In her 1980s–90s heyday, Meg Ryan was one of the most successful and beloved actresses in the world. Romantic-comedy hits like Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally launched the perky blonde to the top of Hollywood’s A-list, and earned her the mantle of America’s Sweetheart.

But in a dramatic reversal of fortune, Meg’s current situation appears dismal. Her career has been sinking for more than a decade, and insiders say she’s burned through most of the money that she earned in her glory days. “Meg hasn’t been sensible with her finances over the years,” explains a source close to the actress. “And now she’s gotten to the point where she’s reaching dire straits.” To make matters worse, her longtime, on-off love and rumored fiancé, rocker John Mellencamp, recently stepped out with a gorgeous new lady friend — supermodel Christie Brinkley — leaving 53-year-old Meg heartbroken and alone, with nowhere to turn for support. Star goes inside the agonizing downfall of the erstwhile rom-com queen.

Their dooMed love StorY Despite her career slump, Meg found happiness with John back in 2010 — and they managed to keep their relationship chugging along for almost four years, even though his busy touring schedule and their desire to live in different states often kept them apart. Their Differences eventually proved too difficult for the couple, though, and in August 2014, Meg and John split. John, however, seemed to remain madly in love with the actress. “I’m very happy with the time I’ve spent with Meg Ryan. She’s a beautiful girl, and I know that I will never, ever, ever be with a funnier girl than her,” he said during their separation. “She’s an angel sent to me,” he added in another interview. “And, you know, nothing’s over till it’s over.”

His romantic persistence paid off. The couple reconciled not long after their breakup, and sources said they even talked about getting married. By spring 2015, though, the pair seemed to be drifting apart, and they reportedly split again in June. Meg, however, believed their relationship had just hit another rough patch, according to insiders — until she saw the photos of John, 63, and Christie, 61, out on a date Sept. 14. “Meg was shocked when she found out John was dating Christie Brinkley. She broke down and cried, ‘I’m so humiliated! We were talking marriage,’ ” a source reveals. “The thing is, John never officially broke up with Meg. They hadn’t talked for a while, but she just thought they were on a break and would work it out. She had no idea he was moving on!”

The fact that John took Christie out just a few blocks from Meg’s New York City apartment — after she’d spent years trying to convince him to relocate for her — was particularly painful for the actress. “That was a slap in the face. She loves him so much, and it’s really hurting her to know he would treat her like this,” the insider adds. “Meg is furious and heartbroken.” WorK WoeS To make matters much worse, Meg’s career is at an all-time low. She’s made only seven movies in the past decade — just one since 2009 — and all of them have underperformed. Several were outright flops, and two went straight to DVD. The last major film she starred in was the 2000 thriller Proof of Life, opposite Russell Crowe, with whom she had a fling that ultimately destroyed her marriage to Dennis Quaid. “Meg thought she and Russell would have a real relationship, which is why she was willing to jeopardize her life with Dennis for him. But she was sadly mistaken,” the insider explains. “He had no intention of pursuing anything serious with her.”

That scandalous affair didn’t just derail her marriage — it also caused the moviegoing public to see Meg in a new, negative light. After all, a woman who cheats on her husband with an Australian “bad boy” can’t be America’s Sweetheart anymore. “Everything went downhill for Meg after the affair with Russell — especially after he dumped her. She was crushed,” the insider says. “It damaged her public persona irreparably, and her career has not been the same since. It truly was the beginning of the end for Meg.” Faced with few good job offers and about to turn 40 — an age that often spells career death for actresses in Hollywood — Meg soon turned to plastic surgery to try and make herself appear more youthful. But it changed her looks so drastically, her fans could hardly recognize her…and her
star power diminished. She began working less and less.

MoNeY MatterS With her roles drying up, Meg’s financial situation has hit the skids too. Once worth an estimated $45 million, the actress has poured her money into numerous megamansions, frequent high-end vacations and maintaining her lavish lifestyle. She’s also raising her 10-year-old daughter, Daisy, whom she adopted from China in 2006, by herself. Her biggest asset, at this point, is her 4,000-square-foot loft in New York City’s upscale SoHo neighborhood, which she intended to share with John. “Meg just can’t afford to live in that huge place anymore, since she’s making almost no money,” the insider says. “She is seriously thinking of selling it and moving into a cheap hotel until she can find a more affordable permanent home. She doesn’t want to move, but she knows she can’t keep up this lifestyle. It’s embarrassing, but she has to think of her future.” Indeed, Daisy is Meg’s primary concern these days; sources say much of the actress’ budget goes toward her daughter’s education and other needs. She also takes great pains to spend time with her grown son from her marriage to Dennis, Jack, 23, a budding actor. Insiders say he’s been her sole shoulder to cry on lately. “Meg is completely focused on her kids right now because she feels like they are the only things she has left to live for,” the source says. “It’s a hard fall for someone who used to have it all.”

CaN toM Save her?
all of meg’s hopes are hinging on her next movie, Ithaca, which she’s both starring in and directing. it’s a low-budget project that meg is so desperate to drum up excitement for, she’s convinced her old Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail costar, tom hanks — who’s also the film’s executive producer — to do a cameo in it. “Sources close to the production believe that meg begged tom to make that appearance so marketing could make a big deal about them acting together again,” says a showbiz insider. but it’s unclear if tom’s involvement will be enough to get meg on the comeback track. “the idea that she can use tom to kick-start her career again is laughable,” another source says. “that ship sailed a long time ago!”

Her Mom WoN’t even help!
don’t count on meg’s mother to offer moral support during her crisis. Susan ryan jordan has been estranged from her daughter for 25 years, after she expressed disapproval over meg’s engagement to dennis, who had substanceabuse issues in the late ’80s. their relationship has been so frosty, in fact, that Susan has never even met her own grandchildren! but after years of trying to reconcile with her daughter and being rebuffed, Susan eventually gave up. when Star contacted her last year, asking about meg, Susan shockingly replied: “i made a promise to myself that i would never say her name again.” a family source adds: “meg treated her mother like dirt. and now she has to face the fact that she’s not going to get her family back.

Meg Ryan

Meg Ryan

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