The Inside Story of Meryl Streep’s Tragic Love & Loss
A new Meryl Streep biography titled Her Again by Michael Schulman provides a rare insight into a lesser known tragic phase of Streep’s life during her early days as a struggling actress. The book describes Streep’s passionately devout relationship with actor John Cazale until his death due to cancer in 1978.
An article in New York Post quotes Schulman as saying, that it’s an episode in the actress’ life that she doesn’t talk much about, but it was something that shaped her as an actor and a person.
“He wasn’t like anybody I’d ever met,” she (Streep) said later. “It was the specificity of him, and his sort of humanity and his curiosity about people, his compassion.” Of the two, Cazale was the famous one, but they were still starving artists. Cazale would take Streep to dinner in Little Italy, where restaurant owners, awed to have Fredo (the character Cazale played in Godfather) in the room, insisted they eat for free.New York Post
The couple described as ‘quirky and lovely in their way’ by playwright Israel Horovitz, lived in a loft in Manhattan during their struggling days and became the envy of the theatre world in New York for being such naturally gifted actors. However, the painful twist came with the diagnosis of Cazale’s medical condition – terminal lung cancer. Streep then went on to do roles in films like The Deer Hunter (for which she won an Oscar nomination) only to be with Cazale and she took a part in the mini-series Holocaust (for which she won an Emmy) just to pay for Cazale’s medical bills.
During the last few months of Cazale’s life, Streep dedicated her life to him, accompanying him to every doctor’s appointment and radiation treatment without losing hope. ‘She was always a strong-willed, persistent, hopeful person, and I think she just applied all her spirit and strength to taking care of him,’ Schulman says in his book. In March 1978, Cazale was admitted to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Streep remained by his side till his last day.
On March 12, 1978, at 3 a.m., Cazale’s doctor told Streep, “He’s gone.”“Meryl wasn’t ready to hear it, much less believe it,” Schulman writes. “What happened next, by some accounts, was the culmination of all the tenacious hope Meryl had kept alive for the past 10 months. She pounded on his chest, sobbing, and for a brief, alarming moment, John opened his eyes. ‘It’s all right, Meryl,’ he said weakly. ‘It’s all right.’ ” Then he closed his eyes and died. Streep’s first call was to Cazale’s brother, Stephen. She sobbed throughout.“I tried,” she told him.
The very same year, Streep won an Emmy award for Holocaust and an Oscar nomination for The Deer Hunter, besides bagging her Oscar-winning role in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). A star was born. But Cazale’s death, and her own suffering had transformed her, as a person and an actress.
Al Pacino is quoted on Meryl Streep’s devotion to Cazale:
Basically, we’ve all just found another reason to love the inimitable Ms Meryl Streep.