Ali MacGraw was born in Pound Ridge, Westchester County, New York, the daughter of commercial artists Frances (née Klein) and Richard MacGraw Her mother was of Hungarian Jewish background and her father was of Scottish descent. She has one brother, Dick, an artistMacGraw has described her father as "violent."
An alumna of Rosemary Hall (now Choate Rosemary Hall, class of 1955) and Wellesley College (class of 1960), she began working in 1960 as a photographic assistant at Harper's Bazaar, as an assistant to the legendary fashion maven, Diana Vreeland, where she stayed for six years She also worked at Vogue, as a fashion model, and as a photographer's stylist. She has also worked as an interior decorator. MacGraw also appeared in several television commercials including the one for the Polaroid Swinger camera.
She gained notice in Goodbye, Columbus, but real stardom came in 1970 with one of the most popular films of all time Love Story, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Following this, MacGraw was featured on the cover of Time magazine. In 1971, she also appeared on Richard Blackwell's worst-dressed list.
In 1972, after appearing in only four films, she had her footprints and autograph embedded at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. In 1972, she co-starred in the action adventure film The Getaway with Steve McQueen, whom she married in 1973. They were divorced in 1978. Having taken a break from acting, she re-emerged in the 1978 film Convoy, Players (1979), Just Tell Me What You Want (1980), and then the 1983 television miniseries China Rose and The Winds of War. In 1984, MacGraw joined the hit ABC prime-time soap opera Dynasty as "Lady Ashley Mitchell." She appeared in 14 episodes of the show before her character became one of the few casualties of the infamous "Moldavian wedding massacre" cliffhanger episode in 1985.
MacGraw's autobiography, Moving Pictures (which she now describes as "not well written"), revealed her struggles with alcohol and male dependence. She was treated for the former at the Betty Ford Center. In 1991, People magazine chose her as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World.
Since 1994, she has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after "fleeing Malibu". Having become a Hatha Yoga devotee in her fifties, she made a Yoga video with the American Yoga Master Erich Schiffmann, Ali MacGraw Yoga Mind and Body, which was a bestseller upon release and was still popular more than a decade later. The video's impact was such that in June 2007 Vanity Fair magazine credited her for being one of the people responsible for the practice's recent popularity in the United States. In keeping with her interests, she narrated a documentary, The Fire of Yoga, in 2003.
She made her Broadway theatre debut in New York City in 2006 as a dysfunctional matriarch in the drama Festen (The Celebration). She was also included in a Seventeen magazine issue for inspiring hairstyles.
In 2008, GQ magazine listed her in their Sexiest 25 Women in Film Ever for her 1972 role with Steve McQueen in The Getaway.
In 2009, she appeared as the lead actor in Macy's TV commercials about its clothing line.
On October 12, 2010 she appeared on The Oprah Winfrey show. Oprah arranged a "Love Story Reunion" by reuniting the 1970 Love Story star with co-star Ryan O'Neal. The two discussed their roles in the movie and O'Neal said he had a terrible crush on MacGraw throughout the filming, asking her to go away with him even though they both were married at the time. Now that both are single, having lost their partners to cancer, O'Neal said he would ask MacGraw out.
In July 2006, MacGraw filmed a public service announcement for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), urging residents to take their pets with them in the event of wildfires. In 2008, she wrote the foreword to the book Pawprints of Katrina by author Cathy Scott about Best Friends Animal Society and the largest pet rescue in U.S. history. An animal rights advocate throughout her life, she was given the Humane Education Award by Animal Protection of New Mexico for speaking out about animal issues. She has been a life-long owner of Scottish Terriers.
MacGraw has stated that she had an illegal abortion when she was in her early 20s.From 1961 to 1962, she was married to banker Robin Hoen. On October 24, 1969, MacGraw married film producer Robert Evans, becoming the third of his seven wives. Their son, Josh Evans, was born on January 16, 1971. The couple divorced in 1972 after she became involved with Steve McQueen on the set of The Getaway. Despite being divorced from him, she and Evans are on good terms and have since made several public appearances together. MacGraw married McQueen on July 13, 1973. McQueen filed for divorce in 1978 after he became involved with Barbara Minty. MacGraw has not remarried.
She divides her time living in her homes in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Los Angeles, California.