Back in her heyday, Charlie’s Angels star Farrah Fawcett was a popular pin-up. In fact, her famous red swimsuit photo even apparently became the highest-selling poster of all time, finding a place on millions of bedroom walls. Yet while those who bought the print may have fantasized about Fawcett someday becoming their girlfriend, the actress herself only had eyes for one man. But, unfortunately, that romance came to a very tragic end.
That man, of course, is Ryan O’Neal. He made a name for himself in the 1960s and ’70s, performing on the popular soap opera Peyton Place and even earning an Oscar nod for his role in 1970’s Love Story. However, O’Neal’s own romantic life was seemingly a complicated one. And in later years he admitted to the media that he had some big regrets concerning his relationship with Fawcett.
But despite all the problems and issues in Fawcett and O’Neal’s union — not least the fact that it started with infidelity — the lovers always seemed to return to each other. The stars even had a child together, although they never got married. Yet while the pair may have exchanged vows eventually, fate intervened in a terrible way before that ever came to pass.
When O’Neal and Fawcett first encountered each other, the actress was actually already married. At the time, you see, she was the wife of Lee Majors. And while Fawcett and Majors had begun a trial separation in 1979, it still shocked the Six Million Dollar Man star tremendously when his estranged spouse began dating a friend of his.
Majors and O’Neal had been pals for a while, in fact. When Majors asked the other man if he would check in on Fawcett and make sure that she was okay, then, he didn’t expect that his buddy would “[make] a play” for her. “They got all serious, and I couldn’t believe it,” Majors told People in 1980.
Perhaps needless to say, this spelled the end for the Majors-O’Neal friendship. “I called [O’Neal] and asked him to lay off a bit,” Majors told People. “‘I can’t,’ he told me. ‘I really love her.’ So, I said, ‘Okay, buddy, if that’s the way you feel.’ I haven’t spoken with him since.” And until the divorce came through in 1982, Fawcett remained Majors’ wife only in name.
Then, in 1985, after several years together, Fawcett and O’Neal had a child: Redmond James Fawcett O’Neal. Sadly, though, Redmond would go on to lead a troubled life, building up a rap sheet that includes robbery, drug possession and even attempted murder. In 2019 it was also reported that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
And Fawcett seemingly endured struggles of her own, too. Both before and after the birth of Redmond, the actress found herself into the public eye – and she apparently didn’t like it at all. In fact, the star devised subtle ways to hide from the spotlight. “I said, ‘Why do you wear your hair like that?’” O’Neal told Vanity Fair in 2009. “[Fawcett] said, ‘I can’t see to the right or left, and that way I don’t have to see people looking at me.’”
Such an admission may have come as a surprise to the many people who idolized Fawcett’s hair. For a while, after all, the “Farrah flip,” which she sported to great effect on Charlie’s Angels, was all the rage. Some fashionistas even think that the style is making a comeback.
It’s been suggested, moreover, that Fawcett was a victim of her own good looks. “She was beautiful and likable, which is a hard combination to find. I had never seen anyone have an impact like Farrah did,” Leonard Goldberg, who was a co-producer on Charlie’s Angels, told Vanity Fair in 2009.
And Fawcett herself believed that sex appeal had made Charlie’s Angels a hit. “When the show was number three, I thought it was our acting,” the actress told TV Guide magazine in 1977. “When we got to be number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.”
Fawcett quit Charlie’s Angels that same year – perhaps in a bid to be taken more seriously as an actress. After she branched out, though, the critics didn’t go easy on her. In certain circles, Fawcett’s next film, Somebody Killed Her Husband, was even given a rather cruel nickname: “Somebody Killed Her Career.”
And during the same period, O’Neal’s professional life was seemingly also taking a hit. He had starred in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon in 1975, and the actor believed that the movie’s mixed reception had affected his reputation for years afterwards. O’Neal’s estranged son, Griffin, has also maintained that his father began cheating on Fawcett at around this point.
