Hand color tinted photo of Farrah Fawcett
Farrah Fawcett (February 2, 1947 – June 25, 2009) was an American actress and artist. A multiple Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominee, Fawcett rose to international fame when she first appeared as private investigator Jill Munroe in the first season of the television series Charlie’s Angels, in 1976. Fawcett later appeared Off-Broadway to critical approval and in highly rated and critically acclaimed television movies, in roles often challenging (The Burning Bed; Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story; Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story; Margaret Bourke-White) and sometimes unsympathetic (Small Sacrifices). Fawcett was a sex symbol whose iconic poster, released the same year Charlie’s Angels premiered, broke sales records, making her an international pop culture icon. Her hairstyle was emulated by millions of young women in the 1970s and 1980s.
Ferrah Leni Fawcett was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, the younger of two daughters. Her mother, Pauline Alice (née Evans; January 30, 1914 – March 4, 2005), was a homemaker, and her father, James William Fawcett (October 14, 1917 – August 23, 2010), was an oil field contractor. Her sister was Diane Fawcett Walls (October 27, 1938 – October 16, 2001), a graphic artist. She was of Irish, French, English, and Choctaw Native American ancestry. Fawcett once said the name “Ferrah” was “made up” by her mother because it went well with their last name; she later changed the spelling.
A Roman Catholic, Fawcett’s early education was at the parish school of the church her family attended, St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Corpus Christi. She graduated from W. B. Ray High School in Corpus Christi, where she was voted “Most Beautiful” by her classmates in 1965. For three years, 1965–68, Fawcett attended the University of Texas at Austin, living one semester in Jester Center, and she became a sister of Delta Delta Delta Sorority. During her sophomore year, she appeared in a photo of the “Ten Most Beautiful Coeds” from the university, which ran in Cashbox magazine. A Hollywood publicist saw the photo, called Fawcett and over the course of a year urged her to move to Los Angeles, which she did the summer following her junior year, with her parents’ permission to “try her luck” in Hollywood over the course of the summer. She did not return.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Fawcett appeared in television commercials for consumer products, starting with her selection as a Breck Girl for Breck Shampoo, and moving on to other products including Noxzema face cleanser, Ultra Brite toothpaste, Wella Balsam shampoo, and the 1975 Mercury Cougar. Beginning in 1978, after achieving television stardom, she developed her own brand of hair care products, marketed by Fabergé, for which she appeared in a series of commercials and print ads.
Fawcett’s first television series appearance was a guest spot on I Dream of Jeannie in the 1969-1970 season, followed by guest appearances in Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law and The Partridge Family. She later appeared in The Six Million Dollar Man with Lee Majors, which first aired in 1974, The Dating Game, and several episodes of Harry O alongside David Janssen.
She appeared in a bit part on the critically panned movie Myra Breckinridge in 1970. Her next movie appearance was on the well-received science-fiction movie Logan’s Run in 1976.
In 1976, Pro Arts Inc., pitched the idea of a poster of Fawcett to her agent, and a photo shoot was arranged with photographer Bruce McBroom, who was hired by the poster company. According to friend Nels Van Patten, Fawcett styled her own hair and did her make-up without the aid of a mirror. Her blonde highlights were further heightened by a squeeze of lemon juice. From 40 rolls of film, Farrah herself selected her six favorite pictures, eventually narrowing her choice to the one that made her famous. The resulting poster, of Farrah in a one-piece red bathing suit, was a best-seller; sales estimates ranged from over 5 million to 8 million to as high as 12 million copies. Fawcett, generally acknowledged as a shrewd businesswoman, retained ownership of the image and made millions of dollars on sales of the poster alone.
On March 21, 1976, the first appearance of Fawcett playing the character Jill Munroe in Charlie’s Angels was aired as a movie of the week. Fawcett and her husband were frequent tennis partners of producer Aaron Spelling, and he and his producing partner thought of casting Fawcett as the “golden girl” Jill because of his friendship with the couple. The movie starred Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Fawcett (then billed as Farrah Fawcett-Majors) as private investigators for Townsend Associates, a detective agency run by a reclusive multi-millionaire whom the women had never met. Voiced by John Forsythe, the Charles Townsend character presented cases and dispensed advice via a speakerphone to his core team of three female employees, whom he referred to as “Angels.” They were aided in the office and occasionally in the field by two male associates, played by character actors David Doyle and David Ogden Stiers. The program earned a huge Nielsen rating, leading the network to air it a second time and approve production for a series, with the pilot’s principal cast except David Ogden Stiers.
The Charlie’s Angels series formally debuted on September 22, 1976. Fawcett emerged as a fan favorite in the show, and the actress won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Performer in a New TV Program. In a 1977 interview with TV Guide, Fawcett said: “When the show was number three, I thought it was our acting. When we got to be number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra”.
