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It was Ryan O’Neal’s charisma and good looks that convinced the Paramount executives to hire him, against their instincts, for the role in Love Story. The film would become a decade-defining smash hit, earning O’Neal an Oscar nomination and cashing in as the highest-grossing movie of 1970.
But it was his fiery temper, drug and alcohol addiction, tempestuous love life and headline-grabbing family that kept him in the public eye.
O’Neal, who died on Friday at the age of 82, was as famed for his personal life as his films – romances with Barbra Streisand, Joan Collins, Diana Ross, Bianca Jagger, Angelica Houston, Ursula Andress, and particularly his relationship with Farrah Fawcett.
The father of four admitted that he once tried to hit on his daughter Tatum, not realizing who she was.
He was arrested after firing a gun at his son Griffin, who had his own lengthy history of arrests, and was charged with negligence after a boating accident that killed Francis Ford Coppola’s son Gian-Carlo.
None of Ryan O’Neal’s relationships captured the public imagination as much as his rollercoaster romance with blonde bombshell Farrah Fawcett; pictured 1989
O’Neal was arrested again after police found him and his youngest son Redmond taking methamphetamine at the actor’s Malibu home in 2008. Redmond, too, has a complicated and sad story, and is currently in the Patton State Psychiatric Hospital in San Bernardino.
His son Patrick is the only one of the three to emerge unscathed: Patrick is an actor and sportscaster, and was the one who announced his father’s death.
O’Neal’s last major role was with his daughter in a 2011 reality show, ‘Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals,’ on Oprah Winfrey’s cable channel, OWN. She starred alongside her father in Paper Moon and won an Oscar at the age of ten for Best Supporting Actress – making her the youngest person ever to win an Academy Award.
But the pair had become estranged, with Tatum accusing her father of physical and emotional abuse, and severing contact for 25 years.
The Oprah series left the impression that the two had ended their long estrangement, he later said it was not true.
‘We’re further apart now than we were when we started the show,’ he said.
O’Neal was born in Los Angeles, his father a screenwriter and his mother an actress.
At the age of 17 he joined his globetrotting parents in Germany, and landed his first role: a stunt man on the television series Tales of the Vikings.
He returned to LA, and at 18 landed his first stint in jail – 51 days, after a brawl at a New Year’s Eve party.
O’Neal became a TV actor, and was seeking to break into Hollywood at a time when executives very much looked down on television.
He played the wealthy man about town, Rodney Harrington, for five years on the prime-time soap opera Peyton Place before Ali MacGraw – who had won Best Newcomer at the Golden Globes the year before – lobbied for his casting alongside her in a new film.
‘Jon Voight turned the part down. Beau Bridges was supposed to do it,’ he told a reporter in 1971. ‘When my name came up through Ali, they all said ‘No.’
‘Ali said, ‘Please meet him.’
That film, Love Story, sent both their careers stratospheric.
At the age of 29, he became a household name, and was honored with the only Oscar nomination of his career. He lost to George C. Scott, winning with the war epic Patton.
But O’Neal’s film, co-starring MacGraw, was the highest grossing of the year.
And throughout the 1970s O’Neal would remain one of the biggest movie stars of the decade – his relationship with Farah Fawcett cementing his status.
TATUM AND GRIFFIN ARRIVE: O’NEAL’S FIRST MARRIAGE
O’Neal’s first marriage was to Joanna Moore, which lasted from 1963 to 1967 – eventually ending due to his infidelity, and her alcoholism. She was a great beauty, who had a fling with Elvis Presley while filming 1962’s Follow Your Dream.
O’Neal was her third husband, and they had two children: Tatum and Griffin. But her drug and alcohol addiction was a constant theme, and left both their children scarred. Tatum would detail the chaos in her autobiography, writing about missed meals, syringes around the house, and her mother taking a 15-year-old boyfriend.
O’Neal would later say: ‘I got married at 21, and I was not a real mature 21.
‘My first child was born when I was 22.
‘I was a man’s man; I didn’t discover women until I was married, and then it was too late.’
She remarried, and spent her later years supported by her two children: she died in 1997 at the age of 63.
PATRICK IS BORN: O’NEAL’S SECOND MARRIAGE
O’Neal left Moore in 1967, and that same year married Leigh-Taylor Young, his Peyton Place co-star.
Their wedding was spontaneous: While in Hawaii for a promotional event for the show an ABC manager suggested they marry at his home.
They had a son, Patrick, who became an actor and a sportcaster.
The couple divorced in 1971.
FARRAH FAWCETT ENTERS THE SCENE
By 1979, O’Neal would be with the person widely believed to be the love of his life – Farrah Fawcett.
The pair never married, but were on-and-off for 20 years, splitting for good in 1997, and then reuniting in 2001 and remaining together until her death in 2009.
They had one son together, Redmond, now 35, in 1985.
Their relationship seized headlines, and fascinated the public – punctuated by his outbursts and wild behavior.
She dumped him the first time after finding him in bed with actress Leslie Stefanson.
O’Neal left a trail of chaos in his wake.
His son Griffin would tell Vanity Fair that his father introduced him to cocaine at the age of 11 – and then ‘insisted’ he take it.