by Joal Ryan | Thu., Jun. 25, 2009 3:25 PM
The 1970s did not lack for sex symbols. That, the ubiquitous Farrah Fawcett poster made sure of.
Fawcett, the feather-haired founding member of TV's Charlie's Angels and pinup icon whose second act was marked by bids to showcase her acting chops and whose third act was marred by on- and offscreen problems, died this morning at a Los Angeles-area hospital, some two-and-a-half years after being diagnosed with anal cancer. She was 62.
The actress passed away at 9:28 a.m. Ryan O'Neal, Fawcett's longtime leading man, and friend Alana Stewart were with her at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, per a rep at Rogers & Cowan, Fawcett's publicity firm.
In an interview to air tonight on 20/20, O'Neal said he'd recently proposed to the ailing Fawcett, and that she'd accepted. The Love Story actor sounded certain the longtime unmarrieds would—finally—tie the knot.
"We will, as soon as she can say yes," O'Neal said. "Maybe we can just nod her head."
They never made it.
Fawcett, who in recent months had stopped receiving cancer treatment, talked frankly about her battle in Farrah's Story, a raw, camcorder-shot documentary that aired in May on NBC.
"I know that everyone will die eventually, but I do not want to die of this disease," Fawcett said in the film.
"I want to stay alive."
Becoming an Angel
Even alongside Kate Jackson's smart Sabrina Duncan and Jaclyn Smith's beautiful Kelly Garrett, Fawcett stood out as sunny, sun-tinged private-detective Jill Munroe on Charlie's Angels.
Born Feb. 2, 1947, in Corpus Christi, Texas, Fawcett moved to Hollywood in the late 1960s and found the town a pushover for her breathy twang. She began landing bit TV parts and lathering up football hero Joe Namath with shaving cream for a commercial.
While Fawcett stood out, she wasn't yet a star.
That would change—and change quickly—with producer Aaron Spelling's uncanny mix of feminism and jiggle. Within two months of Charlie's Angels' Sept. 22, 1976, premiere, Time magazine declared Jackson, Smith and Fawcett: "TV's Super Women."
On a show that sold sex, nobody sold more of it than Fawcett. Especially in poster shops.
Shot shortly before, and released shortly after the toothy Texas blonde became a prime-time star, the famous Fawcett poster featured the actress in a one-piece red bathing suit and posed in front of an old Indian blanket. The image was simple, unexotic, and, according to Fawcett's longtime mananger, historic.
"Nipples. It was the first time people had been exposed to nipples," the late Jay Bernstein once told Britain's Channel 4. "Hundreds of thousands of men had their first sexual experience with Farrah Fawcett. She just wasn't there."
The poster went on to sell a reported and reputedly record 12 million copies, one of which was launched into orbit by an appreciative NASA.
Fawcett, known during the height of her 1970s fame as Farrah Fawcett-Majors, from her then marriage to Six Million Dollar Man star Lee Majors, secured her exit from Charlie's Angels after only one season (although producers obliged her to return for a handful of episodes through 1980). Fawcett sought more money, bigger projects and, ultimately, respect.
"I became famous almost before I had a craft," Fawcett told the New York Times in 1986. "I didn't study drama at school. I was an art major. Suddenly, when I was doing Charlie's Angels, I was getting all this fan mail, and I didn't really know why. I don't think anybody else did, either."
Victories and Defeats
Fawcett's initial post-Angels projects were duds—the sci-fi clunker Saturn 3, among them.
A turning point in Fawcett's career came in 1984, when she earned an Emmy nomination, and finally respect, as the battered wife in The Burning Bed. She went on to rate two more Emmy nods, one for the 1989 TV-movie Small Sacrifices and one for a 2001 guest appearance on The Guardian. She garnered Oscar buzz for playing a revenge-seeking rape victim in the 1986 film Extremities, a project she first tackled off-Broadway.
The 1990s was a tough decade personally and professionally for Fawcett. Her brand of TV-movies died. Her attempt at a sitcom, Good Sports, didn't take. Her relationship with O'Neal seemed over.
In 1997, Fawcett put in a loopy, trainwreck of an appearance on David Letterman's Late Show. In 1998, she reluctantly, and tearfully, took the stand in the trial of director James Orr, who was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of beating his Man of the House leading lady.
If anything, Fawcett's Playboy pictorial was the highlight of the period. Age 48 and sans a red—or any other kind of—bathing suit, Fawcett posed nude and brought Hugh Hefner's empire its best-selling issue of the decade.
By the 2000s, as Drew Barrymore was turning Charlie's Angels into a big-screen, big-budget franchise, Fawcett was an prime-time guest star who looked to reality-TV to give her a starring role, as well as a platform to combat post-Letterman perceptions. Chasing Farrah ran seven episodes in 2005.
In 2006, Fawcett reunited with Jackson and Smith at the Primetime Emmy Awards for a tribute to Spelling, who'd died earlier that summer.
"The three of us didn't experience the Charlie's Angels phenomenon like the rest of the world did," a tearful Fawcett told the audience. "We experienced it from the inside—the eye of that televised storm—together."
Just weeks after the Emmys, in October 2006, Fawcett was diagnosed with cancer. She was declared cancer-free in early 2007, just before her 60th birthday, only to have a new cancer diagnosis a few months later.
"I am resolutely strong, and I am determined to bite the bullet and fight the fight," Fawcett said after her initial 2006 diagnosis.
Fawcett seemed to battle the tabloid press as much as her disease. She and her reps seethed at headlines, dating back to 2006, that declared: "Farrah Begs: Let Me Die!" Much as with Chasing Farrah, Fawcett sought to control her story by producing a documentary on her cancer fight.
Last year, Fawcett's battle took her to Germany, where she underwent treatment before returning to Los Angeles and being admitted to a Los Angeles hospital in early April. While some reports at the time described Fawcett's condition as grave, her doctor said the actress was being treated for bleeding unrelated to the cancer. And while Fawcett headed home on April 10, there was not much to celebrate: Her doctor also noted the cancer had spread to her liver.
Later that month, Fawcett's troubled 24-year-old son, Redmond O'Neal, who'd been arrested on drug charges April 5 while Fawcett was still hospitalized, was temporarily released from custody and, in leg shackles, allowed to visit his mother's bedside in Malibu. Jail officials allowed teh younger O'Neal to speak to his mother by telephone before her passing.
Fawcett was married to Majors from 1973-82. Although she announced her split from Ryan O'Neal in 1997, the two were an on-again, off-again couple since about 1982.
The couple never seemed more on-again than when Fawcett took ill.
"In the last two years, I loved her more than I've ever loved her—ever," O'Neal told Today this year.
Said O'Neal: "I don't know what I'll do without her, to tell you the truth."
An Angel Remembered: E! Online's photographic look back at Farrah Fawcett's life.
(Originally published June 25, 2009, at 9:50 a.m. PT)
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