The five-time Golden Globe-nominated star passed away on Thursday morning at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California. Her longtime partner Ryan O’Neal and best friend Alana Stewart were by her bedside when she passed away.
Her son Redmond, who is serving a jail sentence for drug charges, was not present.
Born Ferrah Leni Fawcett in Corpus Christi, Texas, the star started out as a model and actress in TV commercials, before getting her big break playing butt-kicking Jill Munroe in the hit TV series Charlie’s Angels.
She quit the show after just one year and attempted to reinvent herself as a serious actress in movies like 1986’s big-screen adaptation of Broadway play Extremities and 1984’s TV film The Burning Bed. That role, as a battered wife, earned her the first of three Emmy Award nods in her career. She was also praised for her work in Small Sacrifices in 1989, garnering her both an Emmy and a Golden Globe nomination.
She was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995.
The actress was also a popular fashion icon and became a pinup in the 1970s and ’80s, with her tousled hairstyle sparking an international trend.
But her career wasn’t without controversy — she was heavily criticized in 1995 when she agreed to pose nude for Playboy magazine at age 48, despite previously refusing to appear naked in any film or publication. The raunchy spread went on to become the best-selling issue of the 1990s, selling over 4 million copies worldwide, and Fawcett graced its pages again in 1997.
Her love life was rarely out of the limelight either. She wed The Six-Million-Dollar Man star Lee Majors in 1973, but the couple separated six years later, finalizing their divorce in 1982. That same year, she embarked on a romance with actor Ryan O’Neal. They went on to have a son, Redmond, in 1985, but split in 1997.
Fawcett also dated producer James Orr, but the relationship turned sour in 1998 when he physically abused her after she turned down his marriage proposal. The star has since reunited with O’Neal and enjoyed an on/off relationship.
Fawcett suffered a health setback in October 2006 when she revealed she had been diagnosed with anal cancer. She underwent treatment, including chemotherapy, and the disease appeared to be in remission by her 60th birthday in February 2007.
A statement released at the time read, “This is an extraordinarily happy day for me and my family. I hope that my news might offer some level of inspiration to others who unfortunately must continue to fight the disease.”
However, the illness returned just three months later in May, when a malignant polyp was found in the area where she had been treated for anal cancer. She decided to travel to Germany to undergo revolutionary new treatment that has yet to be made available in the U.S.
Fawcett, who turned her battle with cancer into the documentary series A Wing and a Prayer, suffered another health setback in April this year when it emerged that the cancer had spread to her liver.
The extent of her illness was discovered during a stay in a Los Angeles hospital in early April as she underwent treatment for complications resulting from an undisclosed medical procedure. The surgery had left her with abdominal bleeding and a hematoma (internal sac of blood), but her doctor Lawrence Pinto insisted the operation was not directly linked to her cancer.
O’Neal recently revealed that he had proposed to Fawcett as she fought for her life and that she had accepted, but the couple never made it down the aisle.
It emerged on Wednesday that Fawcett was nearing the end of her cancer battle and had a Catholic priest read her her last rites as family and friends prepared for the worst.
She is survived by O’Neal and their son Redmond, now 24.
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