Saving Public Ryan: The Disturbing Truth About Ryan O'Neal and Farrah Fawcett's Final Days

The disturbing truth about the Love Story star, his daughter Tatum O’Neal and Farrah Fawcett’s final years.

By , Contributor

Farrah Fawcett was fond of saying: "Positivity is a necessity."

That's the credo by which she lived her life. And the way she faced her cancer was no different. Instead of feeling sorry for herself or assigning blame, Farrah took both the illness that invaded her body and the tabloids that invaded her privacy and put them to work for a greater good.

She wholeheartedly believed that making a documentary about her battle with cancer could bring worldwide attention to urgent issues surrounding the treatment of this disease through both traditional and alternative methods. This on-camera attitude was no act. And that's what amazed me most about my friend and producing partner. She woke up happy every day. In fact, sometimes Farrah would forget that she had cancer.

FF & NEVIUS .jpgUnfortunately, however, it was never long before something came along to remind her of it. Still, Farrah knew that life was all around her and she did her best to live it up until the end. Even when Farrah was very ill, she never stopped being "Farrah." She was artistic, creative, a great mother and daughter with an outrageous sense of humor. What most people probably don't know is that Farrah was a micro-biology major in college before she switched to art.

Over the last years, when she studied her medical scans or read her reports, she said to me: "If only I hadn't switched to art, I could have had this whole cancer thing solved by now." Of course, she was joking. At least I think she was. Because one of the greatest things about Farrah was her absolute refusal to see limitations in herself -- or in others.


She demonstrated this as far back as Charlie's Angels. Here she was on a blockbuster TV series and she decided to leave it after the first season. She just walked away because she felt there was more that she was capable of accomplishing as an actress. And she was right. But even if she hadn't won critical acclaim in movies like the Burning Bed and The Apostle, for Farrah the real victory was always in the trying. And in the never giving up. And it was no different with her fight against cancer. Or in the hope that she held in her heart for others to live up to their potential -- in spite of whatever personal demons that they were battling while she was ill.

FF's Last Healthy Birthday.jpgNow, as the two year anniversary of Farrah's passing approaches -- she died on June 25, 2009 -- I realize that the woman I remember is the one that Ryan O'Neal has forgotten. At least that's how it appears to me as he boldly and recklessly steers the promotional tour for his new reality series, The O'Neals, into the very dark but familiar territory of exploiting Farrah's tragic death just as he did two years ago. But this time through, he's not treading lightly but plowing forward in what appears to be a shocking attempt to bury his own children under a heap of undeserved guilt. All the while he positions himself as the put-upon father who, as hard as he claims to have tried, simply could not keep his kids happy as they went to war with Farrah to win his attention, affection and approval.

Or so Ryan implied in an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan earlier this week, when he openly pondered whether the seventeen years of "turmoil" between him and his "wild" offspring caused Farrah so much stress and anxiety that it triggered the deadly cancer.

Well, I'm not buying these well-rehearsed and over-dramatic soundbites. Because I know this man well enough to know that he very rarely says what he really means. That's why if the media listened carefully to Ryan's interview what they would really hear is that Ryan is not actually blaming himself or his children for causing Farrah's cancer. In fact, he's doing the opposite. In some sick and narcissistic way, he's attempting to take the credit for it. Not only does his ego demand that the public recognize him as the love of Farrah's life, he also needs everyone to know that it was this same intense love that ultimately killed her. But I'm not convinced. And neither was Farrah's beloved father, Big Jim."Empty cans rattle the loudest!" he would always tell Farrah. And, when it comes to Farrah, no one rattles louder than Ryan.

sick 07 a.jpgOf course, none of this is to say that Ryan didn't profoundly contribute to Farrah's pain and suffering during her illness. Because he did. Oh, I won't deny that he was great in the beginning, putting aside almost a decade's worth of estrangement in order to rush to her rescue after she was first diagnosed. But being a hero wasn't a part of him as much as a part he was playing -- and one that he found impossible to sustain over time. A few months after Farrah began chemotherapy, Ryan became increasingly jealous and, at times, even angry at the outpouring of love and sympathy that she received from all over the world -- not to mention his own children.

First and foremost on that list was Tatum who reached out and connected with Farrah in a way that I don't believe the two women ever had bonded before. Interestingly, Ryan was not part of that reunion and when he found out about the secret reconciliation, he was furious. Because from his point of view, which didn't extend any farther than his own reflection, the world was only supposed to care about Farrah's pain and suffering as it related to his own. After all that's the way it was in Love Story where Ryan was the leading man and the dying woman he cared for was just his co-star. And so, ever the gentleman, he wished Farrah good luck with her cancer and made his exit: "bowing out" as he described it in the note that he left with her assistant.

