Ali MacGraw begins her days by rising with the sun. After she feeds her pets, she likes to take a walk outdoors near her longtime home in Tesuque, New Mexico. “Walking is my meditation,” she says. “Forty-five minutes of gratitude for all I have been given.”
It’s a long way from Hollywood, but Ali, 83, is comfortable with that. She’s traveled far to get here. After an enviable rise with her role as a doomed newlywed in 1970’s Love Story, she endured failed marriages, bad reviews and a stint in the Betty Ford clinic before finding her bliss out of the public eye. “I don’t want to be hip anymore — thank God!” says Ali, who confesses she was a “slow learner” at finding self-esteem from within. “It’s really a symptom of the disease called I’m-only-somebody-if-you’re-looking-at-me,” she says.
For a period in the early 1970s, all eyes were on Ali. A photographer’s assistant and stylist, the New York-reared beauty was asked to appear in a Chanel print ad, which was spotted by a film executive who cast her in 1969’s Goodbye, Columbus. Her next film, Love Story opposite Ryan O’Neal, would change her life forever.
Nominated for an Academy Award, Ali appeared on the covers of Time, Harper’s Bazaar and more, but she was ill-equipped to take advantage of her overnight success. “It was a blessing. But what I’m sorry about is that I wasn’t prepared to do the quality work,” says the star, who was subject to harsh criticism for her inexperience in later acting roles. Wed to producer Robert Evans, she lived a rich, but lonely Hollywood existence, even after the birth of their son Josh.
She eventually left Robert for Steve McQueen, her costar in The Getaway. “He was the biggest movie star in the world and he didn’t want me to work,” she recalls. “So I essentially quit making movies and took care of my child.”
By 1985, Ali was three times divorced, addicted to ill-fated love affairs and desperately unhappy. She checked herself into the Betty Ford Clinic and, along with wine, gave up men for a year. “My stay there was the most terrifying and life-changing experience I’ve ever had,” says Ali, who came out with a strong belief in a higher power. “I began to feel an underlying peace and sense of order that I had yearned for forever.”
Moving to New Mexico full time helped soothe Ali’s soul too. “I love it because there are grownup women — women who don’t strut around in the latest fashion and aren’t afraid to let their hair go gray,” says the star, who let her famous chestnut locks go natural, too.
Today, she maintains a close circle of friends, dates occasionally and devotes time to animal welfare causes. “She writes, paints, gardens and she still actively practices her daily yoga and meditation,” says a friend.
Ali isn’t very interested in acting anymore, but in 2016 she reunited with Ryan O’Neal for a touring production of Love Letters. “We have seen each other a lot over the years,” he says.
When she travels, fans still recognized her. “I have the kindest fans,” Ali says. “These are people that seem interested in some of the other experiences of my life that I’ve shared … I’m very grateful.”
—Reporting by Rick Egusquiza
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