As she stretched out her long, tanned legs by the pool of her Bel Air mansion, the young woman with the sapphire-blue eyes seemed the quintessential Californian beauty. Sunlight caught in her lustrous hair, and her red swimsuit clung to every contour of her toned body. From the moment he took his first picture, Life magazine photographer Bruce McBroom must have known that this shoot, and this woman, was something special - but no-one could have predicted how iconic that image would be.
It was 1976, the year Farrah Fawcett became an international pin-up and one of the most recognisable - and desirable - women in the world. A month after posing for that shot, which was used to create a poster that sold more than 12 million copies worldwide, the virtually unknown model and actress sparked a frenzy when she appeared in the groundbreaking new TV series Charlie's Angels. The first of its kind featuring women in the starring roles, the show catapulted the 29 year old into the hearts of millions. Hot-blooded males tuned in religiously to watch "America's sex-and-sunshine girl"; teenage girls stampeded hair salons to copy the "Farrah flick"; and every young fan wanted their very own "Farrah doll". Fawcett was a phenomenon.
Her rise to fame was meteoric, but she came close to being just another Hollywood one-hit wonder with the failure of her fairytale marriage to The Six Million Dollar Man star Lee Majors, and her attempt at a film career. But she bounced back, proving herself with Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated performances as a battered wife in 1984's The Burning Bed and a rape victim in Extremities in 1986. Her success sparked a run of critically acclaimed TV and film roles throughout the '80s, but her chaotic and tragic personal life put paid to any hopes of a long and distinguished career. For more than 20 years, she had an on-off relationship with, but never married, actor Ryan O'Neal. Fawcett and the Love Story star, known for his volatile temper, made a fiery couple, with the actress admitting to an "aggressiveness in my nature", which made her notoriously difficult to work with. The couple had a tempestuous relationship punctuated by violent rows and passionate reconciliations. When their romance ended in 1997 amid allegations of his infidelity (they reunited several times in the next 12 years), Fawcett's life went into free-fall.
Portrayed unkindly in the press - a result, she claimed, of her split with O'Neal - Fawcett was dogged by rumours of drug abuse. When she appeared disoriented (and with obvious signs of cosmetic surgery) on the Late Show With David Letterman in 1997, People magazine called her "Hollywood's woman on the verge". At 50, she posed nude for Playboy (she said she worked out every day, and had reputedly been doing 60 sit-ups daily since she was 12), but in her quest to stay youthful, her face became increasingly disfigured by plastic surgery.
With her glory days behind her, the former golden girl cut a sad figure as she tried to reignite her career with a poorly received reality TV show, and attempted to deal with son Redmond's drug addiction. Then, cruelly, a year short of her 60th birthday, Fawcett was diagnosed with cancer. Earlier this year, she starred in the documentary Farrah's Story, which charted her battle with the disease. The show was watched by nine million Americans, and in it she told fans: "I do not want to die of this disease. So I say to God, 'It is seriously time for a miracle.'" But there was to be no divine intervention, and on the morning of June 25 this year, she succumbed to cancer, aged 62. Michael Jackson died on the same day, making it one of Tinseltown's bleakest.
Born on February 2, 1947, Mary Farrah Leni Fawcett grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, with her parents, Pauline and James, an oil refinery worker, and older sister, Diane. She was a shy, pretty child who wanted "very much not to be looked at" after a traumatic incident at the age of six, when an older boy tried to sexually assault her on her way home from school. As a teenager, Fawcett considered becoming a nun, but after graduating from high school, she attended the University of Texas in Austin and studied art. Male students there were so besotted with the stunning freshman that they memorised her timetable so they could watch her walking across campus, and she was named one of the university's 10 most beautiful women. A career in modelling beckoned, and when a Hollywood talent agent spotted Fawcett's photograph in the local paper and urged her to move to LA, she took his advice.
The 21 year old arrived in Hollywood in 1968. Incredibly, within three weeks, she was earning thousands of dollars as a model and actress in TV commercials. She also started dating Majors, who asked Fawcett out after his agent showed him her photo. As half of one of Hollywood's golden couples, doors started to open for her, and she soon had minor roles in TV shows The Partridge Family and I Dream Of Jeannie. Her first Hollywood movie, though, was a disaster. Not only was 1970's Myra Breckinridge panned, but at its screening, Majors dragged Fawcett out of the cinema after objecting to a revealing costume she was wearing in one of the scenes.
Nevertheless, Fawcett married Majors in July 1973, and moved into his palatial Bel Air home. Three years later, Charlie's Angels began and her career really took off. "She was just what we needed," said executive producer Aaron Spelling, before his death in 2006. "But we had no idea the series was going to be a landmark. We just looked around and figured what the tube needed was a complete fantasy with three beautiful women." Her co-stars, Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson, were equally gorgeous but, thanks to her mane of tumbling golden curls, it was Fawcett who stole the limelight.
