Ryan O'Neal Dead: Actor Reflected on Love Story's 50th Anniversary with Ali MacGraw in 2021 PEOPLE Interview

The actor spoke with PEOPLE about his Oscar-nominated role in the beloved 1970 romance two years before his death

<p>David Livingston/Getty</p> Love Story stars Ali MacGraw and Ryan O

David Livingston/Getty

Love Story stars Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal reflected on the film in a 2021 PEOPLE interview, two years before O'Neal's death.

Ryan O'Neal has died at age 82. The loss of the actor comes two years after he reflected on his Oscar-nominated role in Love Story with costar Ali MacGraw for the film’s 50th anniversary. At the time, O'Neal and MacGraw spoke with PEOPLE about their favorite scenes — and "magic” on-screen chemistry. Here is that 2021 interview.

“We had absolutely nothing in common,” Ali MacGraw remembered of her first meeting with Love Story costar Ryan O’Neal.

“He was a California kid, had been a movie star, was athletic.”

She was an artsy Wellesley grad who had worked at fashion magazines. But their chemistry was “magic,” recalled O’Neal, then 79. “They had to drag me away from her,” he joked.

Said MacGraw, 81: “We just clicked.”

“We were just kissed with luck,” said O’Neal of their close bond.

The film, which opened in February 1971 and was rereleased on Blu-ray to mark the 50th anniversary, featured O’Neal as Harvard preppy Oliver Barrett IV, who falls in love with radiant working-class Radcliffe student Jennifer Cavilleri (MacGraw).

“There was a moment when I got snow all over my face, and Ali leaned in and licked it off, like a snake,” said O’Neal of their playful snow scene. “It was beautiful, and it’s in the movie.”

Related: Ryan O'Neal's Life in Photos

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy of Getty Ryan O'Neal And Ali MacGraw In 'Love Story.'
Paramount Pictures/Courtesy of Getty Ryan O'Neal And Ali MacGraw In 'Love Story.'

It was a phenomenon, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of all time and turning its stars into overnight supernovas. It all began when MacGraw, who had just made a splash in her debut film, Goodbye, Columbus, read the script and told Paramount chief (and soon-to-be-husband)  Robert Evans that she wanted the part. “When I read it, I cried,” she noted.

O’Neal was cast after the studio tested 14 others, including Jon Voight and Christopher Walken.

As Evans later noted: “None of them could compare.” 

Neither star had any idea the film would be such a hit until the premiere.

“The whole audience was crying by the end,” recalled MacGraw, whose character dies of a never-specified illness.

“When I went into makeup, they looked at me and said, ‘Go right in,’ ” said MacGraw, who went barefaced in the scene where she lay dying.

<p>J. Vespa/WireImage</p> 'Love Story' costars Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw in 2002.

J. Vespa/WireImage

'Love Story' costars Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw in 2002.

Related: Inside Ryan O'Neal and Farrah Fawcett's Love Story: 'I Loved Her with All My Heart'

O’Neal drove by a theater where it was showing. “The line went around the block,” he recalled.

“When we asked, ‘Is this for this show?’ they said, ‘No, it’s for the next.’ ”

"I think the biggest accomplishment of my life has been that I survived [being] flavor of the month,” said MacGraw of becoming an overnight sensation.

One thing that still confounded both stars is how the film’s final line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” took on such a life of its own. “I’m still trying to get to the bottom of it, because I’ve had to say ‘I’m sorry’ a lot in my life,” said O’Neal, who was married twice before his long, tumultuous relationship with the late Farrah Fawcett. 

MacGraw, who married and divorced actor Steve McQueen in the 1970s after leaving Evans, was also stunned at how beloved the movie remained: “That it still touches people is amazing.”

“How could one ever imagine what was going to happen to this movie?” she recalled.

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