During an in-depth interview with Larry King in 2009, Griffin described the relationship between O’Neal and Fawcett. “It was bombastic at times. There were great times, [and] there [were] very hard times. By the time [Redmond] was five, they lived in separate rooms in a very large house,” he claimed.
And when King asked Griffin if there had been any infidelity in Fawcett and O’Neal’s relationship, Griffin described his father as “faithless.” He also went on to detail an incident that he claimed Fawcett herself had told him about. “She walked in on him, and he was with some other woman… I know this for a fact,” Griffin said.
O’Neal admitted to that liaison when speaking to Vanity Fair in 2009. He implied, too, that there had been plenty of difficulties between himself and Fawcett. “She was very high-maintenance. She took a long time getting ready to go anywhere, and that started to drive me nuts,” he said.
And Fawcett getting older apparently didn’t help matters, either. “I believe Farrah was going through some kind of change,” O’Neal added. He went on, “I didn’t have a change of life; I was always a jerk. But they’re hard work, these divas. I was sick of it, and I was unappreciated. I just don’t think she liked me very much. So, I excused myself, and I was lucky enough to meet this young girl.”
Yes, O’Neal confessed that he had embarked on an affair with an actress called Leslie Stefanson – a tryst Fawcett found out about when she walked in on the pair. “It was terrible,” O’Neal told Vanity Fair. “Leslie dived under the covers. I thought Farrah was going to attack her, but she said, ‘What’s your name?’ Leslie said, ‘Leslie.’ And Farrah walked out.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, said incident spelled the temporary end of the Fawcett-O’Neal romance. Then in 1997 Fawcett began a relationship with director James Orr that also went on to make headlines. After Fawcett had left Orr the following year, you see, he was convicted of assaulting her and handed a three-year probation sentence.
In fact, it took a serious illness to bring Fawcett and O’Neal back together. In 2001 the actor was given a diagnosis of leukemia, and this apparently triggered a reconciliation between the pair. “[Fawcett] came right to my side, which I loved her for,” O’Neal told Barbara Walters in 2009. “And we gradually started to rebuild our relationship.”
O’Neal would also recount memories from this part of his life to Vanity Fair in 2009. “Leslie was gone, and Farrah came to me. We started over again, and this time we built [a relationship] in a way that had foundation and trust,” he explained. “Farrah had her home here, and I had my home at the beach, and she would only come on the weekends.”
But while the romance between Fawcett and O’Neal was seemingly back on, there were more troubles ahead for the pair. Firstly, Fawcett’s sister, Diane, died of lung cancer in 2001. “[Diane]’ll have a bout of chemotherapy, and then she’ll go out with a friend and have a drink. She’s so strong. She’s amazing,” Fawcett told The Daily Telegraph a few months before her sibling passed away. The actress knew plenty about the illness, too, having been a chairwoman for the American Cancer Society’s ‘Women Against Cancer’ campaign in 1980.
Then a few years after Diane’s death, Fawcett’s mother, Pauline, also passed away. She was 91 years old and left behind her husband and two grandchildren as well as Fawcett herself. Pauline had also appeared in her daughter’s reality show, Chasing Farrah, and clips from the series were subsequently shown at her funeral.
And, unfortunately, Fawcett’s son, Redmond, would run into trouble. In 2008, when Redmond was 23, both he and O’Neal were arrested for the alleged possession of methamphetamine. At the time, the younger man was already serving a three-year probation stint related to a different drug possession case.
But while O’Neal and Fawcett stuck together throughout all of these trials, life would take yet another terrible turn for the couple in 2007. After fighting cancer the previous year, Fawcett thought that she may have beaten the disease. Unfortunately, though, the cancer came back – and this time it had spread to her liver. In fact, it soon became devastatingly obvious that she wasn’t going to survive the battle.
And although Fawcett tried many different procedures to stop the progression of her illness – including chemotherapy, chemoembolization, laser ablation and “alternative” treatments – none of these properly took hold. In May 2009, then, it was reported by news outlets that Fawcett was spending her last days with O’Neal at their home.