Fawcett’s appearance in the television show boosted sales of her poster, and she earned far more in royalties from poster sales than from her salary for appearing in Charlie’s Angels. Her hairstyle went on to become an international trend, with women sporting a “Farrah Do” or “Farrah Hair.” Iterations of her hair style predominated American women’s hair styles well into the 1980s.
Fawcett left Charlie’s Angels after only one season and Cheryl Ladd replaced her on the show, portraying Jill’s younger sister Kris Munroe. Numerous explanations for Fawcett’s precipitous withdrawal from the show were offered over the years. The strain on her marriage due to her long absences most days due to filming, as her then-husband Lee Majors was star of an established television show himself, was frequently cited, but Fawcett’s ambitions to broaden her acting abilities with opportunities in films have also been given. Fawcett never officially signed her series contract with Spelling due to protracted negotiations over royalties from her image’s use in peripheral products, which led to an even more protracted lawsuit filed by Spelling and his company when she quit the show.
The show was a major success throughout the world, maintaining its appeal in syndication, spawning a cottage industry of peripheral products, particularly in the show’s first three seasons, including several series of bubble gum cards, two sets of fashion dolls, numerous posters, puzzles, and school supplies, novelizations of episodes, toy vans, and a board game, all featuring Fawcett’s likeness. The “Angels” also appeared on the covers of magazines around the world, from countless fan magazines to TV Guide (four times) to Time Magazine.
The series ultimately ran for five seasons. As part of a settlement to a lawsuit over her early departure, Fawcett returned for six guest appearances over seasons three and four of the series.
In 2004, the television movie Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Charlie’s Angels dramatized the events from the show with supermodel and actress Tricia Helfer portraying Fawcett and Ben Browder portraying Lee Majors, Fawcett’s then-husband.
In 1983, Fawcett won critical acclaim for her role in the Off-Broadway stage production of the controversial play Extremities, written by William Mastrosimone. Replacing Susan Sarandon, she was a would-be rape victim who turns the tables on her attacker. She described the role as “the most grueling, the most intense, the most physically demanding and emotionally exhausting” of her career. During one performance, a stalker in the audience disrupted the show by asking Fawcett if she had received the photos and letters he had mailed her. Police removed the man and were able only to issue a summons for disorderly conduct.
The following year, her role as a battered wife in the fact-based television movie The Burning Bed earned her the first of her four Emmy Award nominations. The project is noted as being the first television movie to provide a nationwide 800 number that offered help for others in the situation, in this case victims of domestic abuse. It was the highest-rated television movie of the season.
In 1986, Fawcett appeared in the movie version of Extremities, which was also well-received by critics, and for which she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.
She appeared in Jon Avnet’s Between Two Women with Colleen Dewhurst, and took several more dramatic roles as infamous or renowned women. She was nominated for Golden Globe awards for roles as Beate Klarsfeld in Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story and troubled Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton in Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story, and won a CableACE Award for her 1989 portrayal of groundbreaking Life magazine photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. Her 1989 portrayal of convicted murderer Diane Downs in the miniseries Small Sacrifices earned her a second Emmy nomination and her sixth Golden Globe Award nomination. The miniseries won a Peabody Award for excellence in television, with Fawcett’s performance singled out by the organization, which stated “Ms. Fawcett brings a sense of realism rarely seen in television miniseries (to) a drama of unusual power”.
Art meets life
Fawcett, who had steadfastly resisted appearing nude in magazines throughout the 1970s and 1980s (although she appeared topless in the 1980 film Saturn 3), caused a major stir by posing semi-nude in the December 1995 issue of Playboy. At the age of 50, she returned to Playboy with a pictorial for the July 1997 issue, which also became a top seller. The issue and its accompanying video featured Fawcett painting on canvas using her body, which had been an ambition of hers for years.
That same year, Fawcett was chosen by Robert Duvall to play his wife in an independent feature film he was producing, The Apostle. Fawcett received an Independent Spirit Award nomination as Best Actress for the film, which was highly critically acclaimed.
In 2000, she worked with director Robert Altman and an all-star cast in the feature film Dr. T & the Women, playing the wife of Richard Gere (her character has a mental breakdown, leading to her first fully nude appearance). Also that year, Fawcett’s collaboration with sculptor Keith Edmier was exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, later traveling to The Andy Warhol Museum. The sculpture was also presented in a series of photographs and a book by Rizzoli.
In November 2003, Fawcett prepared for her return to Broadway in a production of Bobbi Boland, the tragicomic tale of a former Miss Florida. However, the show never officially opened, closing before preview performances. Fawcett was described as “vibrating with frustration” at the producer’s extraordinary decision to cancel the production. Only days earlier the same producer closed an Off-Broadway show she had been backing.