In short, Ryan's grandiose sense of self would not allow him to play a supporting role in Farrah's cancer fight. And, in the end, he wouldn't have to: because when she took a turn for the worse, he would re-emerge to take control of the documentary we had spent two years producing and, with the help of NBC, re-edit Farrah's most important and personal of projects to put the focus on himself as her caring companion and devoted caretaker. In my opinion, Ryan came back to make a comeback. Farrah's impending death would be his chance at romantic redemption - if not in her eyes, which were closing under the weight of heavy pain medication, then in the eyes of the world. And those were the eyes that always seemed to matter to him the most.


Ryan O'Neal celebrating the premiere of Farrah's Story, while she was home dying.

It had been twenty-five years since Ryan's last box office hit and, during that time, his image had gone from heartthrob to has-been. But when his only daughter, the youngest Oscar winner in history, accused her father of physically and emotionally abusing her as a child, he fell to an even lower level in the hierarchy of Hollywood: now he was just a heel. But Ryan seemed to believe that all would be forgiven once he reprised his most famous role. Although this time, he would do it in a television documentary instead of a feature film. After all, a lot had changed since Ryan had been a marquee name. Real life was now the most popular form of entertainment. Even if it was fake real life.

"It's a love story." Ryan told People Magazine once Farrah could no longer speak for herself. "I just don't know how to play this one." And it was clear, at least to me, that he didn't. In interview after interview, Ryan spoke of Farrah as if she had already died, all the while wiping invisible tears from his eyes and contorting his face into pained expressions that more closely resembled a lop-sided jack-o-lantern than any sort of human emotion. But all of that was a prelude to the interview he did with ABC News one week before Farrah's death.


Farrah receiving treatment for cancer in her final days.

"I've asked her to marry me again and she's agreed!" Ryan blurted out, sitting across from Barbara Walters in the posh Beverly Hills Hotel."Really?" the network news maven asked, unable to believe what she had just heard.

"Swear to God!" he answered, crossing his heart as if to prove it was the truth.

"Why don't you just go do it?" she questioned, still sounding a bit flabbergasted.

"Well, we will, as soon as she can say yes!" Ryan laughed heartily, apparently finding great humor in the fact that Farrah could no longer speak, not to mention reject his latest marriage proposal."Maybe we can just nod her head?" he gamely suggested, leaning forward to throw his own head back and forth in a vigorous nod. It was a depraved demonstration of what little effort it would now take for Ryan to finally make Farrah his wife. However instead of condemning this disgusting display, the mainstream media embraced it. Around the world, Farrah's imminent death became Ryan's real life love story.

But the truth is, Ryan and Farrah were not a 'love story.' He was not her constant companion and devoted caretaker. In fact, he was often absent or causing havoc during her illness, resulting in two well documented arrests and even a restraining order for sexual harassment filed against him by a 20-year old girl who claimed to be "a friend of the family."

On the other hand, Tatum, Redmond and Griffin did their best to offer support and comfort to Farrah during her fight. I know. I was there. Especially when Ryan wasn't -- which was more often than not.

It's clear to me that Ryan has a lot of regrets in his life. A cancer of the soul. But blaming his children for Farrah's death or blaming Farrah for the death of his relationship with his children will accomplish nothing. If he ever felt anything real for Farrah he should honor her life and the life that he once shared with her by facing his own "illness" as honestly and as openly as she faced hers. There is no other way. As Farrah would say: 'Positivity is a necessity.'


Craig J. Nevius was the executive producer and director of "Farrah's Story" (form-erly "A Wing and A Prayer") and "Chasing Farrah." He was also Farrah Fawcett's producing partner, civil advocate and close friend during the last five years of  her life.

The above content is Mr. Nevius' point-of-view, his personal opinion, based on his relationship with Farrah Fawcett and experiences with others. Photo credit for Images of Craig Neivus and Farrah Fawcett: Craig Neivus

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Craig J. Nevius is owner of Windmill Entertainment, a television and film production and development company that specializes in creating both scripted and unscripted projects with pop culture appeal. Mr. Nevius created and produced CHASING FARRAH, WILLIAM SHATNER IN CONCERT and LIVING IN TV LAND.…

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