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Video: O’Neal describes Fawcett’s visit with son

TODAY contributor
updated 5/11/2009 8:24:50 PM ET 2009-05-12T00:24:50

They’ve been among Hollywood’s most passionate, yet star-crossed lovers for some 27 years, but Ryan O’Neal says he’s looking at Farrah Fawcett with renewed admiration as he holds her hand through the final days of her brave, two-and-a-half year battle with cancer.

“She’s the rock; she taught us all how to cope,” the 69-year-old O’Neal told Meredith Vieira in an exclusive interview with NBC’s TODAY. “She’s extraordinary. I don’t know what I’ll do without her, to tell you the truth.”

Fawcett, 62, America’s reigning sex symbol of the 1970s who went on to a more refined career as a dramatic actress, is believed to be in the last stages of her cancer, first diagnosed in October 2006.

There’s been cause for hope along the way — in February 2007 Fawcett announced she was cancer-free, and at one point holistic treatments she had been receiving in Germany appeared to be working. The actress even began keeping a video diary of her cancer journey. But recent reports that Fawcett is critically ill and has stopped treatment have been largely confirmed by O’Neal.

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Insidious adversary
In a heartfelt, emotional interview with Vieira, O’Neal spoke of the cruelty of the disease and how, at one point, Fawcett believed she was winning her fight. “She was so happy,” he said. “It’s insidious, cancer. It thinks — it lets you think you’re ahead.”

Regarding Fawcett’s video diary, he added, “I think that she may have believed that she would survive, and have ... a film document. That’s not how it's going. She’s had a terrible time the last year, terrible time.”

O’Neal said he and the couple’s 24-year-old son, Redmond, finally realized how dire Fawcett’s condition was during a family outing late last year. O’Neal told Vieira that Fawcett has looked so well most of the time that it was easy to push the harsh realities of her condition to the back of their minds.

“She was very athletic and healthy and hungry and beautiful,” O’Neal told Vieira. “Everything was just as you remember about her. The first time I ever noticed, I walked with her and Redmond on the beach one day.

“We used to take that walk all the time to the rocks and back. And halfway there she stopped and said, ‘Can we go back?’ And Red and I looked at each other and we knew that ... see, she could fool you because she always looked good. She looked really good. And he [Redmond] used to say to me, ‘She’ll be all right. Look at how nice she looks.’ ”

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“In the last two years, I loved her more than I’ve ever loved her – ever,” Ryan O' Neal said of his longtime friend and lover Farrah Fawcett, shown here together in 2004.
In one of the most memorable portions of the interview, O’Neal described Redmond visiting his ailing mother after being jailed on drug charges in “leg [irons], restraints, everything. Like he was John Dillinger. And then they unfastened him and let him go back and see his mother, who was in bed. When he went in to her, I said, ‘Don't rattle your chains,’ because he had them on his legs.”

While O’Neal and Fawcett have had an often tumultuous relationship, with several splits and reunions since their relationship began in 1982, O’Neal says the manner in which Fawcett has conducted herself in her final days has been, for him, a profile in courage.

“In the last two years, I loved her more than I’ve ever loved her — ever,” he said. “She’s so much more of a woman and powerful, courageous, fearless, all those adjectives. I look at her with awe.”

While O’Neal said Fawcett “is not afraid” of losing her cancer battle, she did ask him recently, “Am I going to make it?”

Slideshow: Farrah Fawcett “I said, ‘Sure, you’ll make it,’ ” O’Neal told Vieira. “And if you don’t, I’ll go with you. And she said, ‘Then stop the Gleevec — the medicine that I take for my leukemia.’ So she made a joke: ‘Stop the Gleevec.’ ”

O’Neal’s interview with Vieira airs on TODAY Wednesday and Thursday. In addition, O’Neal and close family friend Alana Stewart appear in “Farrah’s Story,” a video diary of Fawcett’s battle with cancer set to air Friday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.

For more of Meredieth Vieira's exclusive interview with Ryan O’Neal, tune in to TODAY Wednesday and Thursday.

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