Fawcett continued to work in television, with well-regarded appearances in made-for-television movies and on popular television series including Ally McBeal and four episodes each of Spin City and The Guardian, her work on the latter show earning her a third Emmy nomination in 2004.
Fawcett was married to Lee Majors, star of television’s The Six Million Dollar Man, from 1973 to 1982, although the couple separated in 1979. During her marriage, she was known and credited in her roles as Farrah Fawcett-Majors.
From 1979 until 1997 Fawcett was involved romantically with actor Ryan O’Neal. The relationship produced a son, Redmond James Fawcett O’Neal, born January 30, 1985 in Los Angeles. In April 2009, on probation for driving under the influence, Redmond was arrested for possession of narcotics while Fawcett was in the hospital. On June 22, 2009, The Los Angeles Times and Reuters reported that Ryan O’Neal had said that Fawcett had agreed to marry him as soon as she felt strong enough.
From 1997 to 1998, Fawcett had a relationship with Canadian filmmaker James Orr, writer and producer of the Disney feature film in which she co-starred with Chevy Chase and Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Man of the House. The relationship ended when Orr was charged with and later convicted of beating Fawcett during a 1998 fight between the two.
On June 5, 1997, Fawcett received negative commentary after giving a rambling interview and appearing distracted on Late Show with David Letterman. Months later, she told the host of The Howard Stern Show her behavior was just her way of joking around with the television host, partly in the guise of promoting her Playboy pictoral and video, explaining what appeared to be random looks across the theater was just her looking and reacting to fans in the audience. Though the Letterman appearance spawned speculation and several jokes at her expense, she returned to the show a week later, with success, and several years later, after Joaquin Phoenix’s mumbling act on a February 2009 appearance on The Late Show, Letterman wrapped up the interview by saying, “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight” and recalled Fawcett’s earlier appearance by noting “we owe an apology to Farrah Fawcett.”
Fawcett’s elder sister, Diane Fawcett Walls, died from lung cancer just before her 63rd birthday, on October 16, 2001. The fifth episode of her 2005 Chasing Farrah series, which was generally panned by critics, followed the actress home to Texas to visit with her father, James, and mother, Pauline. Pauline Fawcett died soon after, on March 4, 2005, at the age of 91.
Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006, and began treatment, including chemotherapy and surgery. Four months later, on her 60th birthday, the Associated Press wire service reported that Fawcett was, at that point, cancer free.
Less than four months later, in May 2007, Fawcett brought a small digital video camera to document a doctor’s office visit. There, she was told a malignant polyp was found where she had been treated for the initial cancer. Doctors contemplated whether to implant a radiation seeder (which differs from conventional radiation and is used to treat other types of cancer). Fawcett’s U.S. doctors told her that she would require a colostomy. Instead, Fawcett traveled to Germany for treatments described variously in the press as “holistic”, “aggressive”, and “alternative”. There, Dr. Ursula Jacob prescribed a treatment including surgery to remove the anal tumor, and a course of perfusion and embolization for her liver cancer by Doctors Claus Kiehling and Thomas Vogl in Germany, and chemotherapy back in Fawcett’s home town of Los Angeles. Although initially the tumors were regressing, their reappearance a few months later necessitated a new course, this time including laser ablation therapy and chemoembolization. Aided by friend Alana Stewart, Fawcett documented her battle with the disease.
In early April 2009, Fawcett, back in the United States, was hospitalized, with media reports declaring her unconscious and in critical condition, although subsequent reports indicated her condition was not so dire. On April 6, the Associated Press reported that her cancer had metastasized to her liver, a development Fawcett had learned of in May 2007 and which her subsequent treatments in Germany had targeted. The report denied that she was unconscious, and explained that the hospitalization was due not to her cancer but a painful abdominal hematoma that had been the result of a minor procedure. Her spokesperson emphasized she was not “at death’s door”, adding “She remains in good spirits with her usual sense of humor … She’s been in great shape her whole life and has an incredible resolve and an incredible resilience.” Fawcett was released from the hospital on April 9, picked up by longtime companion O’Neal, and, according to her doctor, was “walking and in great spirits and looking forward to celebrating Easter at home.”
A month later, on May 7, Fawcett was reported as critically ill, with Ryan O’Neal quoted as saying she now spends her days at home, on an IV, often asleep. The Los Angeles Times reported Fawcett was in the last stages of her cancer and had the chance to see her son Redmond in April 2009, although shackled and under supervision, as he was then incarcerated. Her 91-year-old father, James Fawcett, flew out to Los Angeles to visit.
