From American Sweetheart to American Scandal: Where did it all go wrong for Meg Ryan?

As she acted in more films produced with the same formula, Meg Ryan became the archetype of a loving, stable girlfriend, and America looked at her with those dreamy eyes until rumors of her cheating on husband Dennis Quaid hit the tabloids.

                            From American Sweetheart to American Scandal: Where did it all go wrong for Meg Ryan?

In the 90s, Meg Ryan made people believe in happy endings. She inspired young, urban women to pursue love, just like her characters did on-screen. In each of her roles — whether it was Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail or When Harry Met Sally — lay a woman who traveled the distance, loved unconditionally and waited until the man of her dreams came around. The 56-year-old actress was the ideal girlfriend who men fell in love with. It's not without reason that she became America's sweetheart.

yoube got mail
A still from You've Got Mail. Source: Facebook

The 90s were kind to Meg: none of the other actresses at the time embraced the girl-next-door trope as well as she did. Perhaps Julia Roberts came close but she couldn't give what Meg offered to the audience. The City of Angels star was the on-screen Betty who got looked over by men and got dumped in relationships. Each of her characters had a savior complex and the men were eventually saved by it. Think about it: Harry Burns would have probably led a cynical, lonely life if Sally had moved on and found love at that New Year's party. 

Meg Ryan shot to fame in the 1989 hit When Harry Met Sally. Source: Facebook

As she acted in more films produced with the same formula, Meg became the archetype of a loving, stable girlfriend, and America looked at her with those dreamy eyes until rumors of her cheating on husband Dennis Quaid hit the tabloids.

News articles of Meg and Russel Crowe's affair on the sets of Proof of Life in 2000 wiped out the squeaky, clean image she embraced on on-screen. 

2000 Meg Ryan stars in 'Hanging Up.' Photo Columbia/Tristar

Her downfall was swift; she went from being America's sweetheart to a scarlet woman, a tag she used to describe herself in an interview with In Style Magazine in 2008. Meg, who probably had a few more years as the leading lady in Hollywood's romantic tales, became one of the most hated celebrities in the country. 

 Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe act in a scene in Taylor Hackford''s action-suspense drama, 'Proof Of Life.' (Photo by Frank Connor/Newsmakers)Caption

It didn't help that her divorce came about at the same time as well. In 2001, Meg and her husband Dennis ended their decade-old marriage after her brief affair with the Australian actor. She became recognized as the woman who wrecked her marriage as Dennis earned sympathy from fans. 

Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid. (Photo by Diane Freed)

In the years after her divorce, the actress didn't grab a major role — her last was Kate & Leopold with Hugh Jackman in 2001. Two years later, she got back to acting but no one would cast her as the romantic lead anymore. The signal was loud and clear: Meg couldn't go back to being the woman who encouraged love.

The actress tried to reinvent herself by starring in films with a considerably younger cast. In 2004, she played Kristen Stewart's mom in In The Land of Women; in 2009, she took on the role of a strong-willed attorney who duct tapes her cheating husband in Serious Moonlight but no one bought this new image of Meg.

In the late 2000s, she eventually took on guest appearances on TV shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Web Therapy, in which she looked visibly different. After 2010, the actress, who was just entering her 50s, made public appearances with plump lips and news reports claimed that she had undergone botox. The French Kiss star's altered face made her unrecognizable and she grew farther from the sweet, cute image that she once had.

Actress, director, honoree Meg Ryan speaks during her Lifetime Award Presentation and 'Ithaca' screening during 18th Annual Savannah Film Festival Presented by SCAD at Trustees Theater on October 29, 2015 in Savannah, Georgia. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

Meg never addressed the plastic surgery rumors but her silence only made her even more distant from fans. Finally, her move to New York in 2013, pushed her into the shadows, which she never emerged from.

Meg Ryan at Cannes Film Festival in 2017. Source: Getty Images

Meg Ryan attends the 2017 CFDA Fashion Awards at Hammerstein Ballroom on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Now, she rarely makes public appearances, chooses to parent her adopted daughter Daisy, 12, and has a low-key life with on-again/off-again rocker boyfriend John Mellencamp. 

Meg Ryan talks on stage of the Meet & Greet VIP Stars during the Ajyal Youth Film Festival on December 5, 2016 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)

That's why it was surprising to see the actress at the Christian Siriano show at New York Fashion Week a few days ago. Her appearance came after her TV show, Picture Paris, got greenlit by Epix. Perhaps we'll see more of Meg in the near future but the actress may never be able to shirk away from the scandal that rocked her personal life and ended her career as well. 

 Meg Ryan attends the Taormina Filmfest 2013 on June 20, 2013 in Taormina, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images for Lancia)

The only thing that will no doubt remain of Meg in our collective conscience is her curly blonde bob, which she sees on people even today. In her essay for In Style, she wrote, "I am aware that I once had a famous haircut. I know this mostly because I still see it on people in New York. Occasionally, it suits the person sporting it but mainly not, because it was the ’90s after all, and its time has passed."

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