Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal: 30 years of love
Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal were the hot celebrity couple of their time. With their striking good looks and high-profile work, they were basically the Brangelina of the ‘80s. Although Farrah and Ryan never married, the two had a love that lasted through the decades in spite of tabloid scandal after tabloid scandal.
Their love endured through problems with substance abuse, infidelity, and constant media scrutiny. Sadly, the romance ended with Farrah Fawcett’s tragic death from cancer in 2009. Ten years later, we’re looking back at this beautiful Hollywood couple whose problems were all too relatable for many of the rest of us.
1. Fun facts about Farrah Fawcett
She might be best known for her role in Charlie’s Angels, or for a certain photo in a red bathing suit, but there was more to Farrah Fawcett than meets the eye. She was born in Texas in 1947, and she actually graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a degree in microbiology. Though she might have looked the part, she was certainly not a dumb blonde!
However, after college, she decided to give acting a try, and she had a natural talent. Some of her early gigs included a commercial for Ultra Brite toothpaste and a supporting role in the sci-fi flick Logan’s Run.
NEXT: Let’s get to know the love of Farrah’s life.
2. Fun facts about Ryan O’Neal
Before he met Farrah, Ryan O’Neal was best known for his boyish charm and rugged good looks. Though he started his career as a stuntman and stand-in, he quickly rose to fame. He shone as the brokenhearted heartthrob in the 1970s doomed romance, Love Story. He also starred in Paper Moon opposite his daughter Tatum O’Neal.
Ryan O’Neal was actually married twice before meeting Farrah Fawcett, and he has three children from his previous marriages: his daughter Tatum and his sons Patrick and Griffin. He was known as a bit of a playboy and he had been seen dating some of the most glamorous and beautiful women of his time, including Bianca Jagger, Diana Ross, Melanie Griffith, and Joan Collins.
NEXT: Ryan wasn’t Farrah’s first love either. She was actually married when they first met.
3. Farrah’s first marriage
Farrah was married before she fell for Ryan, and her husband was no slouch in Hollywood. The star married Lee Majors in 1973. Majors, known for The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, was one of TV’s leading action stars. The pair met when Majors’ publicist set him up on a coffee date with the young starlet.
Majors still remembers Farrah fondly, telling People that the biggest struggle in their relationship was finding time to be together. He says that in the last year of their marriage, due to filming schedules, they were only together for two weeks out of the year.
NEXT: All that time alone left Farrah feeling blue until she met someone really special.
4. Boy meets girl
Lee Majors actually unwittingly introduced his wife to the man who would steal her away. Majors and O’Neal had sparked up a friendship in the ’60s, and they got together again in 1979. Majors was scheduled to shoot a movie in Toronto, where O’Neal’s daughter Tatum lived. At the same time, O’Neal would be working in Los Angeles, near Farrah.
The men made a deal to look in on each other’s women and keep them company. Majors had worried that Farrah might be feeling lonesome while he was away, but thanks to O’Neal, she wasn’t lonely for long. The two quickly began an affair that would last for three decades.
NEXT: Married to one man but in love with another, Farrah had to make a choice.
5. Farrah leaves her husband
By 1980, Farrah and Lee Majors were separated but still technically sharing the Bel Air mansion where they had spent seven years of their lives together. Majors bitterly quipped in People, “I used to be the only one who could shower with Farrah; now anyone can if they buy her shampoo.”
However, despite his angry barbs, Majors admitted that he was quite devastated to lose the blonde beauty. “I may joke and tease around a lot, but the bottom line is I’m lonely and miserable without her,” he confessed. Though Farrah tried to keep her new relationship a secret, the tabloids hounded her and captured photos of her on a date with her new beau.
NEXT: Lee Majors said goodbye to his wife, but could he ever forgive his friend?
6. Lee Majors lost a friend and a wife
Though Majors told People that he and Farrah continued to talk on the phone every day, the ice between him and former friend Ryan O’Neal never melted. “They got all serious and I couldn’t believe it,” Majors recalled. That’s gotta be tough.
Majors went on to say, “Ryan really made a play for her. I called him and asked him to lay off a bit. ‘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.” Meanwhile, Ryan and Farrah’s romance was blossoming, and the new pair was the talk of the town. If Farrah and Lee Majors had been considered a power couple, Farrah and Ryan were a superpower couple.
NEXT: Despite the honeymoon-like bliss, Ryan struggled with getting used to life with Farrah.
7. Hot Hollywood couple
As one of the hottest couples in Hollywood, Farrah and Ryan attracted attention everywhere they went. Ryan struggled to get used to it at first. He told Vanity Fair, “When I met her, she had a security guard,” he recalls. “I said, ‘What’s that for?’ She said, ‘You’ll see.’ I said, ‘If you’re going to be with me, I’ll be your security guard.’”