She was bemused by her sudden fame, and struggled with the gratuitousness of the show, coined "jiggle TV" for obvious reasons. "When the show was number three, I thought it was our acting. When we got to number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra," remarked Fawcett. In a bold move, she left the show after just one season to pursue more serious roles. But her lack of acting training proved an obstacle: when she appeared in 1978's Somebody Killed Her Husband, Hollywood insiders joked it should have been called Somebody Killed Her Career.
A year later, Fawcett split from Majors, repelled by his controlling behaviour. "Lee didn't talk," she revealed. "He thought I should come home and make the dinner." In fact, Majors had insisted on a clause in his wife's Charlie's Angels contract that allowed her to leave the set in time to cook his dinner each night. But her experience with Majors didn't dim her attraction to difficult men. In fact, Fawcett fell straight into the arms of his friend Ryan O'Neal, who had three children from previous relationships. He said of their first date that they "kissed and kissed until our lips were bloody".
The couple split their time between O'Neal's Malibu villa and Fawcett's Bel Air home, which had been part of her divorce settlement. With the support of her new lover - "I'm my own woman and Ryan likes me that way," she said - she took control of her career with Extremities, both the off-Broadway and film versions, and The Burning Bed. The couple's relationship was notoriously fiery, with regular and very public bust-ups that continued after the birth of their son, Redmond, in 1985. "Ryan gives everything an edge," explained Fawcett. "Our life. Our love affair. Our work. A couple of days together; a couple of days apart. I can't live with you; I can't live without you. It's like a teenage love affair."
But the affair ended in March 1997 when Fawcett allegedly discovered O'Neal's infidelity with an actress 30 years his junior. Rumours circulated that the heartbroken star was drowning her sorrows in drink and getting stoned on marijuana. Her behaviour on Letterman that June only confirmed suspicions she was heading for a breakdown. She later said that year was "like living in a Dali painting. It was hellish."
But worse was to come. In January 1998, Fawcett was assaulted by her then boyfriend, director James Orr, in a vicious fight. Left battered and bruised, she returned to his mansion the next evening to smash his windows with a baseball bat. "I was so embarrassed," admitted Fawcett about photos of her injuries that were leaked to the press, "but I thought maybe now people will understand what I was going through was not some temper tantrum; not some anorexic, drug-crazed, neurotic actress thing."
Fawcett's chaotic personal life started to impinge on her professional one. "She's a troubled woman," said producer Beth Polson, who worked with the actress on the 1999 TV movie Silk Hope. "Her reputation [for being difficult] is just so huge ... When she's in front of the camera, she's great. But whatever is going on in the rest of her life that makes it hard for her to get to the camera makes it hard for all of us." Fawcett was also now on the wrong side of 50 and desperately trying to hold on to her youth with cosmetic surgery. Work dried up and she was forced to sell her mansion and move into a small apartment on the edge of Beverly Hills.
Then, in 2001, O'Neal was diagnosed with leukaemia, and the couple's drug-addicted son almost died from an overdose. Caught between the two loves of her life, a fraught Fawcett rushed to be with her former lover, but denied they were back together. "I can only nurture one man at a time - and that man now is my son, Redmond," she insisted. By the end of 2005, she and O'Neal had reunited and split up again, and Fawcett had appeared in her dull reality TV show, Chasing Farrah. Then, in September 2006, she was diagnosed with cancer.
The shocking news unleashed a media frenzy as Fawcett was hounded by the press and photographed leaving hospital in a wheelchair following chemotherapy. In the end, she decided to share her battle in the documentary Farrah's Story, which aired in the US earlier this year. In it, she was shown shaving off what was left of her famous hair. "I have it at home," said a heartbroken O'Neal, who had been inseparable from the "love of my life" since Fawcett's diagnosis. "I rub her head. It's kind of fun, actually, this great, tiny little head. How she carried all that hair, I'll never know."
O'Neal moved the ailing star into his Malibu home to care for her. He told US journalist Barbara Walters he hoped to marry Fawcett "just as soon as she [could] say yes". But it wasn't to be. O'Neal remained at Fawcett's side as a Catholic priest read the last rites, and she slipped away. "I loved her with all my heart," he said later. "I will miss her so very, very much ... She's in a better place now."
Over the next few days, tributes poured in from her friends and admirers. Fawcett's closest friend, actress Alana Stewart, said: "For 30 years, Farrah was much more than a friend. She was my sister, and although I will miss her terribly, I know in my heart that she will always be there as that angel on the shoulder of everyone who loved her."Both the pivotal men in her life, Majors and O'Neal, were there to offer support in her final days, when it appeared Fawcett became resigned to her fate. In a note to her 91-year-old father, she reportedly wrote: "I've lived a full and wonderful life. I've loved and been loved. I'm happy. I'm ready."