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In his first interview since Farrah Fawcett died June 25 after a long battle with cancer, Ryan O’Neal recounted her final hours.
TODAY contributor
updated 7/21/2009 10:16:49 AM ET 2009-07-21T14:16:49

Cancer took its final, ultimate toll on beloved American actress and sex symbol Farrah Fawcett, but the spark of life never left her eyes until the moment of death. In an exclusive interview on TODAY Tuesday with Meredith Vieira, Farrah’s romantic companion of 30 years Ryan O’Neal described in heart-wrenching detail the end of his beloved’s life.

“She never closed her eyes; her eyes were open for the last three weeks of her life,” a still emotional O’Neal told Vieira. “She was watching us. She didn’t speak much, but she watched us. And then, finally, she closed her eyes.”

Final fight
Fawcett, a 1970s pop icon through the TV series “Charlie’s Angels” and her best-selling swimsuit pinup poster, passed away June 25 at age 62, the final, sad chapter in a 2½-year battle with cancer. Fawcett remained brave throughout her battle, allowing pal Alana Stewart to document both her trips to the doctor and her private moments at home in a TV documentary, “Farrah’s Story,” which aired May 15 on NBC. The show netted Fawcett a posthumous Emmy nod as executive producer when the nominations were announced July 16.

O’Neal noted to Vieira Farrah’s spotty track record with Emmy voters — she had been previously nominated for three Emmys, including for best actress in her groundbreaking TV movie “The Burning Bed” — but always came up empty-handed.

“Oh boy, she always wanted one,” O’Neal said. “She worked very hard to get one, thought she’d win for ‘The Burning Bed’ and even had a speech. So it comes a little late. But I’m sure she knows.”

Still, O’Neal did not suggest that Farrah could have held on until the Emmy announcements. He described in vivid detail the final weeks of Farrah’s life, when she was in considerable pain but continued to battle.

“I think she was holding on,” O’Neal told Vieira. “I didn’t think she wanted to go. She had things left on her plate to finish, to accomplish.”

O’Neal also described the anguish of watching Farrah pass from this world in a long-drawn-out process he called “horrible.”

O’Neal and Stewart had gathered at her bedside at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica at the urging of Fawcett’s doctor, Lawrence Piro.

“[Dr. Piro] thought she would live just another couple of hours — she lived a couple of days,” O’Neal told Vieira. “I had a bed put in the room for me. And I just lay by her side. And she wouldn’t ... move on. She wouldn’t pass. She just, she just looked at us with a slight smile. It was awful. And then, all of a sudden, the machines flatlined. After about 16 hours she was gone.”

Son’s farewell
Foremost on Fawcett’s mind after she learned her cancer was going to eventually take her life was the welfare of her troubled son by O’Neal, Redmond. Redheaded Redmond, 24, has battled drug addiction for years, and has been arrested three times for possession since 2008. He is currently serving time for a probation violation stemming from his last conviction.

While he wasn’t able to be with his mother in her final hours, Redmond was allowed to phone her — and made a vow to straighten out his life, O’Neal told Vieira.

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O’Neal said Redmond made “a promise — a promise of a good life. Of a life that she would be proud of. Because he is her legacy. Now he knows that, finally. It’s clear.”

In perhaps the most moving moment in “Farrah’s Story,” the dying Fawcett reads aloud from a letter she wrote in her journal to Redmond. She read, “For Redmond, my boy, I will always be there. When you are so very young, I will be there. When one day you wake up and realize I am gone. I will still be there.”

Now, O’Neal is forwarding the mass of condolence letters the family has received since Fawcett’s death to Redmond’s jail cell.

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

“I send it so he can see what people felt about his mother, and it gives him strength to carry on his fight — he’s in a dogfight,” O’Neal said.

Ryan acknowledged that Fawcett was long “the rock” in their family, and O’Neal himself is now adjusting to his new role as Redmond’s sole family mentor. He’s doing that as he himself learns to cope with the loss — and keep Farrah close to his heart.

While O’Neal was visibly shaken through much of his interview with Vieira, he noticeably brightened when Vieira mentioned Farrah’s friend and “Charlie’s Angels” co-star Kate Jackson’s comment that she will always remember most the pearly smile that was Farrah’s trademark. Vieira asked O’Neal what he would remember most about Fawcett.

“So, so much, Meredith,” he said. “But her smile wasn’t bad! It was beautiful. I’ll take that.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Ryan O’Neal on Fawcett’s final hours


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