However, he soon realized the reality of being with Farrah. He went on to say, “But if we were spotted, it was like Muhammad Ali. After a week I said, ‘Remember that security guard? Can we get him back?’”
NEXT: Farrah made a controversial choice that seemed to spell doom for her career.
8. Farrah quits ‘Charlie’s Angels’
As the big breakout star of TV’s Charlie’s Angels, Farrah and her iconic feathered ’do were everywhere. However, Farrah decided to quit the show after just one year to pursue more challenging dramatic roles, a move that hampered her career for several years to come.
She never thought much of the show that launched her to stardom. She joked in Vanity Fair, “When the show got to be Number Three, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be Number One, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.” Though she left the show, she was still under contract at her studio, and nobody wanted to hire her for fear of a lawsuit.
NEXT: Farrah wasn’t the only one whose career was floundering.
9. Ryan’s fading career
Though Farrah and Ryan were constantly in tabloids, they were seen less and less on screens. While Ryan established himself as a Hollywood hunk with Love Story, Paper Moon, and What’s Up, Doc?, his career began to decline in the late ’70s for reasons that he never really understood.
Ryan largely blamed his failures on the Stanley Kubrick movie Barry Lyndon. He starred in that movie in 1975, but after it flopped at the box office, his career was never the same. Though he had been known as a hard partier before, when the parts stopped coming, Ryan’s family members say he turned to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain.
NEXT: While Ryan’s career suffered, Farrah had an unexpected upswing.
10. Farrah’s Emmy nomination
Farrah spent a few years honing her craft and working in theater. During this time she also appeared in the cult classic movie The Cannonball Run, but finally, in 1984, she got some recognition for her dramatic acting chops. Farrah was nominated for her first Emmy Award for her portrayal of an abused woman in the TV movie The Burning Bed.
Her performance was critically renowned and spurred national conversation about domestic violence. The New York Times said, “Miss Fawcett gives an admirably strong performance, progressing from spirited teenager to a trembling shell of a woman with harrowing conviction.”
NEXT: After this stunning achievement, Farrah and Ryan hit another big milestone.
11. Baby Redmond O’Neal was born
On January 30, 1985, Farrah gave birth to her first and only child, her son Redmond O’Neal. Despite years of rumors, she had no plans to wed his father Ryan. The two lived together and raised Redmond in Los Angeles.
Despite being born into enormous privilege as the son of two wealthy, famous, beautiful people, Redmond began battling with addiction in his early teens. By 2009, Ryan told Vanity Fair that his son had been to rehab 13 times. Redmond followed somewhat in his parents’ footsteps, working as a voice actor in the series Johnny Bravo and in the movie The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars.
NEXT: Redmond wasn’t the only member of the family battling with drug addiction.
12. Ryan’s substance abuse
Ryan’s older son Griffin has been very open about his father’s substance issues, as well as his own. Griffin told People, “My whole family has been absolutely destroyed to smithereens from drug addiction and alcoholism.” He claims that his drug abuse began when he was just 9 years old.
Griffin has also accused his father Ryan of making him do cocaine when he was just 11. He said, “I had to self medicate my entire life because there was pain everywhere. There were drugs everywhere in my family all day, every day.” Griffin has been estranged from his father Ryan since an incident in 2007 when Ryan allegedly fired a gun at him.
NEXT: If drug abuse wouldn’t scare Farrah away, she couldn’t take what he did next.
13. Ryan meets another woman
By the mid-’90s, the relationship between Ryan and Farrah had grown strained. However, he dealt with the changes in their lives by meeting and carrying on an affair with a much younger woman. He told Vanity Fair, “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.”
In his 60s, Ryan began an affair with Leslie Stefanson, an actress still in her 20s. As he tells it, “I just don’t think she (Farrah) liked me very much. So I excused myself, and I was lucky enough to meet this young girl. She was more a daughter to me than a lover, and my own daughter had flown the coop, so here was this replacement.”
NEXT: Though there had been rumors of his infidelity for years, Farrah didn’t believe it until she caught him in the act.
14. Ryan caught cheating
In 1997, Farrah finally walked in on Ryan and Leslie together, catching them in the act. Ryan recalls, “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.” Ryan remains impressed by Farrah’s composure and her ability to navigate that difficult time with grace despite her anger and pain.
With that, Farrah and Ryan began their first and only separation during their three-decade-long affair. Though the two continued to stay in close touch with each other, they each saw other people during this time.
NEXT: Looking good would be Farrah’s best revenge.
15. Farrah’s ‘Playboy’ spread
Who doesn’t love the chance to show their ex what they’re missing out on? Thanks to her fame and status as a sex symbol, Farrah had access to one of the largest platforms on Earth to rub Ryan’s nose in his mistake. After refusing to appear in Playboy for over 20 years, Farrah Fawcett bared all for the magazine at the age of 50.
