70 years of Dennis Quaid, a journey from cocaine in Hollywood to Christian rock in Nashville

The actor, who has been married four times, including to Meg Ryan, now lives with his wife, 40 years his junior, in Tennessee where he focuses on his music, far away from Los Angeles and the addictions that almost killed him

Dennis Quaid cumple 70 años
Actor Dennis Quaid at a ceremony in Los Angeles, California, in February 2024.Frazer Harrison (Getty Images)
María Porcel

Dennis Quaid (Houston, Texas) turns 70 this Tuesday, April 9, and this celebration will have little to do with the one in the 1980s when his partner at the time, Meg Ryan, rented a small plane and put up a large sign that read: “Happy Birthday, Dennis” and had it fly over a concert where Quaid and his band, the Eclectics, were playing. This year, the actor, producer and now, most of all, musician, far away from the excesses of Hollywood, rising fame and cocaine, will be celebrating it in Nashville, Tennessee, where he has decided to settle down and live with his fourth wife (40 years his junior), focusing on what he loves the most: Christian country-rock.

Quaid’s life has been something of a journey over the past 70 years. The son of Juanita, a real estate agent, and Will, an electrician, Dennis studied dance and theater at high school and had a clear idea of his path at university in his hometown of Houston, which he eventually left to move to Los Angeles to try to pursue a career that took him a couple of years to get off the ground. But since then he has never looked back. He has worked on more than 100 films, series, projects of all kinds (albeit with scarcely any major award nominations) and has plans for the future; this year the long-awaited biopic about Ronald Reagan is due to be released. In his latest movie, directed by Sean McNamara and which has been in the making for more than five years, he plays the role of the famous actor and former U.S. president, alongside the likes of Penelope Ann Miller, Jon Voight and Mena Suvari. However, cinema — where he has starred in movies such as Postcards from the Edge, Something to Talk About, Frequency, Dragonheart, Far From Heaven and the popular The Parent Trap — is no longer his greatest passion. He is now devoted to music and, above all, religion.

Although Quaid was raised Catholic, he was not close to God for many years. The 1980s and 1990s were wild times for him and at the age of 29, he was already getting divorced for the first time, from fellow actress PJ Soles. In the 1980s he became a heartthrob among actresses and celebrities and, while dating Lea Thompson, he bumped into Meg Ryan on the street and he fell head over heels for her. When they coincided in the filming of Innerspace, the rest was history. Once they fell in love, they got married on Valentine’s Day in 1991 and had their son Jack, who is now an actor, in April of the following year (in 1990 he had told this newspaper that he wanted to be a father: “I know how to take care of children because I’m just like them,” he said then). Together they became the poster couple for golden Hollywood but, like most things in Tinseltown, their relationship was very much paper-thin. He was unfaithful to her during their marriage on many occasions, and in 2001 their relationship finally ended after she had an affair with Russell Crowe, her co-star at the time.

Diana, Princess of Wales, with actors Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan (and Ryan’s husband Dennis Quaid) at the premiere of ‘When Harry Met Sally’ in London in November 1989.
Diana, Princess of Wales, with actors Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan (and Ryan’s husband Dennis Quaid) at the premiere of ‘When Harry Met Sally’ in London in November 1989.Princess Diana Archive (Getty Images)

The Ryan-Quaid romance and marriage was fodder for the tabloids, and it certainly wasn’t easy for the two stars at the center of the attention. Dennis acknowledged years later that it was difficult to manage the meteoric rise to fame of America’s sweetheart in the 1990s. “When we met, I was the big deal, and then my career...” he explained, mimicking the sound of a car’s brakes, on NBC’s Megyn Kelly Today show in the U.S., in 2018. “And I have to admit it, I actually did feel like I disappeared.” The couple was also affected by his health issues. To prepare for the role of the tuberculosis-ridden gunfighter Doc Holliday in Wyatt Earp, directed by Lawrence Kasdan in 1994, the actor had to lose almost 45 lbs, which caused him to develop anorexia nervosa that almost killed him. “My arms were so skinny that I couldn’t pull myself out of a pool,” he told Best Life magazine in 2006. “For many years, I was obsessed about what I was eating, how many calories it had.”

And then there were the drugs, another chapter that marked Quaid’s life (and his “insane” relationship with Med Ryan, as he described it). Years later, he has recounted on more than one occasion that it was impossible for him to escape from there. In the interview with Kelly, he said he was “doing cocaine pretty much on a daily basis during the ‘80s.” “I spent many, many a night screaming at God: ‘Please take this away from me — I’ll never do it again. Because I’ve only got an hour before I have to be at work.’ And then, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I would go: ‘That’s not so bad.’” He was looking for the joy of life, and the drugs were “fun,” “then they’re fun with problems, and then they’re just problems after a while.”

Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan arrive at the premiere of ‘The Parent Trap’ in Los Angeles, in July 1998.
Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan arrive at the premiere of ‘The Parent Trap’ in Los Angeles, in July 1998.Barry King (Getty Images)

Then he suddenly had a revelation. This was back in 1990. “I remember going home and having kind of a white light experience that I saw myself either dead or in jail or losing everything I had, and I didn’t want that,” he said last summer during an interview with People magazine. “I was in a band and we got a record gig... They broke up the night they got it, and they broke up because of me, because I was not reliable,” he confessed. “Then I realized that if I didn’t change, I was going to be dead in five years. The next day I was in rehab,” he explained to Kelly. This voluntary rehabilitation was followed by a return to his roots, to the God of his youth. Quaid believes that addictions force people “to fill a hole inside us”: “When you’re done with the addiction, you need something to fill that hole, something that really works, right?” And the divine calling reached him in the form of music.

Quaid wrote the song On My Way to Heaven in honor of his mother, Juanita, to let her know that he was well, that he had found his way again. He went back to reading the Bible, but also started reading the Koran and other religious texts. “That’s when I started developing a personal relationship. Before that, I didn’t have one, even though I grew up as a Christian,” he said in that interview with People. As a result, he has now released an album called Fallen: A Gospel Record For Sinners. “I grew up at the Baptist church; I love the hymns that I remember from being a kid. The songs are self-reflective and self-examining, not churchy. All of us have a relationship with God, whether you’re a Christian or not,” he argued.

Dennis Quaid and Laura Savoie at the premiere of ‘The Long Game’ in Austin, Texas, in March 2023.
Dennis Quaid and Laura Savoie at the premiere of ‘The Long Game’ in Austin, Texas, in March 2023.Gary Miller (Getty Images)

His relationship with God has gotten him through his three divorces (with Soles in 1983, Ryan in 2001 and Kimberly Buffington, who he married in 2004 and separated from in 2018) as well as times of heartache such as the illness of his young children. Quaid and Buffington had twins via surrogate in November 2007, and by mistake the babies received a blood anticoagulant dose of 10,000 units, instead of the standard 10 they were scheduled for, in two batches. They had to spend a long period of time in the neonatal ICU at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Now, at the age of 16, Thomas Boone and Zoe Grace are two fully healthy teenagers. The hospital had to pay $250,000 for each of the children and, after the incident, the actor set up the foundation that bears his name to raise awareness of medical errors.

In interviews, the actor always says that he believes he is a good father, and that he enjoys raising his children, although now, after his divorces, he is not so close to them. The actor secretly remarried in June 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although they had barely been dating for a year, he had planned a wedding in Hawaii that April with his girlfriend, businesswoman Laura Savoie (now 31), but the pandemic disrupted their plans and they decided to get the blessing of a pastor in Santa Barbara, California, by the sea and with no other witnesses. Now they’ve decided to move south to Nashville, where Quaid has produced his album and feels at home away from the hills of Tinseltown. “Maybe it’s because I’m older, but there doesn’t seem to be the sense of community in Hollywood that I felt in the ‘70s, even into the ‘80s,” he said in an interview with Variety last year. “It’s always been about people in their cars, but today it’s even more so. People stay in their trailers, they’re on their phones. There’s not the same kind of communication there once was. L.A. has been very good to me, and I have great friends. But it is hard to make friends. There is a lot of self-involvement. In Nashville, you know your neighbors,” he argued. “People come to Hollywood to reinvent themselves. Playing a role. People come to Nashville to create music where you have to be yourself. So, you become more of yourself. And that’s reflected in life here.” And Dennis Quaid certainly doesn’t need to reinvent himself again.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo

¿Quieres añadir otro usuario a tu suscripción?

Si continúas leyendo en este dispositivo, no se podrá leer en el otro.

¿Por qué estás viendo esto?


Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo y solo puedes acceder a EL PAÍS desde un dispositivo a la vez.

Si quieres compartir tu cuenta, cambia tu suscripción a la modalidad Premium, así podrás añadir otro usuario. Cada uno accederá con su propia cuenta de email, lo que os permitirá personalizar vuestra experiencia en EL PAÍS.

En el caso de no saber quién está usando tu cuenta, te recomendamos cambiar tu contraseña aquí.

Si decides continuar compartiendo tu cuenta, este mensaje se mostrará en tu dispositivo y en el de la otra persona que está usando tu cuenta de forma indefinida, afectando a tu experiencia de lectura. Puedes consultar aquí los términos y condiciones de la suscripción digital.

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS