They made millions weep when they starred together in Love Story.
Ryan O’Neal played chisel-jawed Ivy League jock Oliver in the 1970s weepy – and jerked tears from millions of viewers as he watched his new bride Jenny, played by Ali MacGraw, lie dying on her sickbed before the movie’s famous string score soared over a finale that saw him sitting alone in the snow.
Now McGraw, 84, has posted a heartfelt tribute to her late co-star after he died aged 82.
“Working with Ryan, all those years ago, was one of the great experiences of my film career, and we remained friends ever after. He was a skilled actor, charming and funny too,” said MacGraw in a statement shared with People over the weekend.
“I know that a huge part of my success was due to his generosity as my co-star. It has been devastating to know just how ill Ryan has been for many years now, and I was not surprised to learn that he had passed away yesterday morning.”
MacGraw, who was a relative unknown when she was cast opposite O’Neal in Love Story, avoided any mention of O’Neal’s darker side – which included a personal life blighted by fraught relationships and allegations of abuse.
In 2007, he was arrested for shooting a firearm at his daughter, Griffin O’Neal. He claimed it had been in self-defence, and the charges were eventually dropped.
In her autobiography A Paper Life, his daughter Tatum O’Neal detailed the physical and emotional abuse she allegedly endured at the hands of her father.
In one particularly unsavoury encounter at the funeral of Griffin’s mother and O’Neal’s longterm partner, actor Farrah Fawcett, he allegedly attempted to make a sexual advance on Tatum, having failed to recognise her as his daughter.
Both Tatum and Griffin have linked their childhood drug abuse to O’Neal, who struggled with drug addiction for many years.
MacGraw said her heart went out to O’Neal’s children and loved ones, namechecking his son, Patrick, as she reflected on her more recent experiences working with the troubled star.
“Thankfully, he was surrounded by his son Patrick and a small group of lifelong, close friends,” she added.
“My heart goes out to all four of his children and to the people who loved him most. Ryan and I worked together again several years ago with the road company for Love Letters. It was a wonderful experience, and I shall miss him and the fun we shared... and I pray that he will find peace at last.”
Along with its iconic line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” Love Story is known for its plot of the romance between two students who fall in love despite their different backgrounds – one an entitled heir enrolled at Harvard University, the other a wisecracking, working class student of classical music.
Tragedy strikes when the newlywed couple learn that Jenny is dying of an undisclosed illness.
The movie includes a globally famous score by Francis Lai, with the main theme featuring an understated piano motif that highlights the romance and tragedy of the story.
Love Story was a box-office smash, grossing over $173m on a budget of $2.2m and receiving rave reviews from critics.
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the film in 2020, MacGraw told People she and O’Neal were as different in reality as their on-screen characters.
“We had absolutely nothing in common,” she said. “He was a California kid, had been a movie star, was athletic.“
But McGraw remembered that they clicked despite their differences, with O’Neal describing their chemistry as “magic”.
As well as his long on-off relationship with Fawcett, O’Neal was married twice, to Joanna Moore in 1963 and to Leigh Taylor-Young in 1967.
He is survived by his four children: Patrick O’Neal, Griffin O’Neal, Redmond James Fawcett O’Neal, and Tatum O’Neal, with his death coming in the wake of two cancer diagnoses.The Paper Moon and Barry Lyndon actor had been diagnosed with chronic leukemia in 2001 and then with prostate cancer in 2012.