A legendary, Oscar-nominated actress from Wisconsin has been suffering from Alzheimer's for the past five years, according to her son, who announced the actress has succumbed to the debilitating disease this week.

Actress Gena Rowlands, who is 94-years-old, was a popular screen actress from the 1960s - 1980s, maybe most famous for her work with her husband John Cassavetes. Long before she was a movie star, however, she was a little girl from Cambria, WI.

Photo Credit: Jason Merritt, Getty Images
Photo Credit: Jason Merritt, Getty Images

Cambria is a tiny town located in the Madison, WI metropolitan area. Rowlands was born in 1930 to a housewife mother and a father, Edwin Myrwyn Rowlands, who worked as a banker and state legislator. He was a member of the Wisconsin Progressive Party, and even worked for the United States Department of Agriculture in Milwaukee later in his career. Before Hollywood, Rowlands was a simple Midwest girl.

Sadly, Rowlands' son, Nick Cassavetes, revealed to Entertainment Weekly this week that his mother has Alzheimer's. If that name is familiar, it's likely because Nick Cassavetes, an actor and director, was the man behind The Notebook, the enduringly popular romantic drama that turns 20-years-old this year. Rowlands starred in the film, and played Allie, the older version of the character whose younger self is played by Rachel McAdams.

Cassavetes spoke to the aforementioned outlet about the film in celebration of its 20th anniversary, and how special it was to cast his mom in the beautiful story, based on Nicolas Sparks' novel:

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. She's in full dementia. And it's so crazy — we lived it, she acted it, and now it's on us. - Nick Cassavetes, per Entertainment Weekly

Anyone who has seen The Notebook knows the startling (and ironic) parallel here. Rowlands' Allie had dementia in the movie, and now the actress, like her mother before her, has the disease as well.

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In an interview with magazine back in 2004, when The Notebook was released, Gena Rowlands spoke about the difficulty in shooting the film due to her mother's battle with Alzheimer's:

This last one [The Notebook] was particularly hard because I play a character who has Alzheimer's. 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. - Gena Rowlands, per O magazine

Alzheimer's is one of the cruelest diseases a human can endure. It robs you of your memories and your agency, and while eventually, the person suffering is none the wiser to their ailments, the toll it takes on a family is insurmountably challenging and devastating. The prolonged suffering is almost unbearable.

Rowlands was nominated for an Oscar for her performances in A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Gloria (1980), alongside her actor/director husband, John Cassavetes. Again, long before then, however, Gena Rowlands was a simple Wisconsin girl with big dreams. You can't say she didn't gift us decades of memorable performances in great movies. You just wish her later years weren't defined by illness.

Photos: Governor Dodge State Park, Wisconsin

Photos: Early Spring In Governor Dodge State Park, Wisconsin

Gallery Credit: Tom Ehlers

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