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Farrah Fawcett, 1970s sex symbol, dies aged 62

 Actress Farrah Fawcett releases a live Monarch butterfly in commemoration of comedian Rodney Dangerfield
Actress Farrah Fawcett releases a live Monarch butterfly in commemoration of comedian Rodney Dangerfield's one year anniversary death at the comedian's home in West Hollywood, California on October 5, 2005. REUTERS/Staff
— image credit: Reuters

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress Farrah Fawcett, the "Charlie's Angels" television star whose big smile and feathered blond mane made her one of the reigning sex symbols of the 1970s, died on Thursday after a long battle with cancer. She was 62.

Fawcett, who first vaulted to stardom by an alluring poster of her in a red swimsuit, was diagnosed with anal cancer in late 2006. It spread to her liver in 2007, proving resistant to numerous medical treatments in Germany and California.

"After a long and brave battle with cancer, our beloved Farrah has passed away," Fawcett's long time companion, actor Ryan O'Neal, said in a statement.

"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."

Fawcett's death in a Los Angeles hospital came just six weeks after the TV broadcast in May of a video diary she made chronicling her battle with cancer and her final months.

Called "Farrah's Story," the documentary was effectively a self-penned obituary by the actress, who was bedridden and had lost her famous hair by the time it was shown.

O'Neal said she had wanted to tell her story on her own terms. Earlier this week, O'Neal said Fawcett had agreed to marry him before her death, but a marriage never took place, a spokesman for the actress and O'Neal said.

Fawcett, born February 2, 1947, in Corpus Christi, Texas, was an art student in college before she began modeling, appearing in shampoo ads.

She started guest-starring on TV in the late 1960s and appeared on the television hit "The Six Million Dollar Man" after marrying the show's star, Lee Majors, in 1974. The couple divorced in the early 1980s.

ANGEL CULTURE

Fawcett's career took off thanks to a poster of her posing flirtatiously with a brilliant smile in a red one-piece bathing suit. It sold millions of copies and led to her being cast in 1976 in "Charlie's Angels," an action show about three beautiful, strong women private detectives.

As the tanned and glamorous Jill Munroe -- part of a trio that included Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson -- Fawcett was the hit show's most talked-about star. She left "Charlie's Angels" after only one season but lawsuit settlements brought her back to guest-star in subsequent years.

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

Fawcett's face appeared on T-shirts, posters and dolls. She came to epitomize the glamorous California lifestyle and inspired a worldwide craze for blown-out, feathered-back hair.

The New York Times once described that hair as "a work of art ... emblematic of women in the first stage of liberation -- strong, confident and joyous."

In late 2008, Fawcett shaved her own hair when it began falling out because of her cancer treatments.

SERIOUS ROLES

While Fawcett's early career was marked by lightweight roles, the actress sought to play down her sex symbol image in more challenging dramas in the '80s.

She earned critical acclaim for her performance as a battered wife in 1984's "The Burning Bed," for which she received the first of three Emmy nominations.

The off-Broadway play and subsequent film "Extremities," in which Fawcett played a woman who takes revenge on a would-be attacker, earned one of her six Golden Globe nominations.

Fawcett posed for Playboy magazine in 1995, the same year she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

She had one son, Redmond, with O'Neal. Redmond O'Neal, now 24, was arrested on several occasions in 2008 and 2009 for heroin and methamphetamine offenses leading to time in jail.

In the last few years, Fawcett appeared frequently on entertainment TV, where she shared details of her battle with cancer.

But she was outraged when news of her deteriorating condition was leaked to tabloid newspapers. A Los Angeles hospital employee was charged in 2008 with stealing and selling Fawcett's medical records, leading to a new California law imposing tighter controls on medical files and stiffer penalties for privacy breaches.

(Additional reporting by Alexandria Sage and Alex Dobuzinskis, Editing by Frances Kerry)

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