The two were engaged after two years of being together when they were hit with the news that would change everything.
It's weird that sometimes we meet people along the way and develop a relationship that ends up meaning everything to us. They become a part of us and when they leave, it leaves behind a vacuum that takes years to heal. Before Meryl Streep met her husband, Don Gummer, she was in love with another man whose death broke her into a million pieces.
Streep was stepping into the glamourous world of Hollywood when she met John Cazale. According to Biography, the talented Streep appeared in several Broadway productions in the 1960s, and it was during this time that she was cast in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure along with Cazale.
Cazale, like Streep, was thriving as an actor in the world of New York theatre. According to Flickering Myth, he was a late bloomer who had broken into cinema at the same time as his friend Al Pacino.
A rare talent, he was seen playing Fredo in The Godfather movies and lead roles in The Conversation and Dog Day Afternoon. After these films, he was in great demand amongst the directors of that era, reported New York Post.
Michael Schulman, the author of Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep, described Cazale as a perfectionist. He wrote, "Time moved differently for John Cazale." He continued, "Everything went slower. He wasn’t dim, not by a long shot. But he was meticulous, sometimes maddeningly so.”
The NewYork Post quoted Al Pacino saying that he learned more about acting from Cazale, his friend, than from anyone else.
Streep who was a dedicated professional herself was smitten by this misfit of the 70s cinema with his unusually weak frame, high forehead, prominent nose, sad, black eyes, and his ardent devotion towards his work. “He wasn’t like anybody I’d ever met. It was the specificity of him, and his sort of humanity and his curiosity about people, his compassion,” she said.
On the other hand, Cazale wasn't foreign towards the feelings he was developing for Streep either. His friend, actor Marvin Starkman revealed, “Once he was in that play, the only thing he talked about was her.” It was love-at-first-scene without a doubt.
“The romance moved as fast as John moved slow,” wrote Schulman as the two moved in together. Streep, then 29, was madly in love with Cazale who was 14 years senior to The Devil Wears Prada actress and together created a life for themselves in Cazale’s Tribeca loft.
The "quirky and lovely in their way" couple as described by playwriter Israel Horovitz was on top of the world and sailing in their love boat, according to the New York Post. Cazale and Streep were the stars and an unusual couple. “They were great to look at, because they were kind of funny-looking, both of them,” said Horovitz. “They were lovely in their way, but it was a really quirky couple. They were head-turners, but not because, ‘Wow, is she a beauty!’”
It was 1977, Cazale had been ill for a while and missing his performances. On legendary director Joe Papp's recommendation, Cazale and Streep booked an appointment with Papp's doctor. To everyone's horror, Cazale had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The worst had yet to come; it had spread throughout his body.
Schulman, explaining the news, wrote, “John fell silent. For a moment, so did Meryl." The diagnosis hit her the worst of all. "But she was never one to give up, and certainly not one to succumb to despair. She looked up and said, ‘So, where should we go to dinner?’”
Cazale's desire and will to be in front of the camera one last time made Streep take a part in a movie just so she could be with him. It was The Deer Hunter, for which she won an Emmy.
Director Michael Cimino revealed, “I was told that unless I got rid of John, [they] would shut down the picture,” he continued, “It was awful. I spent hours on the phone, yelling and screaming and fighting," according to the New York Post. Streep later revealed that De Niro took care of the insurance because he "wanted him to be in it.”
Even though Streep wanted to quit work and be by her man's side, the increasing medical bills forced her to continue. “She was very anxious to do her very last scene and then zip back out,” said Marvin Chomsky, director of Holocaust. He continued, “I mean, I don’t even think we had a moment to say goodbye.”
To her distress, Cazale's cancer had spread to the bones making him extremely weak. The couple disappeared for five months to be together. Streep later said, "I was so close that I didn’t notice the deterioration.”
The only person Streep divulged her sorrow to was Bobby Lewis, her old drama teacher. She wrote to him saying, “My beau is terribly ill and sometimes, as now, in the hospital,” Streep wrote. “He has very wonderful care and I try not to stand around wringing my hands, but I am worried all the time and pretending to be cheery all the time, which is more exhausting mentally physically emotionally than any work I’ve ever done,” reported the New York Post.
In March 1978, Cazale's doctor gave Streep the news she never wanted to hear. He was gone. Schulman wrote, "What happened next, by some accounts, was the culmination of all the tenacious hope Meryl had kept alive for the past 10 months." The love of her life was gone, never to return.
Schulman continued, "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.’" His last words to her.
The Iron Lady actress went through an emotional turmoil during Cazale's treatment and even after his death. She moved out of the apartment that the two had shared because she couldn't bear the emotions and memories attached to it. Yours UK reported her saying, “I learned what really is important. I found what is true and what’s not worth pursuing."