Though her issue was one of the best-selling Playboys of the decade, many fans worried about Farrah after the magazine shared a video she had shot with them called, “Farrah Fawcett: All of Me.” The video was very vulnerable, and some even found it embarrassing. However, to the star, it was just a case of Farrah being unafraid to show her most authentic face to the world.
NEXT: A public appearance drew even more criticism Farrah’s way.
16. The notorious ‘Letterman’ interview
To promote her Playboy appearance, Farrah did an interview with David Letterman that would become infamous. In the interview, she appeared to be dazed and on drugs. Rumors began swirling that she was succumbing to substance abuse like her longtime love and her son.
However, Ryan denies that she ever did drugs. He said, “She didn’t need substances. I couldn’t even get her to smoke a joint. I was the pothead; she’s one of those people who flossed every night and took care of herself. When I saw her on Letterman, I thought she was acting. She was selling Playboy magazine, and she thought she was being Playmate-ish.”
NEXT: Though Farrah may have been clean and sober, her son Redmond was struggling.
17. Redmond’s trips to rehab
Being the son of A-list celebrities may have given Redmond O’Neal certain advantages in his life, but unfortunately, it couldn’t save him from addiction and mental health problems. In an interview with People, Redmond blamed his trouble with substance abuse on the pressure of growing up as the child of Hollywood’s “it” couple.
“The pressure that came with that set off a time-bomb in my head. I never asked for any of this, I never wanted any attention,” he said. Through the years, the troubled young man was constantly in and out of rehab, admitted to psych wards, and was arrested on drug charges a number of times.
NEXT: After a separation of a few years, a health scare finally brought Ryan and Farrah back together.
18. The couple reunites
In the late ’90s, Ryan was diagnosed with leukemia, just like his love interest in his biggest film, Love Story. His illness actually ended up bringing the love of his life back to him. He told Vanity Fair in 2009, “Leslie was gone, and Farrah came to me.”
He continued, “We started over again, and this time we built it in a way that had foundation and trust. Farrah had her home here, and I had my home at the beach, and she would only come on the weekends. Our son was happy. And Farrah was mature. She didn’t get mad at me so easily. I had missed her.” Now older, the couple rekindled their great romance.
NEXT: The couple got a second chance at love, but it wouldn’t last for long.
19. Ryan beats cancer
Luckily for the two lovers, Ryan O’Neal was able to get his leukemia into remission and begin living a healthy life again. With Ryan back on his feet, the couple began getting back into the normal rhythm of life. The two of them continued to live separately but spent much of their days together. They were very much in love again and enjoying their newfound relationship.
Unfortunately for the lovebirds, more dark days were just around the corner. After all that they had been through, life had one more cruel curveball to throw their way. Though things temporarily got better, they were about to get much, much worse.
NEXT: With Ryan’s health on the upswing, Farrah got some bad news about her own.
20. Farrah gets diagnosed
In September 2006, Farrah got a diagnosis that completely changed her life. The star was diagnosed with anal cancer, and soon every detail of her health problems was splashed across the pages of supermarket tabloids. With Ryan O’Neal by her side, she fought her illness and fought back against a staff member at UCLA Medical Center who was caught sharing details from her chart with the press.
Farrah told The Los Angeles Times, “It’s much easier to go through something and deal with it without being under a microscope. It was stressful. I was terrified of getting the chemo. It’s not pleasant. And the radiation is not pleasant.” In 2007, her cancer went into remission, but it didn’t last.
NEXT: Farrah’s health took another turn for the worse.
21. Her health declines
After going through an aggressive course of treatments, including chemo and radiation, Farrah was declared cancer-free. However, just a few months later, another cancerous polyp was found during a routine checkup. According to Verywell Health, only about 15% of patients who beat anal cancer will see a recurrence, so this return of the disease was disheartening and unexpected for Farrah.
Farrah declined surgery and instead traveled to Germany for a treatment that combined chemotherapy with cutting-edge treatments such as laser ablation, which uses a laser to heat the tumor, killing cancerous cells. Farrah remained in Germany until April 2009, when she returned home to Los Angeles.
NEXT: Despite her illness, Farrah kept her hope alive and looked for a way to lift others up too.
22. Farrah’s tell-all documentary
During her treatment, Farrah began filming everything she went through as a cancer patient. Her footage was eventually edited into the 2009 documentary Farrah’s Story. Her documentary has been hailed as both fearlessly vulnerable and criticized as uncomfortably raw. Whatever the consequences, Farrah was determined to share her ordeal with the world.
As her friend Alana Stewart told Vanity Fair, “If she was going to have cancer, she was going to use it to do good. At one point she said, ‘I’m glad I got cancer because now I know I can make a difference in the world.’”
NEXT: Watching Farrah get sicker and sicker, Ryan began to wonder if he should have proposed.
