After his breakout role in 1979’s Breaking Away, Dennis Quaid never looked back, starring in a wide variety of films ranging from huge hits (1983’s The Right Stuff) to disappointments (1983’s Jaws 3-D). Quaid found renewed success in the 1990s with such films as Any Given Sunday, Frequency and Far from Heaven, for which he was named Best Supporting Actor by the New York Film Critics Circle.
Dennis William Quaid was born on April 9, 1954, in Houston, Texas. After following in the footsteps of his older brother Randy (also an accomplished actor) to the University of Houston, Quaid dropped out in 1974 and moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He landed a bit role in Jonathan Demme's Crazy Mama (1975), but made his first substantial big-screen appearance in the 1978 film September 30, 1955. Quaid's breakthrough role came in the acclaimed film Breaking Away (1979), which won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Over the next few years, Quaid appeared in the 1980 Western The Long Riders with his brother Randy and in the romantic comedy All Night Long (1981), costarring Gene Hackman and Barbra Streisand. After starring in a few low-rated films like The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia (1981) and Jaws 3-D (1983), he won acclaim for his portrayal of the cocky astronaut Gordon Cooper in The Right Stuff, the 1983 film version of Tom Wolfe's best-selling book, costarring Sam Shepard and Ed Harris.
In 1987, Quaid's career heated up with his romantic turn as a New Orleans homicide detective who becomes involved witha district attorney (played by Ellen Barkin) in The Big Easy. That same year, he starred opposite Cher in the thriller Suspect. On the set of the screwball comedy Innerspace (1987), Quaid met actress Meg Ryan; the two fell in love while filming their next movie, the thriller D.O.A. (1988), and became engaged in 1989. (Quaid was previously married to another actress, P.J. Soles, from 1978 to 1983.)
On the Big Screen
Before Ryan would marry him, however, she forced him to come to terms with his struggles with alcohol and cocaine. After his high-profile film Great Balls of Fire! (1989), in which he played the temperamental rock great Jerry Lee Lewis, tanked with both critics and audiences, Quaid resolved to kick his addictions. In 1990, he quit drinking and drugs for good, and he and Ryan were married a year later.
After a supporting turn opposite Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine in Postcards from the Edge (1990), Quaid took a self-imposed hiatus from filmmaking, returning in 1993 with a starring role alongside Ryan in Flesh and Bone, also featuring James Caan and Gwyneth Paltrow. He lost 42 pounds in preparation for his acclaimed performance in Wyatt Earp (1994), in which he played Doc Holliday, the tubercular sidekick of the titular lawman and hero of the Old West (played by Kevin Costner).
In 1995, Quaid starred as the unfaithful husband of Julia Roberts' character in the likeable comedy-drama Something to Talk About. His next several films were less successful, including the disappointing big-budget fantasy Dragonheart (1996), Gang Related (1997), Switchback (1997), and Savior (1998). In 1998, he starred in an update of the family classic The Parent Trap and joined an ensemble cast, including Sean Connery and Angelina Jolie in Playing By Heart. He made his directorial debut that same year with the television movie Everything That Rises, in which he also starred.
Quaid's stock rose again in late 1999 and early 2000 with meaty roles in two well-received films, Oliver Stone's pro-football drama Any Given Sunday, costarring Al Pacino and Cameron Diaz, and the sci-fi thriller Frequency (2000). In December 2002, Quaid was named Best Supporting Actor by the New York Film Critics Circle for his role in Todd Haynes' Oscar contender, Far From Heaven. Two years later, Quaid starred as legendary Lone Star maverick Sam Houston in The Alamo with Billy Bob Thornton.
Throughout the 1990s, Quaid and Ryan were looked to as one of the more stable couples in Hollywood. With their son, Jack, the couple divided their time between homes in New York City, Santa Monica and Paradise Valley, Montana. In June 2000, Quaid and Ryan shocked many by announcing their separation after nine years of marriage. At the same time, Ryan was linked romantically in the press to the Australian actor Russell Crowe, her Proof of Life costar.
Citing "irreconcilable differences" (and claiming there was no third party involved), Quaid filed for divorce in July 2000. He married 32-year-old Texas real-estate agent Kimberly Buffington in July 2004. The couple had twins on November 8, 2007 — Thomas Boone and Zoe Grace. The twins were mistakenly given an adult dosage of heparin at the hospital and Quaid has since sued for negligence as well as filed a lawsuit against the drug manufacturer. The children survived the overdose.
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