Ryan O'Neal recalls love story with Farrah
Posted April 29, 2012
MALIBU - The scene of subdued anguish is straight out of an old-time Hollywood movie. Ryan O'Neal stares into the crashing surf from the deck of his Malibu, Calif., home, thinking about his lost love, Farrah Fawcett.
"She used to come out here every night and take a picture at sunset," O'Neal says in a tone barely audible above the waves. "We have years' worth of beautiful sunsets. They are some of our most peaceful times."
The 18 complicated and often turbulent years the two spent together were not always the stuff of peaceful sunsets before their relationship crashed and burned in 1997. But the love between the 1980s glamour couple — which captured the attention of a Farrah-mad nation and the tabloids alike — has stood the test of time.
It was great enough for O'Neal, 71, to be back in Fawcett's life when she battled and succumbed to cancer at age 62 in 2009. And strong enough for O'Neal, now facing prostate cancer himself, to pay tribute to their love affair in a new book, Both of Us: My Life With Farrah (Crown Archetype, $26).
"This has turned out to be a real Love Story," says O'Neal, who starred in the 1970 tear-jerker about a relationship doomed by cancer. "Love stories are good stories. And we had one."
Alana Stewart, the ex-wife of rocker Rod Stewart who was friends with the couple from the early days of the relationship all the way through Fawcett's death, says: "It wasn't idyllic. It was very volatile. They were dynamic, strong-willed people who often clashed. But they had this deep connection and a deep love."
O'Neal has worn many hats in a long, colorful Hollywood career that has taken him from Academy Award-nominated actor (Love Story) to tabloid lightning rod surrounding his tempestuous relationships with Fawcett and three of his children who have struggled with drugs and alcohol — daughter Tatum, 48, son Griffin, 47 (both with first wife Joanna Cook Moore), and son Redmond, 27 (with Fawcett).
His sportscaster son Patrick, 44 (with second wife Leigh Taylor-Young), is the one offspring who has stayed out of the tabloids. O'Neal even starred in a 2011 reality show, Ryan & Tatum: The O'Neals, on Oprah Winfrey's OWN network, about trying to repair his relationship with his daughter.
But he had never considered adding author to the list, despite being a prolific journal writer, until the concept of delving into his life with Fawcett intrigued him. "Maybe this was my way of trying to bring her back," he says. "At least it was a way to stay connected to her."
O'Neal insists that less emotional interests did not play a part, even if he confirms receiving a six-figure advance for the book. "I didn't do it for money or fame," he says. "I did it for her."
'Easy to start again'
Both of Us covers their early days in 1979. O'Neal was invited to the home of actor and friend Lee Majors, then married to Fawcett, who was at the height of her fame after her superstar-making turn on ABC's Charlie's Angels— and that sexy 1976 red bathing suit poster.
"I first saw her in their driveway, and she lit up the day," O'Neal says. "The sun came out. But I didn't see her as someone for me. She was married to a friend."
That didn't last long: Fawcett left Majors to be with O'Neal, and the new couple instantly became the prototype for Brangelina, with photographers even dressing as room service staffers to snap pictures.
Fawcett and O'Neal never married. ("I wish we had, but we were rebels," he says.) They had Redmond in 1985, which O'Neal lists as a high point. "That brought a new level of the relationship, a new excitement. She was just blown away by this little redhead."
There were glamorous ups and increasingly more emotional downs, and in 1997, Fawcett walked in on him with a younger woman with whom he was having an affair. He says it was his only infidelity.
"Never before," he vows, "though she was suspicious of me since I had a reputation."
O'Neal says the relationship with Fawcett was coming apart for reasons from her menopause ("I'm not a doctor, but I know for a woman that's a part of their life when they have a struggle") to his own difficult demeanor ("I'm hard to live with").
"But she seemed to be mad at me all the time," he says, adding that the affair came as a result. "And then I met someone who wasn't mad at me all the time. It's as simple as that.
"I thought it had played out," he says of his relationship with Fawcett. "But Farrah was always there in my mind. It was always comfortable to go back, very easy to start again."
Close until the end
The couple had reunited about a year before Fawcett received her diagnosis of anal cancer in 2006. Her battle was chronicled in a controversial, and Emmy-nominated, NBC documentary, Farrah's Story, with O'Neal very much in the frame. "She wanted him there in the last years of her life," Stewart says.
Says O'Neal: "I stayed as close to her as I could. And she needed me."
During her final moments in a Los Angeles hospital bed in June 2009, O'Neal says, he was filled with grief and remorse.
"I asked her to forgive me," he says. "Forgive me for everything. I still ask her that. I used to more. But I feel silly talking to a wall."
In the Malibu house where he has lived for 40 years, Fawcett's presence is everywhere, from the marble bust of a woman she sculpted to the kitchen farmhouse table where O'Neal sits down to talk. ("Even this was a gift from her," he announces.) The walls are filled with pictures of Fawcett, especially in the photograph-covered bedroom. There is even the famous Andy Warhol portrait of Farrah hanging above his bed.
"I sleep below her every night," he says proudly. "You can imagine a woman coming in here and fleeing after looking at all of these pictures of Farrah."
O'Neal says he has never moved on to a new love; he says it's how Fawcett would want it.
"No, no, no," he says when asked whether she would want him to move on. He looks up at the sky. "We were tempestuous. And I don't want her up there with anyone. There are a lot of great people up there. Da Vinci's up there."
Fawcett's influence on his life is clear. He lists their bond as the main factor for the disintegration of his relationship with Tatum, who won an Oscar at age 10 for the movie they made together, 1973's Paper Moon.
It's a dysfunction that continues today.
"It ended my relationship with Tatum," he says. "Tatum had known me with other women. But this (with Farrah) was forever."
O'Neal is critical of his daughter in the book, just as she made allegations including physical abuse against O'Neal in her 2004 memoir, A Paper Life. But O'Neal insists Tatum texted her support of Both of Us.
"It was a four-word text saying it was a good book," he says. "I texted her back, 'So I don't have to call the attorneys?'
"I'm rough on her," he says of the way he describes Tatum. "Well, it happened. And she was rougher on me in her book. Not that I read it."
Tatum O'Neal says of her father's book: "It's his story. He's allowed to tell it. I respect my dad. It doesn't mean I agree with everything in the book."
She does appreciate the love story. "They did love each other," she says. "I have never been in love like that."
Cancer doesn't stop him
Fawcett and O'Neal's son, Redmond, is spending time in his 13th treatment center after a probation violation in 2011 in which a police officer stopped him for a traffic violation and discovered heroin in his car.
"Redmond is freed up in October, and we're going to take a road trip and talk about his mom," O'Neal says.
That's assuming that O'Neal's health allows it. The actor has kept leukemia in check since he was diagnosed 11 years ago, but he announced earlier this month that he had been diagnosed with stage 2 prostate cancer. And he has had skin cancer removed from his nose.
"So I have three separate cancers working on me," O'Neal says. "I'm inundated."
But "I'm not defeated," he says. "The cancer hasn't affected me. It hasn't taken me down. I feel fine."
O'Neal will have treatment for the prostate cancer next month after promoting his book, yet he does not feel that Fawcett is guiding him.
"I don't have a philosophy that way. I'm not religious. I'm a fallen Catholic," he says.
"Besides," O'Neal adds, comically looking to heaven, "maybe she's calling for me. It's lonely at the top."
But in the emotional swirl of Fawcett and O'Neal, anything is possible. He acknowledges a change when filming a scene for the Fox series Bones, on which he has a recurring role.
"We were filming this scene in a wonderful church in Hollywood," he says. "So I took some time to do some praying, which I hadn't done in quite a while.
"I prayed only to her. No middleman. I'm still asking for her forgiveness. But she is why I don't fear passing. I know she's waiting for me."
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