23. Marriage regrets
Though the two never married, toward the end of Farrah’s life Ryan began to doubt if their decision not to tie the knot had been correct. Asked about marriage in 2009, Ryan told Vanity Fair, “We never really considered it. We didn’t want to do what other people wanted us to do. We were rebels.”
He continued, “But now I would do it in a second — if I can get her to wake up long enough. Our son would love it.” As time began to run out for the lovers, regrets and thoughts of marriage came up more and more for Ryan.
NEXT: With Farrah on her deathbed, tabloid gossip continued to swirl around her.
24. Farrah never stopped fighting
Though Farrah was on the brink of death, tabloids continued to print stories about her sickness and her relationship with Ryan. Responding to one rumor that she wanted to die to escape the torment of her illness, Farrah told The Los Angeles Times, “God, I would never say something like that.”
She continued, “To think that people who did look up to me and felt positive because I was going through it too and yet I was strong … it just negated all that.” Even at her worst, Farrah kept fighting and kept up hope that she might recover and live out the rest of her life with her love Ryan and their son Redmond.
NEXT: Throughout her sickness, Ryan’s love for Farrah grew stronger and stronger.
25. Love grows strong
Ryan is known to have spent many nights sleeping on a cot beside Farrah in her hospital room. While she was ill, he remained devoted to her and often expressed his growing love for the girl he had met back in 1979.
He told Vanity Fair, “She’s never been more lovable. There’s a sweetness — she’s skin and bones, but she’s got this beautiful look. I don’t know how long I’m going to get it, but I know why I’ve been around for 30 years for this person. I’m selfish. I think, What will happen to me? I’m going to do everything I can to prolong her life. And I won’t leave her side. The idea that she would suddenly look around and feel alone — that will not happen.”
NEXT: Though Farrah and Ryan were inseparable, their son Redmond was not so lucky.
26. Redmond in jail
In 2008, Redmond was arrested on drug charges, and he spent much of his mother’s illness in jail. He was allowed to visit her in the hospital from jail only once before she passed away. Ryan was careful to avoid telling her that Redmond was incarcerated because he didn’t want to upset Farrah in her final days.
Ryan felt terrible for his son, knowing that he wouldn’t get to say a proper goodbye to his beloved mother. He told Vanity Fair, “He knows she’s going to die. He’s going to be in there, and some guard’s going to tell him.”
NEXT: Even when things were at their worst, Farrah and Ryan hoped their love would carry them through.
27. A deathbed proposal
After so many years together, Ryan finally did ask Farrah to marry him. Farrah’s friend Alana Stewart told People, “I think they would’ve married if she had made it because he asked her to marry him in the hospital and she said yes.”
She continued, “But she took a turn for the worse. This was just a few weeks before the end, so perhaps it wasn’t realistic. The two of them had a deep bond and deep love. No matter what they went through, the ups and downs, he was the one she wanted by her side.” Sadly, their wedding day would never come.
NEXT: Farrah’s final days drew near, and her friends will never forget her heartbreaking last words.
28. Farrah’s last words
Though Ryan tried to hide their son’s troubles from her, at the end of her life Farrah was very worried about Redmond. Farrah’s friend and former hairdresser Mela Murphy told People, “She was saying his name, ‘Redmond.’ That was the last thing she said.” Sadly, Redmond could not be with his mother on the last day of her life.
Farrah Fawcett passed away from anal cancer on June 25, 2009, at 62 years old at St. John’s Health Center in Los Angeles. She had spent her last day surrounded by friends and with her longtime love Ryan by her side.
NEXT: As news of Farrah’s death spread, fans around the world mourned her loss.
29. The world mourns Farrah Fawcett
Word of Farrah’s death spread fast, and her friends and fans alike grieved for her. Alana Stewart told ABC News, “Farrah was the Golden Girl to everyone so it was such a shock, to the whole world, when she got cancer. It kind of goes to show you that you know, cancer doesn’t play favorites.”
Farrah’s former Charlie’s Angels co-star Jaclyn Smith told People, “She never gave up. She was relentless in her fight.” Farrah’s fight against cancer continues to inspire others to keep fighting too, and her foundation, The Farrah Fawcett Foundation, funds HPV research and gives money to patients in need.
NEXT: 10 years after her death, Ryan continues to love and miss Farrah Fawcett.
30. Ryan’s love for Farrah goes on
10 years after her death, Ryan O’Neal continues to love Farrah. He told People, “There was never a day that I did not love her.” He has written a memoir called Both of Us: My Life with Farrah, and he appeared on the ABC News documentary This Is Farrah Fawcett.
When she died, O’Neal told People, “She’s now with her mother and sister and her God. I loved her with all my heart. I will miss her so very, very much. She was in and out of consciousness. I talked to her all through the night. I told her how very much I loved her. She’s in a better place now.”