she began dating John Mellencamp. Their on-off relationship included an engagement before they called it quits in 2019.

Ryan made her rom-com return in the 2023 film, What Happens Later, opposite David Duchovny, who played her former boyfriend. Ryan also directed and co-wrote the movie, which was her first film in eight years. 

Meg Ryan’s appearance at this month’s Met Gala caused headlines not just because of her age-defying appearance at 62 but the fact that it was her first time at the event in 20 years. It seems it was Daisy who inspired her to attend.

“I’ve just tuned into fashion in an intellectual way,” Ryan told Vogue.

“My daughter is way into the history and anthropology of fashion; I’ve been discovering it a lot through her.”

In a 2023 story in Interview Magazine, Ryan admitted her famous orgasm scene still had an impact on son Jack Quaid, now 32, and an actor, and Daisy, 19, a college student.

“It’s funny, my son just called me this morning and he’s in New York staying at a hotel that’s right across the street from Katz’s Deli,” she said.

“My daughter was here and everybody was on speaker, and they were like, ‘Mum, this is a very unique embarrassment’.”