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Farrah Fawcett, 1970s pop icon, dies at 62

June 25, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Farrah Fawcett, the "Charlie's Angels" star whose feathered blond hair and dazzling smile made her one of the biggest sex symbols of the 1970s, died Thursday after battling cancer. She was 62.

The pop icon, who in the 1980s set aside the fantasy girl image to tackle serious roles, died shortly before 9:30 a.m. in a Santa Monica hospital, spokesman Paul Bloch said.

Ryan O'Neal, the longtime companion who had reunited with Fawcett as she fought anal cancer, was at her side, along with close friend Alana Stewart, Bloch said.

"After a long and brave battle with cancer, our beloved Farrah has passed away," O'Neal said. "Although this is an extremely difficult time for her family and friends, we take comfort in the beautiful times that we shared with Farrah over the years and the knowledge that her life brought joy to so many people around the world."

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Other "Charlie's Angels" stars paid tribute to her.

"Farrah had courage, she had strength, and she had faith. And now she has peace as she rests with the real angels," Jaclyn Smith said.

Said Cheryl Ladd: "She was incredibly brave, and God will be welcoming her with open arms."

Fawcett burst on the scene in 1976 as one-third of the crime-fighting trio in TV's "Charlie's Angels." A poster of her in a clingy swimsuit sold in the millions.

Her full, layered hairstyle became all the rage, with girls and women across America adopting the look.

She left the show after one season but had a flop on the big screen with "Somebody Killed Her Husband." She turned to more serious roles in the 1980s and 1990s, winning praise playing an abused wife in "The Burning Bed."

She had been diagnosed with cancer in 2006. As she underwent treatment, she enlisted the help of O'Neal, who was the father of her now 24-year-old son, Redmond.

This month, O'Neal said he asked Fawcett to marry him and she agreed. They would wed "as soon as she can say yes," he said.

Her struggle with painful treatments and dispiriting setbacks was recorded in the television documentary "Farrah's Story." Fawcett sought cures in Germany as well as the United States, battling the disease with iron determination even as her body weakened.

"Her big message to people is don't give up, no matter what they say to you, keep fighting," her friend Stewart said. NBC estimated the May 15, 2009, broadcast drew nearly 9 million viewers.

In the documentary, Fawcett was seen shaving off most of her trademark locks before chemotherapy could claim them. Toward the end, she's seen huddled in bed, barely responding to a visit from her son.

Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Smith made up the original "Angels," the sexy, police-trained trio of martial arts experts who took their assignments from a rich, mysterious boss named Charlie (John Forsythe, who was never seen on camera but whose distinctive voice was heard on speaker phone.)

The program debuted in September 1976, the height of what some critics derisively referred to as television's "jiggle show" era, and it gave each of the actresses ample opportunity to show off their figures as they disguised themselves in bathing suits and as hookers and strippers to solve crimes.

Backed by a clever publicity campaign, Fawcett -- then billed as Farrah Fawcett-Majors because of her marriage to "The Six Million Dollar Man" star Lee Majors -- quickly became the most popular Angel of all.

Her face helped sell T-shirts, lunch boxes, shampoo, wigs and even a novelty plumbing device called Farrah's faucet. Her flowing blond hair, pearly white smile and trim, shapely body made her a favorite with male viewers in particular.

A poster of her in a dampened red swimsuit sold millions of copies and became a ubiquitous wall decoration in teenagers' rooms.

Thus the public and the show's producer, Spelling-Goldberg, were shocked when she announced after the series' first season that she was leaving television's No. 5-rated series to star in feature films. (Ladd became the new "Angel" on the series.)

But the movies turned out to be a platform where Fawcett was never able to duplicate her TV success. Her first star vehicle, the comedy-mystery "Somebody Killed Her Husband," flopped and Hollywood cynics cracked that it should have been titled "Somebody Killed Her Career."

The actress had also been in line to star in "Foul Play" for Columbia Pictures. But the studio opted for Goldie Hawn instead. "Spelling-Goldberg warned all the studios that that they would be sued for damages if they employed me," Fawcett told The Associated Press in 1979. "The studios wouldn't touch me."

She finally reached an agreement to appear in three episodes of "Charlie's Angels" a season, an experience she called "painful."

She returned to making movies, including the futuristic thriller "Logan's Run," the comedy-thriller "Sunburn" and the strange sci-fi tale "Saturn 3," but none clicked with the public.

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