1. Headline
  1. Headline

Video: O’Neal on Fawcett: ‘She’s the rock’

  1. Transcript of: O’Neal on Fawcett: ‘She’s the rock’

    Mr. RYAN O'NEAL: I think that she may have believed that she would survive and have a document, film document. That's not how it's going. She's had a terrible time the last year. Terrible time.

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Seven-thirty now on this Wednesday morning, May 13th , 2009 . And that is Ryan O'Neal explaining why his longtime partner Farrah Fawcett decided to videotape her struggle with cancer. Inside Studio 1A , I'm Meredith Vieira along with Matt Lauer . And Matt , as you know, at this point things are not looking very good for Farrah Fawcett , but she is a real fighter and committed to telling her story no matter what happens.

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Yeah. And it's apparently a story she's going to tell and show, warts and all, as we've just seen from some of that footage.

    VIEIRA: Absolutely.

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: And we all know Farrah . For a generation she defines a time in American pop culture, that famous red swimsuit poster, the Farrah hair, "Charlie's Angel," but she went on to prove that she was a serious actress with critically acclaimed performances. And all the while she tried to keep her private life private. But her decades-long relationship with actor Ryan O'Neal and her son Redmond 's drug arrests have made her fodder for the tabloids, as has her three-year-long battle with cancer. but in a film that can only be described as extraordinarily personal and brutally honest, Farrah has laid bare every aspect of her fight. It is called " Farrah 's Story" and it airs here on NBC on Friday night. I sat down with Ryan O'Neal to talk about the documentary and the past few weeks in Farrah 's life.

    Ms. FARRAH FAWCETT: And so my journey began on September 22nd , 2006 .

    VIEIRA: It started out simply, a cancer patient videotaping a doctor's appointment so she wouldn't forget what was said, as if you could forget such news.

    Unidentified Doctor #1: Cancer can always come back.

    Ms. FAWCETT: Such a shockingly sad day.

    VIEIRA: The film captures Farrah 's highs and lows.

    Ms. FAWCETT: I wish it would just be over.

    VIEIRA: Laying bear the brutal reality of the disease.

    Mr. RYAN O'NEAL: I think that she may have believed that she would survive and have a document, film document.

    Unidentified Doctor #2: I'm sorry to give you some not great news.

    Mr. O'NEAL: That's not how it's going. She's had a terrible time the last year. Terrible time. There were times when she got terribly ill and began to vomit. But she didn't care. She didn't care. She was possessed, you know? She's been on film all her life, I guess, since she was 19 or 20. So no big deal .

    VIEIRA: After a series of treatments in Germany , Farrah seemed on the road to recovery .

    Ms. FAWCETT: Yes!

    VIEIRA: So you were optimistic at that point.

    Mr. O'NEAL: Very. Very. It was yeah, yes! And she was so happy. It's insidious, cancer. It lets you think you're ahead.

    VIEIRA: And at times she did think that, obviously.

    Mr. O'NEAL: Many times, actually.

    VIEIRA: Many times.

    Mr. O'NEAL: For a couple of years. And she was athletic and healthy and hungry and beautiful. Everything that you remember about her.

    VIEIRA: Ryan remembers when he first noticed something was not right with Farrah .

    Mr. O'NEAL: 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 used to say to me, `She'll be all right, look how nice she looks.'

    VIEIRA: When was that that you took the walk and you knew that she wasn't doing well?

    Mr. O'NEAL: Well, it must have been a time when he wasn't in jail.

    VIEIRA: Hm.

    Mr. O'NEAL: So it was about five or six months ago.

    VIEIRA: The way you just put that, a time he wasn't in jail.

    Mr. O'NEAL: Well, he's in jail so much. And...

    VIEIRA: Well, there is a -- there is a scene in this film.

    Mr. O'NEAL: Yeah.

    VIEIRA: Since you bring it up...

    Mr. O'NEAL: Well, because her doctor wrote to the judge and said that if he doesn't get a chance to see her now, he may not get a chance to see her. And the judge was kind and allowed him a three-hour visit.

    VIEIRA: That was just a few weeks ago, Ryan , and the image of him in her home, he's in chains, he's shackled.

    Mr. O'NEAL: Legs, restraints, everything, like he was John Dillinger . Little Redmond Dillinger . And then they unfastened him and let him go back and see his mother who's in bed. When he went in to her, I said, `Don't rattle your chains.' Because he had them on his legs.

    VIEIRA: Right. So that she wouldn't know.

    Mr. O'NEAL: She doesn't know.

    VIEIRA: So at this...

    Mr. O'NEAL: She just holds him. He shaved -- when she lost her hair, he shaved his head so the two of them would be this -- I didn't know which one was which, they were lying together. He just wanted to see her, wanted to hold her, wanted to apologize.

    VIEIRA: Apologize?

    Mr. O'NEAL: Apologize. Yeah.

    VIEIRA: Why?

    Mr. O'NEAL: He's so full of shame for his mistakes. She forgives him.

    VIEIRA: You said something to him on film after he was lying there with Farrah . You said to him it would be a good reason to organize your life as a tribute to her. What did you mean when you said that?

    Mr. O'NEAL: Well, it's been very disorganized up till now. He can't make heads or tails of who he is or what he's doing here, and heroin helped him, I guess, it's a horrible thing, not to think about it . And he couldn't shake it. He just couldn't shake it. And so it's going to get shaken for him. He has a long ride ahead of him before they'll let him free. And I don't think his mother will be here when he gets out. So I said to him, live your life as a tribute to your mother.

    Ms. FAWCETT: Where's my Ryan ? My daddy?

    VIEIRA: So much has been written about your relationship with Farrah , the 17-year love affair , albeit sometime tumultuous.

    Mr. O'NEAL: Not that bad. Not so bad.

    VIEIRA: How would you describe the relationship that the two of you have?

    Mr. O'NEAL: I know this. That in the last two years I love her more than I've ever loved her. Ever.

    Ms. FAWCETT: You can't get rid of me .

    Mr. O'NEAL: She's so much more of a woman and a powerful, courageous, fearless. And I look at her with awe.

    VIEIRA: Is she stronger than you would have even imagined?

    Mr. O'NEAL: Yeah. And she's not afraid, either. I never saw fear at all. She asked me once, `Am I going to make it?' She asked me that a couple of weeks ago.

    VIEIRA: What did you say?

    Mr. O'NEAL: I said, yeah, sure, you'll make it. And if you don't, I'll go with you. Then she said, `Then stop the Gleevec .' And the Gleevec 's the medicine I take for my leukemia. So she made a joke. `Stop the Gleevec .'

    VIEIRA: And everybody calls you the rock.

    Mr. O'NEAL: Oh, I'm not.

    VIEIRA: I get the feeling maybe she's the rock.

    Mr. O'NEAL: She's the rock.

    Ms. FAWCETT: OK.

    Mr. O'NEAL: She taught us all how to cope. She's extraordinary. I don't know what I'll do without her.

    VIEIRA: And when Ryan O'Neal was diagnosed with leukemia in 2001 she came to his side to be with him. And then in 2006 , she had that news that she had cancer and he's been with her ever since. What you don't see in that interview is his sense of humor .

    AL ROKER reporting: Mm-hmm.

    VIEIRA: All of her friends have said he is the only one, even in this time, that can make her laugh. And he can. You'll see that in the documentary.

    ROKER: Wow.

    MATT LAUER, co-host: It's extraordinarily personal stuff.

    ROKER: Yeah.

    VIEIRA: yeah.

    LAUER: And you listen to the way he speaks and speaks as if it is a foregone conclusion.

    ROKER: Yeah.

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    ROKER: In the past tense .

    LAUER: That -- exactly, but that's...

    VIEIRA: I think he feels that. I think her friend Alana Stewart , who you'll listen to tomorrow, who shot most of the documentary, she just sort of handed the camera to Alana and said, `Please document this for me.' She is a firm believer in miracles. Firm believer. And she believes that Farrah is going to make it, so.

    LAUER: It's just an amazing interview.

    ROKER: Yeah.

    VIEIRA: Thank you so much . As I mentioned, Alana , who shot much of the documentary, will be on our piece tomorrow. And then "Farrah's Story" airs Friday night at 9, 8 Central right here and that is only on NBC .

By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 5/22/2009 1:45:54 PM ET 2009-05-22T17:45:54

When cancer intrudes on a placid life, the most important asset to have is an indomitable spirit. That is the lesson Farrah Fawcett learned over months of treatments, anguish and hope, and that is the message she planned to deliver to the world when she invited a camera into her life.

“Farrah’s Story,” a sometimes uplifting, sometimes painful and thoroughly transparent documentary that chronicles Fawcett’s fight against cancer, screened Wednesday night at the Paley Center for Media before a solemn audience of friends, colleagues and media. It aired on NBC on Friday. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture between NBC and Microsoft.)

As the film illustrates, it is also vital to have loved ones join you in the battle. For Fawcett, she has many, but two in particular devoted themselves to her. At every step of the way, since she was first diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006, close friend Alana Stewart — who produced “Farrah’s Story” and handled almost all of the camerawork — was by her side. And Ryan O’Neal, her on-again, off-again romantic partner, has been completely on since the cancer arrived.

Stewart started on the project as a loyal friend. It was Fawcett’s idea to film her experiences, and she began by using a hand-held video camera. But early on she turned the camera duties over to Stewart, and the result is an uncompromising look at what cancer does to a human being, and what a human being does in retaliation to cancer when she simply won’t submit.

“There were things that I thought were too invasive to film,” Stewart explained before Wednesday night’s screening. “But Farrah said, ‘Film it. This is what cancer is.’”

O’Neal was asked what he hoped people come away with from the film. “If you liked her,” he explained, “you’re going to love her. And you’re going to know why you loved her.”

