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O’Neal: Fawcett’s had ‘terrible time’ in past year

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.

Insidious adversaryIn 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.’ ”

Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images North America
CENTURY CITY, CA - MAY 15: Actors Ryan O' Neal and Farrah Fawcett attend the Share, Inc., 51st Annual Boomtown Party at the Century Plaza Hotel & Spa on May 15, 2004 in Century City, California. Actor Sharon Stone and Kelly Stone Singer, founders of "Planet Hope" were honored at the event. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

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?”

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    In bed together

    Farrah Fawcett, right, shares a scene with Raquel Welch in the 1970 film "Myra Breckinridge." It was Fawcett's first major film role.

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    Major life changes

    Fawcett, right, married actor Lee Majors in 1973. The next year, Majors debuted as Col. Steve Austin in the television series "The Six Million Dollar Man," in which Fawcett guest starred. The couple divorced in 1982.

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    The blonde 'Angel'

    Fawcett, right, won fame on the television series "Charlie's Angels," in which she played a glamorous private detective along with Jaclyn Smith, left, and Kate Jackson. Fawcett's famous 'do was copied by women across the nation.

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    Poster girl

    In 1976, just as her career was taking off, Fawcett posed for this pin-up poster, which sold millions of copies and broke sales records.

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    A princely evening

    Fawcett, left, meets the Prince of Wales backstage at the London Palladium after the Royal show Supernight in London on April 9, 1978. Fawcett, who was married to Lee Majors at the time, was the emcee for the benefit event that raised funds for the United World College.

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    Out of this world

    Fawcett starred with Kirk Douglas in the 1980 film "Saturn 3." Despite Fawcett's topless scene, the film was a commercial flop.

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    Down, but not out

    Fawcett staged a comeback in 1984, earning critical praise when she portrayed a battered wife in the television movie "The Burning Bed."

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  • RYAN O'NEAL AND FARRAH FAWCETT, DEAUVILLE, FRANCE - 1984

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    A new beau

    After her divorce from Lee Majors, Fawcett moved in with Ryan O'Neal. In 1985, they had a son together, Redmond O'Neal.

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    A taste of revenge

    In 1986, Fawcett starred in "Extremities" with James Russo. The movie is about a woman who takes revenge on a would-be rapist.

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    Losing her grip

    In 2000, Fawcett played Kate, the mentally unstable wife of gynecologist Dr. Sullivan Travis (Richard Gere), in Robert Altman's "Dr. T & the Women."

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    Don't judge me

    Fawcett, with actor Charlie Sheen, portrayed Judge Claire Simmons on four episodes of the television series "Spin City" in 2001.

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    One big happy family?

    Ryan O'Neal, center, and Fawcett arrive with their son Redmond at the premiere of "Malibu's Most Wanted" at the Chinese Theater on April 10, 2003, in Los Angeles. Ryan O'Neal had a role in the series.

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    Still cookin'

    Fawcett had a role in 2004's "The Cookout."

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    No joke

    In August 2006, Fawcett took part in the Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner. Two months later, the actress announced that she was battling cancer.

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    'Angels' reunite

    Fawcett joins former "Charlie's Angels" co-stars Kate Jackson, left, and Jaclyn Smith, right, onstage at the 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on Aug. 27, 2006, in Los Angeles.

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    Mother and son

    Farrah Fawcett and her son Redmond O'Neal share an embrace in a scene from "Farrah's Story," a personal look at her battle with cancer. Shot with her own home video recorder, the film chronicles the actress' two and half year battle with cancer. It aired on NBC on Friday, May 15.

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    In treatment

    In a scene from "Farrah's Story," Fawcett consults with a health careworker while receiving treatment in Germany in 2008.

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    Serving as an example

    Farrah Fawcett decided to do the film "Farrah's Story" because she wanted to serve as an example whose health battle would offer a lasting effect — especially in the areas of protecting patient confidentiality and promoting alternative treatments for cancer.

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“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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