Farrah Fawcett, 62

Obituary: Farrah Fawcett; '70s Sex Symbol Won Respect as Dramatic Actress

Remembering the career and life of the actress, television star and '70s pop culture icon.
By Alexander F. Remington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 26, 2009

Farrah Fawcett, 62, the golden-haired sex symbol of the late 1970s who is best remembered for a popular bedroom poster and the detective series "Charlie's Angels" and who later found a niche portraying troubled women in made-for-TV dramas, died June 25 at a hospital in Santa Monica, Calif.

Her 2006 diagnosis of anal cancer spurred an outpouring of sympathy, and the tabloid media chronicled her final years with constancy, including the purported deathbed marriage proposal from her former companion, actor Ryan O'Neal.

Ms. Fawcett, a Texas-born college dropout, parlayed success as a model for toiletries such as Ultra Brite toothpaste and Wella Balsam shampoo into an acting career.

While still a relative unknown, she achieved two popular roles in 1976. On Wednesday nights, she was Jill Munroe, the blond Angel on the ABC detective drama produced by Aaron Spelling. All week long, she was the star attraction on a poster that sold a record 12 million copies. In a halo of impossibly buoyant curly hair, wearing a red swimsuit that left little to the imagination, she entered the dreams of adolescent boys everywhere and brought women into hair salons to copy her style.

Thanks to her radiant sexuality, Ms. Fawcett became the breakout star of "Charlie's Angels," appearing in such suggestive episodes as "Angels in Chains," in which she and her beautiful co-detectives -- played by Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith -- went undercover on a chain gang. The show's tone led to its nickname: "Jiggle TV."

As Ms. Fawcett said: "When the show was number three, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra."

In 1973, she married Lee Majors, soon to star in "The Six Million Dollar Man," and acquired the name that she would use in the "Charlie's Angels" title sequence, Farrah Fawcett-Majors.

She left "Charlie's Angels" after one season to pursue a movie career and immediately was sued by Spelling and producer Leonard Goldberg for breach of contract. The suit was resolved when she agreed to make a series of guest appearances on the show over its next several seasons.

After the lawsuit, Spelling replaced Ms. Fawcett with Cheryl Ladd -- playing Jill Munroe's younger sister -- and "Charlie's Angels" continued through 1981.

Meanwhile, Ms. Fawcett appeared in an unsuccessful star vehicle, "Somebody Killed Her Husband," a 1978 film with Jeff Bridges known in the industry as "Somebody Killed Her Career." She was also Burt Reynolds's love interest in the comedy "The Cannonball Run" (1981).

But it was in made-for-television movies that she began reinventing herself, often to critical acclaim, as a vulnerable woman in a troubled or abusive relationship.

Washington Post television critic Tom Shales wrote of Ms. Fawcett's "strenuous and superb performance" playing a battered wife out for revenge in "The Burning Bed" (1984). That was followed by starring roles in "Extremities" (1986), which was a feature film, and "Small Sacrifices" (1989).

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