Dennis Quaid has been a reliable mainstay in Hollywood for more than three decades now. Although he seemingly makes the celebrity life look easy, it’s actually been a pretty rough ride for him. He fell prey to multiple problems, in fact: drug use, mental health issues, divorce. But a 2018 film that he starred in was a big step forward for Quaid. That’s because I Can Only Imagine led him to confront both his past and his Christian faith.
Dennis Quaid actually grew up religious. He had an all-American childhood in Houston, Texas, enjoying the great outdoors, going to baseball games and attending church. He and his brother Randy, who also became an actor, were baptized as children. And from then on, religion was a big part of Quaid’s life.
Quaid also had loving parents, Nita and William, who encouraged him to pursue whatever life goals he wanted. At first, that goal was music. “My mother was enormously supportive. She bought me my first guitar, and I taught myself to play,” Quaid told The Wall Street Journal in 2018. “She also made time in her busy day to take me to piano lessons.”
But as it turned out, Quaid’s heart actually followed a different dream: becoming an actor. After leaving the University of Houston, he set up shop in Hollywood and began relentlessly pursuing roles. And his performance in the 1979 film Breaking Away won him the acclaim that he sought.
During this period Quaid married his first wife, the actress P.J. Soles. Unfortunately, though, the relationship didn’t last. Indeed, the marriage was over by 1983, just as Quaid was starting to make it big. He won good reviews for his acting in films such as The Right Stuff and Great Balls of Fire!. Slowly, however, things began to deteriorate.
Quaid developed a crack addiction that became more and more severe. “It starts out fun, and then there’s fun with problems, and then there’s just problems,” he told Radio Times in 2017. He eventually decided to get himself into rehab. “I had one of those white-light moments – I saw myself dead in five years or at least losing everything I had worked for and wanted in life.”
And then, in the ’90s Quaid realized that he had an eating disorder. It started when he lost weight to play Doc Holliday in 1994’s Wyatt Earp and subsequently developed into anorexia. “My arms were so skinny that I couldn’t pull myself out of a pool,” he told the New York Post in 2006. “For many years, I was obsessed about what I was eating, how many calories it had and how much exercise I’d have to do.”
While Quaid was fighting anorexia, he was also going through another divorce. He’d married Meg Ryan in 1991 and had a child with her, but in June 2000 they announced their separation. Worse still, infidelity was involved. Ryan had famously cheated on Quaid with Russell Crowe, but she claimed that Quaid had also committed his fair share of adultery.
A few years after divorcing Ryan, Quaid married again, this time to a real estate agent named Kimberly Buffington. The pair had twins together, but a medical mistake nearly cost both babies their lives. The infants were given an accidental overdose of heparin and, although they survived with no ill effects, it was obviously a horrifying ordeal for the parents.
The relationship between Quaid and Buffington didn’t last, either. After several separations and reconciliations, the pair announced in 2016 that they were divorcing. They told TMZ that the “decision was made amicably and with mutual respect toward one another,” but it was still the third divorce for Quaid.
So, the actor’s life has been full of difficult moments. Nonetheless, Quaid always had two things that he could use as outlets – his religion and his music. And at one of his lowest moments he found himself writing a song for the mother who’d supported him in becoming an actor. In the ’90s, while recovering from his cocaine addiction, he began work on “On My Way to Heaven.”
However, “On My Way To Heaven” was never finished – at least not until a new movie came along for Quaid. The film was I Can Only Imagine, the true story of a famous Christian song and its composer. Quaid was cast to play Arthur Millard, the abusive father of Bart Millard, the man who created the titular song.
Playing a parent – and a destructive individual who finds redemption – spurred Quaid on to complete the song for his mother. “What moved me about finishing it, really, was my character of Arthur and how he found grace,” Quaid said in March 2018 in a YouTube video made to promote the movie. “There was grace that came into his life. That’s the beautiful thing about the Good News that Jesus was talking about.”
“I wrote [the song] for my mother. It’s a connection to my faith roots in a sense that I grew up in a Baptist church, went to Sunday school,” Quaid said in the video. “I always loved the music from the church. But I wanted to write something that sounded older, like a gospel or more of a traditional type of song for my mother, because my mother is a very traditional type lady.”
“That was the inspiration. You know, I wrote it for my mom because my mom has always been there, like a rock. Her faith is unquestionable, so solid,” Quaid continued. “But I was really – I guess it’s my story. I never played it in public, and I never finished it because it didn’t have a bridge. And then along comes this movie… and it just came to me what the bridge was, what was missing from the song.”
Quaid and his band, The Sharks, subsequently shot a video for the song in Nashville. And then they played it again as a surprise for fans at the I Can Only Imagine premiere, opening for Bart Millard’s group MercyMe. But the most important thing that Quaid had to do with the song was make sure his mother heard it.
“We recorded it recently and sent it to my mom. Said, ‘Hey, here.’ Gave it to her for her birthday, her 91st birthday,” Quaid explained. And if that wasn’t good enough on its own, another birthday present soon came along. I Can Only Imagine turned out to be a sleeper hit and pulled in $40 million.
It pulled in good critical reviews, too. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it received a score of 70 percent. The consensus on the site was: “I Can Only Imagine’s message will have the most impact among Christian audiences, but overall, its performances and storytelling represent a notable evolution in faith-based cinema.”
Quaid has now come a long, long way from where he started in Hollywood. His children are all doing well, with Jack embarking on a Hollywood career – in 2018 he landed an Amazon series, The Boys. And Quaid is also dating again following his divorce. After splitting from Buffington, he began seeing a Latvian model, Santa Auzina.
In March 2018 Quaid spoke to People about how he’d managed to overcome so much in his life. “I’m not the guy that’s living an enlightened experience all the time. I blow my top many times,” he said. “In life we’re either forced, kicking and screaming, into change – or we learn to cope with it. But I really am at peace now.” And that’s very good news indeed.