Meg Ryan Was The Rom-Com Queen Of The 90s, But Where Did "America's Sweetheart" Vanish To?


Meg Ryan Was The Rom-Com Queen Of The 90s, But Where Did "America's Sweetheart" Vanish To?

I'm a sucker for romantic comedies. There's just something about watching two people fall in love that gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling while reminding me that true love does exist, and we are all capable of getting our own happy endings.

Sure, today's rom-coms can be cheesy, predictable, and overly-dramatic at times, but that's because all of the best, original romantic comedies were gifted to us back in the good ol' days.

The 80s and 90s were the heydays of rom-com movies. They had great plots and starred the best actors, like Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan.

In my book, Ryan was the true queen of the rom-com genre back in the day.

Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally

Although Ryan made her film and television debut in the early 80s, it was her roles in more than 14 different rom-coms during the 90s that made us all fall in love with her.

She played the most lovable characters, had a memorable look, and teamed up so well with her leading men, especially Tom Hanks.

Ryan gave us all a chance to curl up on the couch with our popcorn and live vicariously through her characters, including Sally Albright in When Harry Met Sally, Annie Reed in Sleepless in Seattle, and Kathleen "Shopgirl" Kelly in You've Got Mail.

Along with the films mentioned above, Ryan lent her voice for Anastasia Romanov in the beloved 1997 animated film Anastasia, and starred in other big hits like Kate and Leopold and City of Angels.

Her performances earned her multiple award nominations and wins, but to everyone's surprise, the actress has never been nominated for an Oscar.

Ryan continued to land roles even without the coveted trophy, until she suddenly vanished from the big screen in the early 2000s.

Some fans thought perhaps a young crop of actresses pushed Ryan out of the picture just as her career was reaching its peak, but there's actually a lot more to the story than most people know.

It all started with a tabloid scandal that painted "America's Sweetheart" in a very negative light.

The cheating scandal

In 1991, Ryan married actor Dennis Quaid, and soon turned into one of Hollywood's most beloved couples.

They welcomed a son, Jack, the following year, and over the next nine years, their relationship only got stronger.

Everyone believed their love would stand the test of time, but that was unfortunately not the case.

Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid

The couple announced their divorce shortly after reports about Ryan's affair with her co-star Russell Crowe surfaced.

After the separation, Ryan slowly stepped out of the spotlight.

"All of the tabloid attention really shook her up," a source close to the actress told People. "She was deeply troubled by it. It contributed to her stepping away."

It took about seven years before the Top Gun star was able to publicly open up about the cheating fiasco.

In a 2008 interview with InStyle, the petite actress revealed that after news of her relationship with Crowe broke, Hollywood treated her like "the scarlet woman."

"So this is what it feels like to be the scarlet woman. Oh! I'm having that experience now!," she told the magazine. "It was also incredibly liberating. 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."

Ryan clarified that at the time of the affair, her marriage to Quaid was already in shambles. She also alleged that her ex-husband was involved with other women while they were married.

Second time is not the charm

Ryan returned to the scene after the hiatus, revealing that she adopted a 14-month-old girl from China named Daisy True, and acting was no longer a priority of hers.

The roles that were easily available for her began to diminish, and between 2007 and 2009, she only starred in five films, including The Deal, My Mom's New Boyfriend, and The Women.

It seemed like the bad press she racked up since her divorce continued to affect her career. Hollywood wasn't ready to fully forgive and forget, so for the second time, Ryan disappeared from the public eye.

For six years, between 2009 and 2015, the only places you could catch a glimpse of Ryan were in tabloids or in the streets of Manhattan.

Meg Ryan, Daisy, and John Mellencamp taking a stroll in Manhattan
Daily Mail

Along with her On-again-off-again boyfriend, rocker John Mellencamp, Ryan made the move from Los Angeles to New York City for a fresh start.

"Los Angeles is just about movies. New York is about so much more than that, and so is Meg," her friend, writer Delia Ephron told People.

Life away from Hollywood

Of course, Ryan's fans missed seeing the actress on the big screen, but she isn't fazed at all by her career stall.

"I didn't have to care what people thought," she said about leaving Hollywood behind.

"I have gotten to do what I guess I secretly wanted to do. Be totally under the radar and live my life."

The former rom-com queen admitted that she was never really meant to be an actress, but offers "just keep coming at me."

Turns out, she also never liked being called "the girl next door" or "America's Sweetheart."

"But it also felt like ideas were being projected onto me that had nothing to do with me," she told Vanity Fair. "The girl next door to what? I never felt like a very conventional person."


35 years after making her acting debut,  Ryan finally found the roles that she's most comfortable playing: a mother and director.

In 2016, she made her directorial debut with Ithaca, a period drama based on William Saroyan's 1943 novel The Human Comedy.

Although Ryan is stepping back into the limelight, she's being extra cautious about returning to the front of the camera. "I'll never do that again," she said.

However, as soon as she started making public appearances again, people noticed something different about her.

"What happened to Meg Ryan's face?"

In recent years, people noticed that Ryan's appearance changed, and plastic surgery is likely to blame.

Every time the 56-year-old stepped out, headlines and social media comments asking "What happened to Meg Ryan's face" would pop up.

Meg Ryan at the 2016 Tony Awards
Nicki Swift

The speculation worsened after she took the stage at the 2016 Tony Awards to introduce the cast of She Loves Me.

Even plastic surgery experts had things to stay about Ryan's noticeably plump pout and swollen cheekbones.

"She may have done too much. I think that's why people are a little shocked because she doesn't look like the Meg Ryan that we all love," surgeon Mark Youssef from Younique Cosmetic Surgery told

These unfounded claims also contributed to Ryan's decision to spend as little time as possible out of the spotlight.

She addressed the plastic surgery rumors in an interview with Porter magazine.

"I don't pay a lot of attention frankly," she said of what's written about her. "There's a lot of hatred in the world today; it's so easy to judge. Imagine being a hater, how stupid! My women friends are not sitting around talking about ... well, sometimes there are conversations like that, but the people I value talk about kids growing up, what kind of world they are going into, what we are eating, what we are breathing."

What is she up to now?

Ryan hasn't directed or starred in anything since 2016, but that doesn't mean she's not hard at work.

She will be appearing in a new television show titled Picture Paris this year.

The half-hour comedy series is based on a 2011 short film, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, about a suburban mom who embarked on a dream trip to Paris with her husband after they became empty-nesters, but things do not live up to their expectations.

According to Deadline, the upcoming show is expected to film in France, and Ryan will be one of the co-producers.

Meg Ryan at the Christian Siriano fashion show in NYC
Daily Mail

The actress occasionally makes appearances at star-studded events like the CFDA Awards and the 2018 Christian Siriano Fashion Show.

The difference between the Ryan we fell in love with in the 90s, and the person she is now is that these days the actress has full control of her life and career, and does not care about what others think of her.

As a result, she is a lot happier and healthier.

Watch Sleepless in Seattle and other Meg Ryan films for free on Amazon Prime!

More with Meg Ryan

What's your favorite Meg Ryan movie? Let us know in the comments!

Blair isn't a bestselling author, but she has a knack for beautiful prose. When she isn't writing for Shared, she enjoys listening to podcasts.