Ryan O’Neal and Farrah Fawcett had a love story for the ages. But it wasn’t exactly a fairytale, either.
Their love endured for the better part of three decades, until the Charlie’s Angels star tragically died on June 25, 2009 from cancer. She was 62. On Dec. 8, the Love Story star died “peacefully … with his loving team by his side supporting him and loving him.” He was 82.
Farrah and Ryan never wed, though he popped the question twice — the first time was in the early 1980s before their son, Redmond was born on Jan. 30, 1985. And then again just before Farrah died. He was by her side the entire time at the hospital, sleeping in a cod next to her bed.
How they met (Farrah’s husband, Hollywood star Lee Majors, introduced them), the affair they commenced (it happened very quickly) and the devotion they had to each other was both alluring and heart-rending. While there were plenty of ups (she called him the love of her life) there were also plenty of downs (they first split in 1997 when she caught him in bed with another actress).
Keep reading as ET takes a look back at Farrah and Ryan’s three-decade relationship.
Farrah and Ryan Met in 1979
Ryan was in Toronto hanging out in his hotel room when Farrah’s husband, The Six Million Dollar Man star Lee Majors, phoned him and invited him to come out for a drink. It was Ryan’s then 15-year-old daughter, Tatum, who ran into Lee and told him, “You know, I’m Ryan’s daughter.”
He responded, “Oh yeah, where is he?”
This fascinating tale is depicted in Ryan’s tell-all book, Both of Us: My Life with Farrah (published in 2012), in which Ryan goes on to explain that, after having more than a few drinks, the two decided to fly back to Los Angeles on the same flight. After landing, the limo then dropped them off at Ryan’s home in the Hollywood Hills, but Lee lives father up the hill, so they both got in Ryan’s car and he gave his friend a lift.
As Ryan recalled in his book, “There’s this beautiful girl waiting for [Lee]. She’s delightful, full of childlike warmth … they kiss.”
Ryan joined Lee for a game of racquetball and then accepted an invite to stay for dinner. At that point — meeting her for the first time, mind you — Ryan was already infatuated with Farrah. In fact, according to his book, Ryan said he toured their expansive home, including Lee’s walk-in closet where he stored some 75 pair of boots. But all Ryan could think of was, “Where does Farrah keep her stuff?“
It was apparent Farrah also was fascinated by Ryan. So much so that the next day — when Ryan’s supposed to fly to Las Vegas to watch his friend fight Sugar Ray Leonard — it’s Farrah who asked him, “Well, isn’t that fight on TV?”
Ryan said it was, and she proceeded to invite him over to watch it with them. When she greeted him at the door the day of the boxing event, it’s “with this winsome smile.” She then coyly asked him, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t go?”
Not long after, Lee’s in Canada for work when he phoned Ryan and implored him to call Farah to make sure she’s OK. In fact, Lee went as far as to suggest to Ryan that he take Farrah out for dinner one night. About a week later, he invites her to a concert in Santa Monica. They also have dinner that night.
But that’s not all.
According to Both of Us, Ryan also invited her to a star-studded party with a guest list that includes Gregory Peck and Kirk Douglas. They ended up talking and kissing that night until after 3 a.m., this according to Ryan’s journal entry dated Oct. 9, 1979. Two days later, they attended the concert in Santa Monica. That night, Ryan says they made love for the first time.
Lee’s not happy that Ryan actually went through with inviting Farrah out while he was in Canada, much less that he took her to a concert. But by then the marriage was already on shaky ground. So much so, Ryan said in his book that Farrah hinted “we should marry” if she divorces Lee.
Ryan was twice divorced. He married actress Joanna Moore in 1963, and they were married for four years. They shared two children, first welcoming daughter, Tatum, in 1963, and then son, Griffin, the following year.
Joanna was also a Hollywood star. She was best known for her work in Monster on the Campus and Walk on the Wild Side, among other projects. But the pair got divorced in 1967.
That same year, Ryan married actress Leigh Taylor-Young. They welcomed one son, Patrick, in 1967, but the couple would go on to divorce in 1974. Ryan would never wed again. He and Farrah welcomed their only child, son Redmond, in 1985.
The inevitable occurred with Farrah and Lee — they got divorced on Feb. 16, 1982. When they met in 1968, Lee was a major Hollywood star and Farrah was an unknown model who shortly after found stardom after landing the iconic Charlie’s Angels role. Her life completely changed, and so did the way she viewed her role as a wife.
“When Lee married me, he married a very compliant person who just wanted to cook his meals, clean his house and be dependent,” she told People in 1979.
At 82, Majors told People in 2019 that their lives as Hollywood stars were so busy in the early part of their marriage that it was nearly impossible to see each other.
“There was a year or so when I think I saw her two weeks in one year,” he told the magazine at the time. “It’s very difficult with careers like that. This business is tough. Working 14 hours a day, both of you, and the days went by.”
The dissolution of marriage was not amicable, as the divorce proceedings dragged on for some 30 months. Things reached a boiling point when she wanted their Beverly Hills mansion and he reportedly wanted a share of her endorsement earnings. In his book, Ryan states that Farrah got to keep the house, but only after she bought Lee out of it.
