Friday, June 26, 2009

Farrah Fawcett


By now, everybody on the planet knows about Fawcett's tragic death from anal cancer. Or you would, if Michael Jackson hadn't died simultaneously. I'll postpone yakking about Jacko until some of the commotion dies down, but Farrah deserves some attention, too. Diagnosed in 2006, her health battles were played out in the tabloids and on television, the same venues which catapulted her to stardom. Her most famous contribution to pop culture occurred several years before her breakout role in TV's Charlie's Angels, when, as a model and occasional actress, she posed for what may be the biggest selling poster in the history of posters:

Every adolescent straight boy in the nation had this poster hanging in his bedroom, and it hung in a great many garages and biker bars as well. Though she tried for the rest of her life, Fawcett never escaped her iconic status as a pinup girl.

In the 60s and early 70s, she appeared in a dozen or more television series, including I Dream of Jeannie, Owen Marshall, Marcus Welby, McCloud and The Partridge Family. In 1976, she appeared in several episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, starring her then-husband Lee Majors (for a while, she took her husband's name and was known as Farrah Fawcett-Majors, which was the kiss of death for the marriage. I wrote a long while ago in these pages about that odd Hollywood phenomenon, where the marriage inevitably ends if the woman adds her husband's name to her own).

Fawcett's role on Charlie's Angels made her a star. The show invented the genre called "jiggle television," with Farrah herself remarking that the show shot to number one in the ratings because none of the three stars wore bras. It was the centerpiece of producer Aaron Spelling's TV empire during the late 70s, and Fawcett's back-swept hair style became a sensation. She deserted the show after only one season, which landed her in court for breach of contract. She was later required to fulfill her contract by appearing as a guest star in subsequent seasons of the show.

Like all actresses known primarily for their looks, Farrah was determined to prove herself a real actress, and did so by appearing off-Broadway in the gruesome rape drama Extremities (she took over the role from Susan Sarandon, and ended up in the film version as well). She won her first Emmy nomination for the TV movie The Burning Bed, the true story of an abused housewife who set her husband on fire.

As she struggled to prove herself a legitimate actress, Fawcett's personal life continued to feed the tabloids. Her long-term relationship with Ryan O'Neal (they were a "Hollywood Golden Couple" back in the day) has endured numerous trials, including the habitual incarceration of their son Redmond, who is currently again behind bars for possession of illegal substances (I wrote about this loser here). There was talk earlier this week from Ryan that the couple would tie the marital knot soon, but that apparently did not happen.

I confess that I never considered Farrah Fawcett an exceptional actress, or even a particularly competent one. But her brave struggle with cancer, which she endured in the public eye, makes me hope she has found some final peace.
Farrah Fawcett died yesterday at the age of 62.

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