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Meryl Streep's heartbreaking first love, and the tragedy that led her to now-estranged husband Don Gummer

The Only Murders in the Building actress and her sculptor husband recently announced that they've been separated for six years

Meryl Streep and Don Gummer attend the 90th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California.
Ahad Sanwari
Ahad Sanwari - New York
Senior WriterNew York
24 October 2023
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In what many have dubbed "the year of the celebrity split," a surprise one that left fans shocked and heartbroken was the separation of Meryl Streep and husband Don Gummer.

The two revealed in a statement shared with Page Six: "Don Gummer and Meryl Streep have been separated for more than six years, and while they will always care for each other, they have chosen lives apart."

The pair married in 1978, six months after Meryl lost her first love in a heartbreaking turn of events. Read more about her first romance, how it took a turn for the worse, and the way it led her to Don…

VIDEO: Meryl Streep's latest screen appearance

Meryl Streep's First Love

In 1976, a then 27-year-old Meryl was making a name for herself as a rising star in the theater, having just graduated from the Yale School of Drama and picking up credits at a Shakespearean Festival in New York City.

John Cazale as Fredo Corleone in 'The Godfather, ' the movie based on the novel by Mario Puzo and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. This scene takes place inside a Flamingo Hotel suite, Las Vegas, NV. Initial theatrical release on March 15, 1972. Screen capture. Paramount Pictures.© Getty Images
John Cazale first met Meryl Streep in 1976

One of those plays was Measure for Measure, opposite Sam Waterston and John Cazale, 41 at the time and a major movie star known for turns in The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather II, and Dog Day Afternoon.

Through their work on the play, the pair quickly became friends and then fell in love, and Meryl moved in with John later that year.

In a later interview, Meryl said: "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."

Turn For the Worse

John Cazale and Meryl Streep attend a party at the Hotel Pierre in New York City on November 19, 1976.© Getty Images
They quickly became a couple and moved in together, before John was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1977

For a little under a year, the couple lived in absolute bliss, and were the shining stars of the New York theater scene. However, in 1977, everything changed.

When John began missing performances of his new play Agamemnon, he was persuaded to visit the doctor, and he found out that he was suffering from terminal lung cancer.

MORE: Inside Meryl Streep's 45-year marriage to husband Don Gummer amid separation

Meryl immediately devoted herself to taking care of him as he continued trying to push himself into his work. As detailed in Michael Schulman's 2016 biography, Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep, she also took a role she was uninterested in to be closer to John, that being the 1978 miniseries Holocaust, which won her a Primetime Emmy Award.

"The Deer Hunter" a 1978 American war drama film starring John Cazale, John Savage, Meryl Street and Christopher Walken.© Getty Images
"The Deer Hunter" proved to be John's final role and the movie that propelled Meryl to stardom

She eventually agreed to star in the Oscar-winning The Deer Hunter (1978) alongside her boyfriend, in what would be his final role and her star-making turn. The filmmakers fought for John's inclusion in the film despite his worsening health, and Meryl spent over two months in Austria on location away from John after his schedule ended.

John passed away on March 3, 1978 at the age of 42, with Meryl beside him. Michael Schulman wrote in his 2016 book: "What happened next, by some accounts, was the culmination of all the tenacious hope Meryl had kept alive for the past ten months. 

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"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.'" He then closed his eyes and died.

How Meryl Streep met Don Gummer

Meryl Streep and Husband Don Gummer at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the L.A. Music Center in Los Angeles, CA© Getty Images
The Oscar winner found solace in Don Gummer, and they tied the knot six months later

Deep in mourning, the Sophie's Choice actress found refuge in then-aspiring sculptor Don Gummer, a friend of her brother's who offered her his New York apartment to stay in while she recovered.

MORE: Everything you need to know about Meryl Streep’s lookalike daughter Grace Gummer: Her famous husband, kids and more

They developed a friendship through the association, and the resulting comfort blossomed into love. Six months after John's death, she married Don, and they've welcomed four children together; son Henry Wolfe, and daughters Mamie, Grace, and Louisa, all working actresses.

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