Farrah Fawcett, the Texas-born actress and sex symbol who shot to fame as one of “Charlie’s Angels” and later earned acclaim in serious roles, including in telepic “The Burning Bed,” died Thursday of cancer at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. She was 62.
Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer in September 2006 and traveled to Germany in 2007 for alternative treatments. An NBC documentary about her cancer battle that aired in May, “Farrah’s Story,” caused controversy over the final editing of the piece.
As she underwent treatment, Fawcett enlisted the help of actor Ryan O’Neal, the father of her son, Redmond, born in 1985. Redmond O’Neal is serving time in jail on a drug-related charge and will be allowed to attend his mother’s funeral, according to the Los Angeles Times.
This month, Ryan O’Neal said he asked Fawcett to marry him and she agreed. They would wed “as soon as she can say yes,” he said, but arrangements apparently couldn’t be made before she died.
The tanned, blonde actress was one of the biggest celebrities of the 1970s, parlaying commercials and guest TV spots into a starring role in the popular detective drama “Charlie’s Angels,” in which she co-starred with Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson. The series premiered in 1976.
Around the same time, a swimsuit poster featuring the beauty’s tousled mane, flirtatious smile and enviable figure — graphically outlined in a tight red swimsuit — sold a still-unrivaled 12 million copies.
“Farrah had courage, she had strength and she had faith. And now she has peace as she rests with the real angels,” Smith said.
The sexy, police-trained trio of martial-arts experts 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).
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.
“She was an angel on Earth and now an angel forever,” Majors said Thursday.
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. (Cheryl Ladd became the new Angel.)
She finally reached an agreement to appear in three episodes of “Charlie’s Angels” a season, an experience she called “painful.”
Fawcett’s film career never matched her TV popularity. Her first movie was the 1978 “Somebody Killed Her Husband,” which Hollywood wags dubbed “Somebody Killed Her Career.”
She sought to downplay her sex-symbol status with meatier roles in the 1980s. In 1984, Fawcett earned the first of three Emmy Award nominations for her role as a battered wife in television movie “The Burning Bed.” She also gained acclaim for more serious fare including the stage and movie versions of “Extremities,” in which she played a rape victim who turns the table on her attacker, and for a predatory role in the miniseries “Small Sacrifices.”
Other notable TV movie roles included “Nazi Hunter: The Beate Larsfeld Story,” “Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story” and “Margaret Bourke-White.”
Born in Corpus Christi, Fawcett attended the U. of Texas at Austin, where she was featured in a photo of “The Ten Most Beautiful Coeds.” After a Hollywood agent saw the photo, she dropped out and moved to Hollywood.
She soon met Majors and began making guest appearances on series including “The Flying Nun,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and Majors’ “The Six Million Dollar Man.” She also appeared with Raquel Welch in the 1970 film “Myra Breckinridge.”
But it was a hair-care campaign for Wella Balsam that ignited interest before the launch of “Charlie’s Angels” and her poster release.
Among her other film credits were roles in “Logan’s Run,” “Saturn 3,” “Sunburn,” “The Cannonball Run,” “The Apostle,” Robert Altman’s “Dr. T and the Women” and her final film, 2004’s “The Cookout.”
Her third Emmy nom was for a recurring guest appearance on law drama “The Guardian” in 2003.
Fawcett was back in the spotlight in 1995, posing nude for Playboy magazine at age 48. The December 1995 issue in which she appeared sold more than 4 million copies, making it the bestselling issue of the 1990s.
In June 1997, Fawcett made headlines for an appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman.” Some had speculated that her rambling, incoherent manner was the result of drug abuse, but she insisted she was just joking around with the latenight host.
After being diagnosed with cancer in 2006, she struggled to maintain her privacy, but a UCLA Medical Center employee pleaded guilty in late 2008 to violating federal medical privacy law for commercial purposes by selling records of Fawcett and other celebrities to the National Enquirer.
Fawcett was married to Majors from 1973 to 1982.
In addition to her son, she is survived by her father.
Donations may be made to cancer research through the Farrah Fawcett Foundation, P.O. Box 6478, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)