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The Notebook Star Gena Rowlands' Family Announced A Heartbreaking Health Update

One of Hollywood's most prolific and beloved actresses has been diagnosed with a heartbreaking health condition, as her family recently revealed.

Gena Rowlands — known for roles in projects like "A Woman Under the Influence," "Gloria," and perhaps her biggest mainstream film "The Notebook" — is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, as her son Nick Cassavetes revealed. (The younger Cassavetes, whose father John was also a famous director and who passed away in 1989, helmed "The Notebook.")

"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," Cassavetes told Entertainment Weekly as he prepares to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his beloved romance film. "She's in full dementia. And it's so crazy — we lived it, she acted it, and now it's on us." It's gutting to learn that Rowlands, who gave an achingly beautiful performance in her son's film as Allie Calhoun, is suffering from the same affliction that affected her iconic character. Still, Cassavetes told the outlet that he's proud of the movie and his mother's performance while considering its 20th anniversary: "It's always a shock to hear that as much time has gone by as it has, but it makes sense. I'm just happy that it exists. It seems to have worked and I'm very proud of it."

Gena Rowlands played a character with Alzheimer's disease in one of her most heartbreaking roles

Just as a refresher, in "The Notebook" — based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Sparks — we meet Gena Rowlands' character Allie Calhoun as she's visited each day by Noah Calhoun (played in the present timeline by James Garner, who, sadly, passed away in 2014). As Noah reads Allie the story of two young lovers with their same names, the audience learns that the versions of Noah and Allie in the past timeline — played by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams — grew old together, but that Allie, who has Alzheimer's, struggles to remember their years of marriage. To help her, Noah reads her their love story all the time in the hopes that she'll remember him.

As Rowlands told O Magazine in 2004, this was a very personal role for her ... because her mother, actress Lady Rowlands, also suffered from Alzheimer's. "This last one — 'The Notebook' ... was particularly hard because I play a character who has Alzheimer's," Rowlands said around the time of the movie's original theatrical release. "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."

Throughout her career, Gena Rowlands was known for playing powerful, unforgettable women

If you're only familiar wth Gena Rowlands' work in "The Notebook," it's definitely worth checking out her earlier work — especially her collaborations with John Cassavetes, which often see the actress at her most raw and powerful. In Cassavetes' movie "A Woman Under the Influence," Rowlands plays Mabel, whose increasingly erratic behavior drives a wedge between her and her husband Nick (Peter Falk); in the director's film "Gloria," Rowlands headlines as the former girlfriend of a mobster who finds herself in danger. Cassavetes and Rowlands ultimately collaborated on ten films together, but those are certainly Rowlands' best-known works with her husband, and both movies earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress (she ultimately won an honorary award in 2015).

While speaking to EW, Nick Cassavetes recalled a moment on the set of "The Notebook" that shows just how ferocious — and talented — his mother is as a performer. When Allie realizes Noah is her loving husband, the younger Cassavetes wanted his mother to cry a little more, and she wasn't thrilled about redoing the take. "She said, 'Let me get this straight. We're reshooting because of my performance?'" he recalled.

Naturally, Rowlands delivered. "We go to reshoots, and now it's one of those things where mama's pissed and I had asked her, 'Can you do it, mom?' She goes, 'I can do anything,'" the young Cassavetes remembered." True to her word, on the very first take, he says, "I promise you, on my father's life, this is true: Teardrops came flying out of her eyes when she saw [Garner], and she burst into tears. And I was like, okay, well, we got that... It's the one time I was in trouble on set."

You can stream "The Notebook" on Amazon Prime now.