Long before the bounce of “Baywatch,” she emerged on the scene as an “Angel” in a Corvette-red swimsuit, a ‘70s-era crush for every boy who posted her iconic pinup on his bedroom wall as a shrine to all that was adolescent bad - and way good.
Farrah Fawcett’s wide expanse of pearly teeth, her mane of lush, blond hair copied by hairdressers from coast to coast and her smokey-sweet voice bearing a hint of her Texas roots embodied an athletic, wholesome sexiness - securing her spot as a Hollywood legend.
Miss Fawcett died Thursday morning of cancer at age 62.
She is remembered as an actress whose quiet determination and sweetness far surpassed her starlet hype, a global celebrity whose full life and courage in the face of death continued to fascinate - more than 30 years after she became a worldwide star on television’s “Charlie’s Angels.”
“Farrah Fawcett represented a new wave of American sexuality. It was clean, it was fresh. It wasn’t shadowy or dirty. It sort of gave you permission to embrace that aspect of your being,” said Nashville, Tenn., publicist and celebrity-branding expert Holly Gleason.
“I think for a lot of women, being sexy ended when you turned 30 or 35, but Farrah Fawcett maintained her mystique, her charge,” Miss Gleason said. “Farrah Fawcett had that big, bright beaming Lone Star charm. She looked like a girl who could ride a horse and take down a bunch of boys in a leg-wrestling match. In terms of iconic, she was perfect … the best of what being young and alive and American is all about. Those standards have never changed.”
Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, Miss Fawcett turned heads at the University of Texas at Austin, where she majored in art and was named one of the campus’ most beautiful students. She caught the eye of Hollywood agents and moved West, with her parents’ approval, to earn bit parts before capturing her first big role as one of a trio of glamorous private investigators with a high-fashion quotient and figures that mattered far more than their sleuthing skills.
A plus for the lusty leisure suit set: The TV beauties in their disco garb all carried guns - and looked like they could use them. But Miss Fawcett proved more than a bimbo with a weapon, stunning many as she left the hit series after just a year to develop her thespian chops and move into roles she saw as more substantive.
While she struggled to gain fame in feature films, she nonetheless proved that she was way more than a hairdo and eye candy. She could act, earning nominations for Golden Globes and Emmys. Acting heavyweight Robert Duvall, who cast her in his 1990s independent film “The Apostle,” said Thursday that “Farrah had an outstanding talent, better than most feature film actresses that I’ve seen.”
“The best thing about Farrah Fawcett is that, although she was every hot-blooded teenage boy’s fantasy, she evolved into a woman who proved she wasn’t just a vapid pinup,” said Lesley Abravanel, a Miami-based celebrity journalist who last chatted with Miss Fawcett during a chance meeting in a ladies room, where the actress joked with the writer about how hard hotels try to be hip.
Miss Fawcett - who had done bit parts early in her career on “That Girl,” “I Dream of Jeannie” and “The Partridge Family” - later took on television and film roles that were gritty, and shined a light on domestic violence and later her own struggles with cancer, unafraid to deglamourize her cover-girl image to enhance a part.
“Most people don’t even realize she was only on ‘Charlie’s Angels’ for a year. She endured stereotyping of the typical Hollywood kind and then emerged as a serious actress with her incredible performance in ‘The Burning Bed,’ which raised awareness not of enhanced cup size, but of battered women,” Ms. Abravanel said.
In 1973, she married Lee Majors, a television star who would go on to play “The Six Million Dollar Man,” but the couple divorced in 1982 and had no children. “She was an angel on Earth and now an angel forever,” Mr. Majors said Thursday.
The undisputed love of her life soon came along when Miss Fawcett met “Love Story” film star Ryan O’Neal, with whom she had one son, Redmond, 24. The couple’s own rocky yet lasting love story - his substance abuse and later their son’s similar dependency issues and family infighting - was followed by tabloids with intense interest.
At 50, she sent tongues wagging yet again by posing seminude for Playboy. The tasteful pictures, she said, freed her emotionally and made her more creative.
Playboy Publisher Hugh Hefner called Miss Fawcett the all-American girl.
“Men fell in love with her and women wanted to look like her,” Mr. Hefner said in a statement Thursday. “She had a magic that never went away. She became a part of the pop culture.”
Miss Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006. The news struck hard; her youthful and tan image as a committed tennis player with an eye for fitness met stark contrast to what would be a fatal diagnosis.
Updates on her medical condition, including trips to Germany for experimental treatment, were chronicled by celebrity tabloids and media.
In true entertainment form, Miss Fawcett captured her struggle with cancer in a prime-time documentary that aired in May called “Farrah’s Story.”
It included one raw scene where she shaved off her iconic locks in advance of chemotherapy treatment that would have caused her hair to fall out.
Mr. O’Neal remained her devoted companion throughout her illness. She had been hospitalized in Santa Monica, Calif., during the last week of her life.
As she struggled to survive, Mr. O’Neil had said publicly that her strength and fight had only energized his love and passion for her. He reportedly proposed marriage but the couple were unable to take their vows before she died.
“After a long and brave battle with cancer, our beloved Farrah has passed away. Although this is an extremely difficult time for her family and friends, we take comfort in the beautiful times that we shared with Farrah over the years and the knowledge that her life brought joy to so many people around the world,” Mr. O’Neal said.
Her “Angel” band reacted to news of her death with sadness, offering fond and warm remembrances of her life in statements.
“Farrah had courage, she had strength and she had faith. And now she has peace as she rests with the real angels,” said Jaclyn Smith, a pinup in her own right and Miss Fawcett’s co-star on “Charlie’s Angels.”
Said fellow “Angel” Kate Jackson, herself a cancer survivor: “I will miss Farrah every day. She was a selfless person who loved her family and friends with all her heart, and what a big heart it was. Farrah showed immense courage and grace throughout her illness and was an inspiration to those around her. When I think of Farrah, I will remember her kindness, her cutting dry wit and, of course, her beautiful smile.
“Today, when you think of Farrah remember her smiling, because that is exactly how she wanted to be remembered.”