LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - She gained fame as a sex symbol and the star of a cheesy television show, which should have made Farrah Fawcett a footnote in Hollywood history.
But her up-and-down career and public battle with cancer could give her a lasting legacy as an icon of 1970s pop culture long after her death on Thursday.
Fawcett’s dazzling smile and flowing blonde hair, her struggle to be taken seriously as an actress, her love affair with actor Ryan O’Neal and her grueling TV diary documenting her fight against cancer should help ensure she is remembered.
“There were many aspects to her personality — her instant success, her widespread fame and the very public fight against cancer that made her a hero all over again — that captured the public imagination,” said Matt Roush, senior critic for TV Guide magazine.
Despite only one full season as private detective Jill Munroe in “Charlie’s Angels” in 1976, Fawcett’s healthy, athletic girl-next-door — all captured in a poster of a tanned, smiling Fawcett in a red one-piece bathing suit — made her a sex symbol for millions of young men around the world.
She was “embedded in American hearts and consciousness” as a symbol of the era, said Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University in New York.
Fawcett’s body of work was small, but her roles as a serious actress in the 1980s dramas “Extremities” and “The Burning Bed” earned her award nominations, transforming her from Hollywood pin-up to an acclaimed actress.
Finally, near her death, she documented her battle with anal cancer and then liver cancer in the self-produced “Farrah’s Story,” broadcast on U.S. television in May.
“It was a grueling, painful thing to watch. Farrah Fawcett managed to get on the air something that looked into the heart of darkness in a way that a lot of TV and film has never managed to do,” Thompson said.
Fawcett’s on-again, off-again romance with O’Neal turned into a compelling real life “Love Story” when the actor, who starred in a 1970 movie of that name, returned to Fawcett’s side in 2006 as her constant companion.
“The fact that she fought so hard for her life these past few years, and the efforts of Ryan O’Neal to fight alongside her, will ensure her remaining in pop culture for a long time and someone who people will idealize for some years to come,” said Roush.