It is a plus in a bout with cancer to understand that human relationships are complicated, as the documentary illuminates, and “on again, off again” doesn’t do justice to the bond between O’Neal and Fawcett. Every moment in the process was “on,” and they acknowledged as much.

Another ‘Love Story’
“I will never love anyone like I love Farrah,” O’Neal says in the film. In another instance, he said he felt like he was in “another ‘Love Story’ movie.”

Stewart said of Fawcett: “He walks into the room and her face lights up.”

Slideshow: Farrah Fawcett Clearly, as the film shows, it is a benefit to have access to the best doctors in the world. Fawcett’s journey began at the UCLA Medical Center but expanded to Germany. Specialists there applied unique and aggressive techniques, especially as it pertained to the cancer that spread to her liver. She made several trips from Los Angeles to Germany for consultations and treatments, often resulting in intense pain and discomfort. At one point, eager to return to L.A., she defied doctors’ orders and flew back too soon, which resulted in extreme distress.

But despite the resources at her disposal, the film emphasizes that cancer is an equal opportunity tormenter. It didn’t go easy on her because she is a celebrity.

  1. More Entertainment stories
    1. Autistic ballerina dances her way into hearts

      In a popular YouTube video, the beaming little ballerina dances an entire four-minute routine seemingly perfectly, matchin...

    2. Every on-screen drink in 'Mad Men' in 5 minutes
    3. See the 'Dancing' stars' most memorable moves
    4. Emmy's biggest snubs? Cranston, Hamm, more
    5. 'Toy Story' toys burn up in prank on mom

To counterpunch against cancer, it helps to have a sense of humor. Fawcett and doctors did their best to save her iconic hair, not out of vanity but because it stood as a symbol of her strength and defiance. Yet after many treatments, she could hold out no longer. When she finally accepts that her locks are gone in the film, she does so with playfulness and determination to move on. “You wouldn’t stop until you got my hair,” she tells her doctor.

Video: Web only: O’Neal: ‘I never put doubt in her mind’ For most people, a struggle against cancer occurs in private, and the dodging of paparazzi is not part of the equation. Yet when a celebrity like Farrah Fawcett is engaged in combat with the disease, it becomes an opportunity for many to make money. That’s why, as “Farrah’s Story” explains, sometimes a war against insidious forces has to be waged on two fronts.

She had to watch in horror as the National Enquirer ran stories about her condition with help from leaks occurring at UCLA. Eventually the breach of UCLA’s medical records was discovered and dealt with, and Fawcett was able to declare victory against the tabloid.

A private fight made public
But she needed fortitude even when she didn’t feel up to it, when she was leaving hospitals and clinics and vermin with cameras were there to catch her at her worst moments. While the film was successful in showing how bountiful her life had been, it also underlined the point that fame isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

Another blessing in a conflict with cancer is perspective, and the film makes sure it’s present. It isn’t all about squirming on an examination table while needles are inserted, or vomiting into a plastic container.

There is the fairy tale, too: How she came from loving parents who made sure, as a young girl growing up in Texas, she had equal doses of baseball (her dad wanted a boy) and ballet; how she was spotted in a photo by a Hollywood publicist, who thought she’d be great for TV commercials; how “Charlie’s Angels” came along and made her a household name; how she led a life of fame, riches and adventure as a worldwide star.

Even then, there was a dose of sobering reality in the form of a 1981 public service announcement she filmed for cancer awareness. “Ironic,” Stewart said.

There is also her relationship with her father, James, who earlier had lost another daughter to cancer; her unwavering devotion to her son, Redmond, who is shown in the film visiting his mother while on a court-sanctioned visit from jail, where he is serving time on a drug charge; and her enduring friendships with Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith, her partners on “Charlie’s Angels.”

Most of all, it takes inner strength to fight cancer, which “Farrah’s Story” emphasizes. At the end of the movie, Fawcett aims a camera at the audience. “How are you? What are you fighting for?” she asks.

Without speaking the words, the suggestion seems to be that all anyone can ask is to fight as hard as she has.

Michael Ventre lives in Los Angeles and is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.

© 2013 msnbc.com.  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Brittany Diaz via Facebook

    Brittany Maynard to her husband: 'My heart is so full of love for you'

    10/30/2014 8:27:16 PM +00:00 2014-10-30T20:27:16
  1. TODAY

    video Celebs guess: Who will TODAY be for Halloween 2014?

    10/30/2014 7:32:19 PM +00:00 2014-10-30T19:32:19
  1. Courtesy of Erica Hill

    Why I run: Erica Hill inspired by dad’s battle with cancer

    10/30/2014 7:08:23 PM +00:00 2014-10-30T19:08:23
  1. Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

    At Home with TODAY: Jenna Wolfe shows the love in Harper's nursery

    10/30/2014 11:37:28 AM +00:00 2014-10-30T11:37:28
  1. @msjennafischer via Instagram

    Working from home: 'Office' star Jenna Fischer shares selfie with baby

    10/30/2014 11:01:20 PM +00:00 2014-10-30T23:01:20