Image, Immortality and Farrah Fawcett

This poster was everywhere in the late ’70s when I was a student at the University of Toronto. At St. Mike’s college, it probably was in more dorm rooms than crucifixes.
Farrah Fawcett was an icon, and her passing today at 62, following a day or two after the death of Ed McMahon, is another reminder that time and television are passing by.
Fawcett broke through with the ’70s jiggle show Charlie’s Angeles and kept right on jiggling through Battle of the Network Stars, the guilty TV pleasure for the ages. Howard Cosell doing a serious interview with Farrah-Fawcett-Majors told you everything you needed to know about the ’70s.
She was the Marilyn of her day, on every magazine cover and sold millions of tabloids. She was all hair and teeth and tan and had to fight past all that to gain respect later in TV movies like the Burning Bed.
I interviewed her when she played a killer in the TV-movie Small Sacrifices back when I was at TV Guide and found her thoughtful and serious on the phone. She was terrific in that role, cold-blooded and charismatic; convincing.
Years later, she became kind of a tragic figure through what appeared to be flighty appearances on David Letterman and Tonight. It didn’t help that she was promoting some sort of artsy nude appearance in an HBO special, some sort of fabulous at 50 -plus deal. Fawcett seemed distracted and unfocused on these talk show appearances and, well, stoned. We were laughing, not lusting, at her, which always made me wince. Still, she kept her brand alive. One Letterman visit led to some of his highest ratings ever.
Around this same time or shortly afterwards, Fawcett sat before critics at press tour. She was promoting the 2005 reality series Chasing Farrah which followed her around and pretty much exploited her on-again, off-again relationship with Ryan O’Neal. It was after The Osbournes broke big and everybody from Tammy Faye Bakker to Wayne Newton was in on the celebrity sell-out sweepstakes.
Fawcett seemed a big unfocused and distracted at that occasion, too, but it was evident from that hour that she was simply like that. More impressive was her candor and humor, which as I recall was especially self-deprecating. She seemed a bit dotty, but still plenty hot, still plenty girlish in all her cougar glory.
Sadly, it was around that same time or shortly afterwards that she was diagnosed with cancer. In her final months, she gave everything she had left to that NBC special Farrah’s Story, detailing her fight against the cancer which eventually took her life. It was so hard to watch I didn’t watch it, but I admire her for putting it out there. Fawcett made herself over at the end from pin-up poster girl to the poster girl for cancer awareness. She believed in her power and found her triumph and that’s a pretty amazing epitaph.

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