The cancer specialist that was treating Fawcett in L.A., Dr. Lawrence Piro, and Fawcett’s friend and Angels co-star Kate Jackson – a breast cancer survivor – appeared together on The Today Show dispelling tabloid-fueled rumors, including suggestions Fawcett had ever been in a coma, had ever reached 86 pounds, and had ever given up her fight against the disease or lost the will to live. Jackson decried such fabrications, saying they “really do hurt a human being and a person like Farrah.” Piro recalled when it became necessary for Fawcett to undergo treatments that would cause her to lose her hair, acknowledging “Farrah probably has the most famous hair in the world”, but also that it is not a trivial matter for any cancer patient, whose hair “affects one’s whole sense of who they are”. Of the documentary, Jackson averred Fawcett “didn’t do this to show that ‘she’ is unique, she did it to show that we are all unique … (T)his was … meant to be a gift to others to help and inspire them.”
The two-hour documentary Farrah’s Story, which was filmed by Fawcett and friend Alana Stewart, aired on NBC on May 15, 2009. The documentary was watched by nearly nine million people at its premiere airing, and it was re-aired on the broadcast network’s cable stations MSNBC, Bravo and Oxygen. Fawcett earned her fourth Emmy nomination posthumously on July 16, 2009, as producer of Farrah’s Story.
Controversy surrounded the aired version of the documentary, with her initial producing partner, who had worked with her four years earlier on her reality series Chasing Farrah, alleging O’Neal’s and Stewart’s editing of the program was not in keeping with Fawcett’s wishes to more thoroughly explore rare types of cancers such as her own and alternative methods of treatment. He was especially critical of scenes showing Fawcett’s son visiting her for the last time, in shackles, while she was nearly unconscious in bed. Fawcett had generally kept her son out of the media, and his appearances were minimal in Chasing Farrah.
Fawcett died at approximately 9:28 am, PDT on June 25, 2009, in the intensive care unit of Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, with O’Neal and Stewart by her side. A private funeral was held in Los Angeles on June 30. Fawcett’s son Redmond was permitted to leave his California detention center to attend his mother’s funeral, where he gave the first reading.
The night of her death, ABC aired an hour-long special episode of 20/20 featuring clips from several of Barbara Walters’ past interviews with Fawcett as well as new interviews with Ryan O’Neal, Jaclyn Smith, Alana Stewart, and Dr. Lawrence Piro. Walters followed up on the story on Friday’s episode of 20/20. CNN’s Larry King Live planned a show exclusively about Fawcett that evening until the death of Michael Jackson several hours later caused the program to shift to cover both stories. Cher, a longtime friend of Fawcett, and Suzanne de Passe, executive producer of Fawcett’s Small Sacrifices mini-series, both paid tribute to Fawcett on the program. NBC aired a Dateline NBC special “Farrah Fawcett: The Life and Death of an Angel” the following evening, June 26, preceded by a rebroadcast of Farrah’s Story in prime time. That weekend and the following week, television tributes continued. MSNBC aired back-to-back episodes of its Headliners and Legends episodes featuring Fawcett and Jackson. TV Land aired a mini-marathon of Charlie’s Angels and Chasing Farrah episodes. E! aired Michael & Farrah: Lost Icons and the The Biography Channel aired Bio Remembers: Farrah Fawcett. The documentary Farrah’s Story re-aired on the Oxygen Network and MSNBC.
Larry King said of the Fawcett phenomenon,
“TV had much more impact back in the ’70s than it does today. Charlie’s Angels got huge numbers every week – nothing really dominates the television landscape like that today. Maybe American Idol comes close, but now there are so many channels and so many more shows it’s hard for anything to get the audience, or amount of attention, that Charlie’s Angels got. Farrah was a major TV star when the medium was clearly dominant.”
”Playboy founder Hugh Hefner said “Farrah was one of the iconic beauties of our time. Her girl-next-door charm combined with stunning looks made her a star on film, TV and the printed page.”
Kate Jackson said,
“She was a selfless person who loved her family and friends with all her heart, and what a big heart it was. Farrah showed immense courage and grace throughout her illness and was an inspiration to those around her… I will remember her kindness, her cutting dry wit and, of course, her beautiful smile…when you think of Farrah, remember her smiling because that is exactly how she wanted to be remembered: smiling.”
In March 2010, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences caused controversy when Fawcett was excluded from the “In Memoriam” montage at the 82nd Academy Awards ceremony, along with fellow television stars Bea Arthur, Gene Barry and Ed McMahon. In addition to Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, friends and colleagues of Fawcett publicly expressed their outrage at the oversight, including actress Jane Fonda and film critic Roger Ebert. AMPAS executive director Bruce Davis cited Fawcett’s recognition at the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards for her “remarkable television work,” and said of all the exclusions: “There’s nothing you can say to people, particularly to family members, within a day or two of the show that helps at all. They tend to be surprised and hurt, and we understand that and we’re sorry for it.”
She is buried at the Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles.