Meg Ryan has long been known as one of America's Sweethearts thanks to her plucky charm, undeniable relatability and fantastic sense of humor. The actress has delighted moviegoers numerous times over since her breakthrough lead role in 1989's "When Harry Met Sally." Over the course of the next three decades, Meg developed a reputation as one of the queens of romantic comedies, scoring hits like "Sleepless In Seattle," "You've Got Mail" and "Kate & Leopold." While her acting career has slowed down in recent years, there's no denying the star's impact on cinema and her enduring legacy as an A-list celebrity. To celebrate her 60th birthday on Nov. 19, 2021, join Wonderwall.com as we run through the movie star's life in photos…
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Margaret Mary Emily Hyra was born on Nov. 19, 1961, in Fairfield, Connecticut. Meg is the daughter of Susan Jordan, a former actress and English teacher, and Harry Hyra, a math teacher. She has two sisters, Dana and Annie, and a brother, musician Andrew Hyra, a member of the band Billy Pilgrim. Meg, who was raised in the Catholic faith, was 15 when her parents divorced in 1976.
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Meg Ryan wasn't certain she would pursue acting, as she'd studied journalism at the University of Connecticut and then at New York University. However, after arriving in the Big Apple, she acted in television commercials and on the popular soap opera "As the World Turns" (she's seen here as Betsy Stewart on the CBS daytime drama in 1982) to earn extra money. It wasn't long before she found enough success to leave college early, dropping out a semester before she planned to graduate to focus on acting full time.
Upon joining the Screen Actors Guild, Meg decided to use the surname "Ryan" instead of her given last name. It was her grandmother's maiden name, and as her eventual success proved, it was the right choice. Meg Ryan made her film debut in the 1981 drama "Rich and Famous" opposite Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen. The ingenue plays the teenage daughter of Candice's housewife-turned-bestselling author who's dealing with intense jealousy from her less successful writer best friend. The movie was a commercial failure, but it didn't stand in the way of jump-starting Meg's career.
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In 1982, Meg Ryan joined "As The World Turns" full time as Betsy Stewart. Her main storyline as the young and popular trust fund baby was a romantic plot with Steve Andropoulos. Believing he was only after her for her money, Betsy entered into a hasty marriage with rival Craig Montgomery. However, Betsy eventually followed her heart and left Craig for Steve. The two wed during a 1984 episode that attracted 20 million viewers. Meg's on-screen ceremony was such an event that it became the second highest rated hour in American soap opera history. Later that year, the actress left the series to pursue a career in film.
Meg Ryan's first notable film appearance came in 1986 in the blockbuster romantic action flick "Top Gun." It's not a huge role, but she shines as Carole Bradshaw, the wife of Naval Flight Officer Nick "Goose" Bradshaw, played by Anthony Edwards. Goose's death is the emotional centerpiece of film, giving audiences all the feels for Meg's heartbroken character. Her appearance definitely helped get her big screen career going as it became the highest grossing film of the year.
Another good outcome of Meg Ryan's experience on "Top Gun": her relationship with co-star Anthony Edwards. The two actors met on the set of the film and began dating soon after. They remained a couple through 1986 and 1987 and even moved in together at one point. However, rumor has it that the eventual "ER" star proposed to Meg and she turned him down.
Not long after her breakup with Anthony Edwards, Meg Ryan starred in the 1987 sci-fi comedy "Innerspace." The film follows a scientifically miniaturized Marine who unexpectedly finds himself floating around the body of a hypochondriac and tries to outwit saboteurs who want the device that shrank him. Meg plays the love interest of the film's star, Dennis Quaid. The Steven Spielberg-produced film, which also co-starred Martin Short, wasn't a major presence at the box office, but the two stars' on-set meeting would change the course of their lives forever.
Shortly after wrapping "Innerspace," Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid both signed onto the 1988 drama "D.O.A." The pair started dating while in production on their second film together and quickly fell in love. The actor was five years removed from his divorce from actress P.J. Soles at the time. He once told Entertainment Weekly that his romance with Meg started fast. "It was like a thunderbolt," he said. "Both of us felt, 'This is it. We're going to be together.'" They're see here at Dennis's "Great Balls of Fire" premiere in 1989.
The couple quickly became a hot item in Hollywood, with Dennis Quaid already at the top of his game and Meg Ryan's star slowly starting to rise. Shortly after their relationship began, she starred opposite Kiefer Sutherland in the drama "Promised Land," which earned her her first notable accolades including an Independent Spirit Award nomination. Naturally, she brought her hot new beau as her date to the 1989 award show, seen here.
In 1989, Meg Ryan had a lead role in the romantic comedy "When Harry Met Sally…" opposite funnyman Billy Crystal. The beloved film follows the title characters from their meeting in Chicago just before sharing a cross-country drive through 12 years of chance encounters in New York City. But the actress nearly didn't get the role — the era's "it" girl, Molly Ringwald, was the favored candidate — until Meg convinced director Rob Reiner to give her the job. She won over critics and moviegoers alike with her hilarious depiction of a fake orgasm in a crowded deli, which has become one of cinema's most iconic scenes. USA Today called her performance "eye-opening," while The Washington Post praised her as that "summer's Melanie Griffith — a honey-haired blonde who finally finds a showcase for her sheer exuberance. Neither naif nor vamp, she's a woman from a pen of a woman, not some Cinderella of a 'Working Girl.'" Strong word of mouth led the comedy to more than $92 million in ticket sales and gave Meg her first Golden Globe Award nomination.
The following year, Meg Ryan starred in a forgettable romantic comedy that would lay the groundwork for one of film's most popular duos. She was joined by Tom Hanks in the critically maligned movie "Joe Versus The Volcano," which depicts a man who accepts a financial offer to travel to a South Pacific island and throw himself into a volcano on behalf of the superstitious natives. The titular Joe, who's been told he's dying of a rare disease, falls in love with the woman hosting his trip. Time magazine called it a "wan bit of whimsy" and it delivered disappointing commercial results, but the chemistry between the two lead stars was undeniable.
Before becoming synonymous with romantic comedies, Meg Ryan took a dramatic turn with a role in the 1991 biographical musical film "The Doors." She plays Pamela Courson, the long-term companion of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer). Director Oliver Stone auditioned around 60 actresses for the role, which required sex scenes that generated a fair amount of controversy.
After two years of dating, Dennis Quaid confessed to Meg Ryan that he was addicted to cocaine and he went to rehab while she attended support meetings. A few months afterward, the pair spontaneously tied the knot while celebrating Valentine's Day in 1991 at the Hotel Bel-Air. According to Entertainment Weekly, the sober actor suddenly told his fiancée, "today's the day" and the concierge tracked down a minister — the couple (pictured in 1993) were married in their hotel room. "I was laughing and crying at the same time," Meg was quoted as saying in the New York Post, "and I realized I could've never gotten married in front of a whole group of people."
Just a little over a year after exchanging vows, Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid welcomed son Jack Henry Quaid, who was born on April 24, 1992, in Los Angeles. The Hollywood "it" couple did their best to retain a low-profile personal life, moving to New York and keeping their only child (seen here with his mom in 1994) out of the press for much of his young life even as he was being raised by two of the industry's biggest stars.
Following major developments in her personal life, Meg Ryan experienced one of the biggest milestones of her career: the 1993 romantic comedy "Sleepless In Seattle." She and Tom Hanks reteamed for the film, which follows a Seattle widower and a Baltimore reporter who fall for each other with the help of a talk-radio program and their two meddling children. It all leads to one of the most heartwarming endings in movie history when the two finally meet at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine's Day. It became one of the year's biggest box office draws and had critics falling head over heels for the leads' winning chemistry. Meg earned her second Golden Globe Award nomination and critic Roger Ebert called her "one of the most likable actresses around" and said Meg had "a certain ineffable Doris Day innocence" and was "able to convince us of the magical quality of her sudden love for a radio voice."
After the success of "Sleepless In Seattle," Meg Ryan turned down Jodie Foster's Oscar-winning role in "The Silence Of The Lambs" to take on more romantic tales like "When a Man Loves a Woman" and "I.Q." in 1994 and "French Kiss" in 1995 (she's seen here with co-star Kevin Kline). The run of hit after hit earned her the title of America's sweetheart and cemented her appeal as a major box office draw. Also in 1995, she was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award, which is given to outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.
To keep from getting pigeon-holed, Meg Ryan made a darker turn in the 1996 war drama "Courage Under Fire." She stars alongside Denzel Washington and Matt Damon as an Army captain who dies in action. Denzel plays the lieutenant colonel who investigates the inconsistencies surrounding her passing to determine if she should be the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor. The film was a box office hit that crossed the $100 million mark and received rave responses. In its review, Variety called it "a carefully conceived, dramatically honorable picture that treats its subject with clarity and intelligence, especially by contemporary standards."
Meg Ryan soon returned to romances with 1998's "City of Angels." The drama co-stars Nicolas Cage as an angel who falls in love with a mortal woman played by Meg. He wishes to become human in order to be with her and, with the guidance of a man who has already made the transition from immortality, the angel falls and discovers the human experience. The film was a massive success, grossing nearly $200 million and receiving high scores from critics, with Variety calling Meg's performance "terrifically engaging."
1998 might be the biggest year in Meg Ryan's career as it also saw the release of "You've Got Mail," her third collaboration with Tom Hanks. It tells the story of two people in an online romance who are unaware they are also business rivals. It marked another hit on both stars' resumes, bringing in over $250 million, and proved that Meg and Tom were unstoppable as a pair. She earned her third Golden Globe Award nomination and The New York Times wrote of her performance, "Ms. Ryan plays her role blithely and credibly this time, with an air of freshness, a minimum of cute fidgeting and a lot of fond chemistry with Mr. Hanks." Talk about a perfect way to close out a golden decade for the actress.
Coming off of a winning era chock-full of hits, the '00s started out rough for Meg Ryan, who kicked off the new millennium with a lead role in the drama "Hanging Up" opposite Diane Keaton and Lisa Kudrow. Diane also directed the story of three sisters who bond over the hospitalization of their estranged father after he develops dementia. Despite the incredible talent who worked on the film, it didn't make a major dent at the box office and was ripped apart by critics. Variety wrote that "three of Hollywood's most beautiful and talented actresses are totally wasted in this shamelessly sappy meller."
Hoping to create some distance from her romantic-comedy past, Meg Ryan next appeared in the action thriller "Proof of Life" with Russell Crowe. She portrays the distraught wife of a kidnapped engineer who relies on a resourceful troubleshooter with a knack for dealing with international bandits. The departure was another miss for the actress, flopping at the box office and failing to connect with critics. The New York Times wrote that "what ultimately sinks this stylish but heartless film is a flat lead performance by the eternally snippy Meg Ryan… Ms. Ryan expresses no inner conflict, nor much of anything else beyond a mounting tension." The movie garnered far more attention for providing the first meeting between the two lead stars, who would go on to pursue an off-set relationship.
Rumors began to swirl about an affair between Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe while she was still married to Dennis Quaid, which only came to a head when the couple announced their separation in late 2000 — they're seen here at an event in New York City earlier that year — and filed for divorce a few months later. Dennis later called the marriage "the most successful relationship of my life" on the "Today" show and admitted he had become jealous of his then-wife's success. Meg told InStyle Magazine years later that their golden marriage wasn't all that it seemed. "It was a great story. But what wasn't in the story was the reality of my marriage for nine years," she admitted to the magazine. "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."
Shortly after her separation announcement, Meg Ryan ignored all the media speculation and began publicly dating Russell Crowe (they're pictured here in London in 2000). People magazine reported that by the time she announced her split from Dennis Quaid, she was "extremely infatuated" with the Australian actor. That said, their relationship ended less than a year after it started. Meg later spoke out about the negative press taking a toll on her at the time. "I'd never felt like I was all that concerned with what people thought of me, but then that story never got told right," she later told The New York Times Magazine. "I felt the effect, like I was the bad guy or whatever the story was. But I remember letting go of needing to correct anybody. Divorce is hard. Love is hard. 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!"
Personal drama aside, Meg Ryan continued working, returning to her romantic-comedy roots with the time-traveling "Kate & Leopold" in 2001. The film follows Hugh Jackman as a British Duke who travels from New York in 1876 to the present and falls in love with Meg's successful market researcher while in the modern Big Apple. It didn't receive the same positive response as Meg's previous romantic comedies, but critics were impressed with the the lead pair's performances. Roger Ebert wrote that "Meg Ryan does this sort of thing about as well as it can possibly be done" in his review of the film, which also marked another box office hit for the star after a string of disappointments.
Sadly, after "Kate & Leopold," the underperformers continued for Meg Ryan. She acted against type in the 2003 erotic thriller "In The Cut" alongside Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Jason Leigh as an English teacher who becomes personally entangled with a detective investigating a series of gruesome murders. Much buzz was made about the star's clothing-free turn in the film, as well as a lengthy and graphic love scene unlike anything she had ever done in her career. Despite the major media attention, it failed with critics and audiences, with The New Yorker calling it "a thriller devoid of incidental pleasures or humor, or even commonplace reality."
By the mid-'00s, Meg Ryan had experienced a few career setbacks and had just gotten over a highly publicized divorce and breakup. As a result, she took a three-year hiatus from acting to focus on her family. She took time to ensure she was there for son Jack Quaid, who was still a child when his parents split. Jack and his loving mom are seen here enjoying quality time sitting courtside at a Los Angeles Lakers game in 2004. During that time, the star also started working with CARE, a charitable organization dedicated to ending poverty by helping women work together.
In 2006, Meg Ryan decided to expand her family and adopted daughter Daisy True Ryan from China. She explained to Redbook magazine the following year that the adoption process in China includes a lottery system and Daisy was randomly assigned to her. "She is the daughter I should have. I never felt like I was on a rescue mission or anything like that," she told the outlet. "I just really wanted a baby; I was on a mission to connect with somebody, and Daisy and I got to meet each other this way at this time. We are so compatible. And also having the experience of having had Jack and now to have Daisy in a different way — there's no difference in the love you feel."
Meg Ryan made a much-anticipated return to films in the 2007 dramedy "In The Land of Women" alongside Adam Brody and Kristen Stewart. It depicts a young man who moves in with his ailing grandmother after a bad breakup and gets caught up in the drama of the women living across the street. It received a muted reception at the box office and mixed reviews, with The Washington Post writing, "What matters here aren't the narrative events, so much as the movie's emotional textures." But it was a welcome return for the screen icon, who told Movies.ie that she was "very happy" at her older age. "Turning 40 in Hollywood was definitely something for me but it doesn't feel like an ending," she told the outlet. "My interests have expanded and I have never felt more creative than I do right now."
Meg Ryan stayed busy with the release of 2008's "The Women," a remake of a 1939 film featuring an all-star ensemble that also includes Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith and Eva Mendes. It centers on a group of gossiping female Manhattan socialites with Meg playing a wealthy woman whose husband is cheating on her with a shop girl. Unfortunately for the cast, critics were not kind to the comedy, with Time's critic calling it "one of the worst movies I've ever seen." To top it off, Meg, Annette, Eva, Debra and Jada all garnered Razzie Award nominations for worst actress. That said, it was still a modest performer at the box office, proving Meg could still be a draw for moviegoers.
2009's "Serious Moonlight" saw Meg Ryan act alongside Timothy Hutton, Kristen Bell and Justin Long as a high-powered attorney who learns that her husband is about to leave their troubled marriage, so she decides to hold him captive by duct-taping him to a toilet. The indie film was a non-event at the box office and received mostly negative reviews. Sadly, it also marked Meg's last acting role for nearly half a decade. She told The New York Times Magazine that she "felt in a crazy way that, as an actor, I was burning through life experiences. I was burned out. I didn't feel like I knew enough anymore about myself or the world to reflect it as an actor."
After stepping away from acting, Meg Ryan instead focused on her personal life, including a high-profile relationship with rocker John Mellencamp starting in 2010. The pair (seen here at an NCAA college basketball game in Indiana that year) were together for three years during which he wrote the score for her theatrical comeback film "Ithaca" in 2015. The actress gushed over her then-beau's work during a Q&A after a screening at Geena Davis's Bentonville Film Festival. "The music is so beautiful. John Mellencamp wrote every note — everything — the tiny little needle drops you hear in the back," she said. "He wrote about half of it after I read him the script, and then the next half after he saw the movie. He's just incredible." The couple broke up in 2014 before reuniting in 2017 — and becoming engaged the following year. Meg ended their engagement in 2019.
Meg Ryan has kept her daughter Daisy mostly out of the spotlight throughout her life, but the single mom made a rare public appearance with her youngest child at the Schiaparelli Haute Couture show during Paris Fashion Week in 2019. All eyes were on the pair, who seemed to have a ball as they sat front row at the fashion show. The star previously described her teenage daughter to Redbook magazine as "a good hang, and she's easy. She's very smart and she's very generous. I love that she's funny. I love that. I just can't imagine what it was like before she came. Life is good, it's so good with her in it."
Meg Ryan's son Jack Quaid has also come into his own. He's pursued a career in acting like his parents and has built a solid resume in recent years. He made his acting debut with a minor role in the blockbuster "The Hunger Games" franchise before snagging a main role on the short-lived HBO drama series "Vinyl" in 2016. Jack scored parts alongside Dwayne Johnson in "Rampage" and in the indie films "Tragedy Girls" and "Plus One" before getting his major breakthrough as vigilante Hughie Campbell on the popular Amazon Prime superhero series "The Boys." He's starred on the show since 2019 and will next be seen starring in the fifth installment of the hit "Scream" films in 2022. He and his famous mom (seen here taking a stroll in 2016) also worked together in the 2015 drama "Ithaca."
Over the last decade, Meg Ryan has only made a couple of acting appearances: in the 2015 TV movie "Fan Girl" and the indie drama "Ithaca" — which also marked her directorial debut — that same year. She's expressed interest in staying behind the scenes in the years since, telling the "Today" show in 2019 that she's writing her own romantic comedy as well as producing a show for NBC. An insider told OK! magazine in 2020 that Meg — seen here looking great at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Opening Gala in September 2021 — has rebuilt her confidence in the industry and is "ready to conquer Hollywood once again." The insider added, "Meg's been telling friends she's happy to be back. She's healthy and happy — and looking forward to the future."