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Actress and pop culture icon Farrah Fawcett dies at 62

LOS ANGELES — Farrah Fawcett, who soared to fame as a national sex symbol in the late 1970s on television's campy Charlie's Angels and in a swimsuit poster that showcased her feathery mane and made her a generation's favorite pinup, died Thursday.

Fawcett, 62, died at St. John's Medical Center in Santa Monica at 9:28 a.m. Thursday with her longtime love, Ryan O'Neal, and her friend Alana Stewart by her side. O'Neal told reporters waiting outside the hospital this morning only that "she's gone."

Later, O'Neal released this statement: "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."

The couple's son, Redmond O'Neal, learned of his mother's death while serving time at L.A. County jail.

Three months after she was declared cancer-free in 2007, doctors at the University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center told her the cancer had returned, spreading to her liver,. She repeatedly sought experimental treatment in Germany.

As an actress, Fawcett was initially dismissed for her role as Jill Munroe in Charlie's Angels. But she transformed her career and some popular perceptions in 1984 with The Burning Bed, a television movie about a battered wife that brought her the first of three Emmy nominations. She further established herself as an actress in the play and later feature film Extremities, about a rape victim who takes revenge on her attacker.

And the poster of her wearing a wet one-piece swimsuit and a blinding smile endured.

"If you were to list 10 images that are evocative of American pop culture, Farrah Fawcett would be one of them," Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, told the Los Angeles Times. "That poster became one of the defining images of the 1970s."

Yet Fawcett was part of a new generation of celebrities whose fame was fueled by heightened coverage of their ongoing personal dramas, Thompson said.

She had many: a failed marriage to actor Lee Majors; a stormy, long-term relationship with actor O'Neal; a son who fought drug addiction; a writer-director boyfriend, James Orr, who was convicted of assaulting her; a Playboy video that featured her using her naked body as a paintbrush; and a spacey 1997 appearance on David Letterman's late-night TV show that caused critics to question her mental state.

At first, her mane nearly eclipsed her fame.

Charlie's Angels showcased the long, feathered tresses that framed her face, launching a national haircut fad. Many Fawcettphiles believed the hair had as much to do with the poster's sales as anything, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1977.

In six months, the poster sold 5 million copies, eclipsing records of such previous sex symbols as Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. A reported 12 million copies were sold.

In the end, forced to battle her cancer publicly, Fawcett made Farrah's Story, a video diary that unsparingly chronicled her struggle to fight the disease and to protect her privacy.

Actress and pop culture icon Farrah Fawcett dies at 62 06/26/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 26, 2009 8:13am]
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