Mary Farrah Leni Fawcett, sex symbol and 70s icon of a liberated women, as leading actress in the popular TV crime series, Charlie’s Angels, died on June 25 at St. John’s Heath Center in Santa Monica, California, after a three-year battle against rectal cancer that was publicised on TV in the form of a video diary documentary called Farrah‘s Story that attracted almost nine million viewers.

Effectively an obituary, a commentator on one of the UK media websites, succinctly summed up her appeal: “Farrah was what every woman wants to be - beautiful, talented, rich, and in charge of her own destiny”.

While an art student at the University of Texas in Austin and already drawing attention, initially from her peers who voted her one of the 10 most beautiful women on campus, Farrah began modelling for a clothing store, and later for Ultra Brite toothpaste and Wella Balsam shampoo. She was subsequently spotted by Hollywood publicist David Mirisch, who was instrumental in persuading her to drop out, albeit reluctantly, to pursue a show-biz career.

She starting by playing guest roles in popular prime time TV series, like "I Dream of Jeannie" and "The Partridge Family", as well as in films including "Myra Breckinridge" (1970) and "Logan's Run" (1976), in between marrying Lee Majors, in 1973, who later became the star of The Six Million Dollar Man.

However, it was as Jill Munroe, one of a trio of liberated, seductive, crime-busting, female, private detectives, along with Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson, in the hit show, Charlie's Angels (1976) that represents her main claim to fame. She had apparently got the part after posing seductively for her notorious publicity poster, a skimpy red swimsuit, which launched her as an international, iconic sex symbol and sold a record 12 million copies. It was an image that was to emblazon the walls of a multitude of adolescent boys, worldwide, and sent myriads of females into hair salons to emulate her trademark feathered curly blond mane, which The New York Times once hailed as "a work of art ... emblematic of women in the first stage of liberation -- strong, confident and joyous." Fawcett's distinctive profile, with its iconic hairstyle, subsequently also appeared on numerous T-shirts, posters and dolls.

In the swimsuit poster, her nipples are noticeably prominent, not really that audacious considering it was the tail end of the Flower Power era, when hordes of young women in the West burnt their bras, but it was to be the leitmotif of Charlie's Angels, and apparently set the trend for "Jiggle TV". When asked later to account for the popularity of the programme, she commented: "When the show was No 3, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be No 1, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra." She apparently attempted to rekindle her image as a sex symbol in 1995, when after plastic surgery at the age of 50, Farrah posed partly naked for Playboy magazine, following this up with a Playboy video, called All of Me, in which once again she was virtually nude. She apparently felt a new-found freedom, stripped of conventional restrictions.

Despite the fact that it was the role by which Farrah is most remembered, she only stayed with Charlie's Angels for one season, making a few subsequent guest appearances because of contractual obligations. The next few movie roles which followed were somewhat lightweight, and it was not till she apparently found her metier as an abused woman, first in ‘The Burning Bed’ (1984), for which she was nominated for an Emmy, and subsequently in ‘Extremities,’ both the stage and movie role, as a rape victim, which earned one of her six Golden Globe nominations. She also played Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld and photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. In 1997, she won acclaim for her role the wife of a philandering minister in ‘The Apostle’.

2005 saw her as host of a reality-type programme, "Chasing Farrah”, which gave a blow-by-blow account of her life. This was an angle taken up by the media, which delighted in chronicling her real life abuse at the hands of several boyfriends. The media also made much of a guest appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman" in 1997, in which some commentators accused her of being on drugs.

Her first diagnosis of rectal cancer in 2006 engendered a modicum of sympathy. This also grew substantially during the airing of her video diary, Farrah's Story, where she recounted her three-year vain attempt to seek cures in Germany and the US, and the accompanying painful treatments and failed remedies. NBC estimates almost nine million viewers avidly followed the saga. She had also intended to publicise her struggle against cancer with the help of the videographer from "Chasing Farrah” in a further documentary to be called "A Wing and a Prayer", but nothing came of it.

Long-term boyfriend, Ryan O'Neal broke the news of her death, saying “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."

Jaclyn Smith, co-star of Charlie’s Angels, for her part, said "Farrah had courage, she had strength and she had faith. And now she has peace as she rests with the real angels".


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