The couple had separated for a few years after the actress caught O'Neal cheating on her. But their love brought them back together.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on July 1, 2021. It has since been updated.
“She’s delightful, full of childlike warmth. There is no pretense or cattiness about her whatsoever, she’s vibrant and wholesome, refreshing in this town,” actor Ryan O’Neal wrote in his 2012 book Both of Us: My Life with Farrah, recalling the first time he met actress Farrah Fawcett in 1979. But back then she was married to actor Lee Majors.
The day they met, Majors invited him to his home for dinner. During the time spent with the couple, O'Neal realized that Fawcett's marriage wasn't a happy one. O'Neal recalled the couple saying the marriage was over, "and I was saying they were terrific together," during an interview with Vanity Fair.
Majors then suggested that O'Neal should take Fawcett to dinner since he was flying back to Canada which he refused. But things changed when a week later the awestruck Love Story actor invited Fawcett to a Ry Cooder concert. He knew Fawcett adored the artist.
Even though the Charlie's Angels star accepted the invitation, she spoke to her husband first who replied, "I told him to. But you're not going.” Fawcett went anyway and that's when the jealous husband, Majors, started calling O’Neal’s house and hanging up until finally, he did manage to say, “Stay away from my woman!”
This didn't stop O'Neal who had been married twice before meeting Fawcett, from confessing his love to her. Vanity Fair reported him saying, “It was a situation I'd never been in before—committing to a woman before I'd even talked to her about it."
This is how the love story of O'Neal and Fawcett began. The actress separated from Majors in 1971 and divorced him in 1982. The new couple was madly in love and O'Neal made sure that his woman felt special all the time.
Fawcett told Vanity Fair, “When Ryan and I were just starting out... he had convinced me not to wear makeup or worry about my hair — he said I was beautiful without all that." She then narrated an incident where O'Neal had asked his former manager, Jay Bernstein, how she looked, to which Bernstein replied that she seemed "a little tired." She continued, "I thought Ryan would jump over the table and strangle him.”
But in 1997, their loving relationship faced a huge bumper when Fawcett walked in on O'Neal and The General’s Daughter actress Leslie Ann Stefanson together in bed. Their two-decade relationship came to an end in 1998. But the two reconciled after O'Neal was diagnosed with leukemia in 2001.
The actor told People, “We pulled apart, but we never popped loose." While the beautiful actress was busy taking care of her love, the tables turned when she was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006. This time O'Neal was by her side.
He told People in 2009, “The hair is gone. Her famous hair... How she carried all that hair I’ll never know. She doesn’t have a vanity about it.” An emotional O'Neal said that he didn't know how to cope with the situation as he added, “It’s a love story. I just don’t know how to play this one. I won’t know this world without her. Cancer is an insidious enemy.”
Although marriage had never been on the couple's mind, 2009 saw a change. Back in 1989, the Sun-Sentinel had reported O'Neal saying, “Farrah and I have no plans to marry — nor do we have plans to separate. Don’t fix what ain’t broken.” Even after welcoming their son, Redmond O’Neal into the world in 1985, they didn't tie the knot. Fawcett then added, “Ryan wants another, but I have mixed feelings."
However, after more than 30 years together, it seemed like the couple had very little time together and O'Neal finally proposed to Fawcett in her final days which she accepted, but fate had other plans.
Just weeks after they decided to tie the knot, Fawcett passed away on June 25, 2009. According to The Hollywood Reporter, O'Neal wrote in his book, “The priest at St. John’s Hospital arrives to marry us—but administers the last rites instead."
Fawcett's friend Alana Stewart revealed O'Neal "never left her side, especially those last few months." She continued, "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,” as per People.
O'Neal regrets not being "much kinder, more understanding," and "more mature” while the love of his life was around. He concluded by saying, “There was never a day I didn’t love her.”
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by (L) Frederick M. Brown, (R) Express Newspapers