Unlike Michael Jackson’s sudden death, Farrah Fawcett’s didn’t come as a surprise. For quite some time, Fawcett had been suffering from a rare form of cancer that had recently spread to her liver. The former television star and sex symbol (born in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Feb. 2, 1947) was 62.
But expected or no, Fawcett’s death truly saddened me. Once upon a time, I sat through those ridiculous Charlie’s Angels episodes mainly because of her – though, admittedly, I also liked both Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson. Once Cheryl Ladd replaced Fawcett, who by then had become too big for the small screen, the show – at least as far as I was concerned – lost all its fluffy charm.
It gets worse. I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit that on my bedroom wall hung that poster of a sparkingly toothed, blond-maned, red bathing-suit (not a bikini? What were they thinking??). I read everything I could about Farrah Fawcett-Majors – as she was known at the time – from a trashy biography that capitalized on her supernovaish fame to reports on her rocky marriage to The Six-Million Dollar Man star Lee Majors. I even kept an ad showing Fawcett as a poster girl for “golden faucet” bracelets or some such. In my heart, only she could get away with something that tacky.
Unfortunately, film stardom eluded her. No, those golden faucets had nothing to do with it. The problem was that Fawcett’s choice of star vehicles were, to put it mildly, even more inadequate than her choice of ad endorsements. There was the mystery-comedy Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978), opposite Jeff Bridges, which failed to click with audiences; the horrendous Sunburn (1979), which managed to waste not only Fawcett but also Charles Grodin, Art Carney, Joan Collins, Eleanor Parker, and Keenan Wynn; and the dismal sci-fi drama Saturn 3 (1980), in which she was mispaired with Kirk Douglas and Harvey Keitel.
The Cannonball Run (1981) was a major box office hit, but that was seen as a Burt Reynolds flick. Fawcett served merely as decoration in a role that could have been played by any grinning, blond bimbo. But since it was Farrah Fawcett and not some grinning, blond bimbo, I actually bothered to watch that piece of trash. It’s strange that I still remember how luminously beautiful she looked, even if her acting left much to be desired.
Following Extremities (1986), basically a B revenge thriller in which Fawcett (above, with James Russo) displayed her maturing acting skills as an attempted-rape victim who turns the table on her assaulter (she’d already done the role on Broadway, having replaced Susan Sarandon), her film career all but stalled. I don’t believe age was an issue. Fawcett was about 40 then, but she looked a good ten years younger. In fact, most actresses half her age couldn’t hold a candle to her in the looks department.
For a while, she had better luck on the small screen. Among her generally acclaimed performances in made-for-TV movies were those in The Burning Bed (1984, right), as a battered wife who sets her sleeping husband on fire (hence the title); Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story (1986), opposite Tom Conti; Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story (1987), as the unhappy millionairess; Margaret Bourke-White, in which she plays the renowned Life photographer; and Small Sacrifices (1989), incarnating a real-life murdering mom.
My obsession with all things Farrah diminished as I became an adult (and developed other obsessions). In the 1990s, I only saw her on screen once: as the wife of Robert Duvall’s scuzzy but (supposedly) charismatic pastor in The Apostle, released in 1997. I cared neither for the film nor for the Academy Award-nominated Duvall, but I was mesmerized by Fawcett’s unglamorized screen presence, which, however brief, left a lasting impression on me. (I wasn’t the only one, as Fawcett received an Independent Spirit Award nomination as best supporting actress. During the course of her career, she was also nominated for three Emmys and six Golden Globes.)
Despite my renewed interest on her, I never watched her infamous 1997 interview with David Letterman, missed her two Playboy spreads in the mid-1990s, didn’t follow her ups-and-downs with Ryan O’Neal or her problems with her son’s drug addiction, and never bothered to watch her 2005 reality show Chasing Farrah.
I also skipped the recent Farrah’s Story, but for a different reason: it would have been too disturbing, for it sounded like a grueling peek into another person’s excruciating suffering. It would also have been a blunt reminder of the passage of time. And of the fact that rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, famous or anonymous, we must all face death.
Now, I find it ironic that after her battle with cancer became tabloid fodder for months (thanks in part to leaks coming straight out of the UCLA Medical Center, where the actress was being treated at one point), Farrah Fawcett had her death partially eclipsed by that of an even bigger pop icon, one with the element of surprise added to the morbid mix to create more drama, suspense, and higher ratings and online hits.
That turn of events may seem unfair, but I believe that Farrah Fawcett would have liked it that way. After being so long in the spotlight – frequently against her will – she can now get her hard-earned and much-deserved rest.