But long before their separation and subsequent divorce, Farrah and Lee’s marriage was anything but on solid foundation.
“They were saying the marriage was over, and I was saying they were terrific together,” Ryan recalled to Vanity Fair in a 1991 profile. “She said, ‘Lee, remember when we were first married, and we were in Nevada, and you’d leave me in some dinky cabin and go to a bar? You’d tell me to get undressed and get in bed and wait for you, but you never came back.’ His answer was ‘Same man now as I was then.'”
Lee would go on to marry Playboy Playmate Karen Velez in 1988. They welcomed three children together before divorcing in 1994.
Farrah and Ryan’s relationship
There was a lot love between them but there was also a lot of drama. On the one hand, Farrah and Ryan always played to the cameras by showing plenty of PDA on the red carpets. And he was very protective of her.
“When Ryan and I were just starting out and we were in the height of passion, he had convinced me not to wear makeup or worry about my hair — he said I was beautiful without all that,” she once told Vanity Fair. “And we ran into Jay Bernstein, my former manager. Ryan said, ‘How does she look?’ Jay said, ‘To tell you the truth, a little tired.’ I thought Ryan would jump over the table and strangle him.”
On the other hand, they were brutally honest about the peaks and valleys within their relationship.
“We fight,” she reportedly once said. “But my opinion is valid and I stand behind it now.”
Vanity Fair summed it up this way in a 2009 profile of the couple:
The saga of Fawcett and O’Neal is a quintessential Hollywood story about two extraordinarily beautiful people whose careers proved disappointing and whose lives became deeply troubled. Some of Fawcett’s difficulties surely did stem from stardom and the pressures it inflicts, but others seemed more like American life as lived by millions of ordinary people, a story of golden youth devolving into such all-too-human problems as infidelity and divorce, drug addiction and family pathology.”
There was also a lot of family drama. Ryan had just been out with Farrah to celebrate her 60th birthday in 2007 when they got back to his Malibu home. Ryan’s son, Griffin, was also at the house and somehow a fight ensued. According to The Associated Press, Griffin grabbed a fireplace poker and started swinging it and grazed Ryan four or five times.
Ryan recalled that he got nervous and raced to his room to grab his gun. Ryan said his son also came up the stairs with the poker.
“So I just fired it into the banister, and that scared him and he fled,” Ryan recalled.
Ryan insisted that he fired in self-defense.
Farrah and Ryan argued. A lot. And loudly. In fact, Ryan recalled in his book a harrowing tale — another one of their big arguments — involving their then-6-year-old son, Redmond.
“Suddenly, our six-year-old son is standing in the doorway in his Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas, staring at us,” Ryan said in his book. “He’s holding a butcher’s knife … he points the tip of the blade at his chest. ‘I’m going to stab myself if you don’t stop it!’ That ended the argument.”
The relationship — born from an affair — also suffered from infidelity. That was the case in 1997 when Farrah walked in on Ryan and actress Leslie Ann Stefanson in bed. Ryan admitted as much in 2013, testifying in court that Farrah was “hurt” — not angry — by the affair.
Farrah and Ryan split shortly after, and they announced they would raise their son jointly. But they would reunite in 2001, after Ryan was diagnosed with leukemia. She looked after him and soon he would go into remission.
Ryan played the role of caretaker in 2006, when Farrah was diagnosed with anal cancer.
Just before she died, Ryan shared in his book that he proposed to Farrah, and she accepted.
“The priest at St. John’s Hospital arrives to marry us but administers the last rites instead,” he wrote in his book.
Farrah died the next day after doctors removed her from life support. Ryan was by her side the entire time, sleeping in a cod at the hospital. But that wasn’t the only time he proposed to her. He had done so in the early 1980s. According to Ryan’s book, they were driving from Tahoe to Reno to the church. His engagement ring? The ring from his Cuban cigar.
“I removed the gold band, slipped it onto her ring finger, and proposed,” he wrote. “She accepted, saying, ‘So, you think you can make an honest woman of me, do you?'”
And off they were to Reno, but the car they were driving in suffered a flat tire.
“I flagged down a car whose driver offered to take us on to Reno or back to Tahoe,” Ryan wrote in his book. “He would have driven us to Cincinnati if I’d asked, but instead we chose the lake. We thought it was funny, even joked with each other that it had to be ‘a sign.'”
Through it all, Farrah loved Ryan until the very end. He wrote in his book that he never got over her death, but that writing Both of Us proved cathartic.
Following her death, Farrah’s Charlie’s Angels co-star and longtime friend Jaclyn Smith shared with People why they were the golden couple.
“Ryan was the love of her life, and she, his,” Jaclyn said. “Whether they had a fight or were back together, it was always Ryan. The father of your child. Connected forever.”
Farrah’s close friend, Sylvia Dorsey, added, “Ryan was the love of her life. I don’t think she was happy without him. They fought and loved with passion. IT was never boring. They were electric together.”