Remarkably, Fawcett openly shared her battle with the disease with the world. With the help of her friend Alana Stewart, she ensured that almost every detail of her ordeal was recorded for a documentary. Even some of the most saddening and personal moments of Fawcett’s fight – such as the actress finally having to shave off her famous hair – were immortalized on camera.
And before Fawcett became too ill to communicate, she recorded a opening segment in which she states her intentions for the film. “Why is there not more research into certain types of cancer? Why doesn’t our health system embrace alternative treatments that have proved successful in other countries? I have got cancer, but I’m alive. What are you fighting for?” she asked.
The in-depth look into Fawcett’s fight was all the more notable for discussing a stigmatized variant of the disease. You see, the star had anal cancer, which is understandably difficult to talk about for some people. And sufferers of this kind of the illness appreciated that a famous and beautiful woman was bringing their difficult experiences to light.
Then, just before Fawcett died, O’Neal spoke to People magazine about how devastated he was at her prospects. “It’s a love story. I just don’t know how to play this one. I won’t know this world without her,” he said. “Cancer is an insidious enemy.” He also explained that Fawcett’s treatment had “pretty much ended” in May.
And O’Neal revealed that, for a while, he had been optimistic the treatments would work. “There were times when there seemed to be positive results. Farrah was even playing tennis,” he said to People. “[But] at about the halfway point in our trips, the news started to get darker and darker and darker. The hope started to fade.”
The movie star added that Fawcett hadn’t been too concerned in the end about losing her iconic locks. “I have [the cut hair] at home,” he told the magazine. “She didn’t care. I rub her head. It’s kind of fun, actually, this great, tiny little head. How she carried all that hair I’ll never know. She doesn’t have a vanity about it.”
And O’Neal didn’t shy away from expressing his sadness in the interview, either. “I can’t hear a song. I can’t pass places that we were together without being stabbed in the heart,” he said. “A week ago, Farrah said to me, ‘Am I going to make it?’ I said, ‘Yes, you’ll make it. And if you don’t, I’ll go with you.’”
Fawcett passed away on June 25, 2009, after her life support was switched off. And according to the people who were with the actress as she died, her final word was the name of her son. “She was saying his name, ‘Redmond,’” friend Mela Murphy told People in 2019. “That was the last thing she said.”
And O’Neal later explained that he had wanted to finally tie the knot with his lifelong partner when she was on her deathbed. Tragically, though, it didn’t work out that way. “I’ve asked her to marry me again, and she’s agreed… The priest at St. John’s Hospital arrives to marry us but administers the last rites instead,” he wrote in his 2012 autobiography Both of Us: My Life With Farrah.
And this heartbreaking story has been backed up by Stewart, too. “I think they would’ve married if [Fawcett] had made it, because [O’Neal] asked her to marry him in the hospital, and she said yes,” she told People in 2019. “But she took a turn for the worse. This was just a few weeks before the end, so perhaps it wasn’t realistic.”
June 2019 saw the ten-year anniversary of Fawcett’s death, and the occasion was marked by her nearest and dearest sharing memories of the late actress. Murphy, for instance, told People that O’Neal had remained by Fawcett’s bedside, speaking to her in her final hours. At that time, the star had been so close to death that she hadn’t even been able to drink unaided.
“The night before [Fawcett] died, [O’Neal] was talking and talking, leading up to the story of when he first met Farrah,” Murphy revealed. “It was his way of telling her how much he loved her. She looked over at me and rolled her eyes, and then she smiled.”
But perhaps the most moving memories of Fawcett’s final days belong to O’Neal. “She was in and out of consciousness,” he told People after her death in 2009. “I talked to her all through the night. I told her how very much I loved her. She’s in a better place now.”
Ten years on, O’Neal naturally hasn’t forgotten the woman he adored; in fact, it’s said that he hasn’t enjoyed another significant romance since her passing. And in June 2019 the actor seemingly summed up his and Fawcett’s life together in a beautiful way, telling People, “There was never a day I didn’t love her.”