Also Credited As:Charles Patrick Ryan O'Neal
|Charles Patrick Ryan O'Neal on April 20, 1941 in Los Angeles, California, USA|
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Ryan Patrick O'Neal was born in Los Angeles on April 20, 1941, and spent much of his childhood abroad. His mother, Patricia Callaghan, was a stage actress who had appeared in a few films such as "Rosemary's Baby" (1968), and his father, Charles "Blackie" O'Neal, was a screenwriter and novelist. As a teenager, O'Neal attended University High School in West Los Angeles and trained to be boxer. He became a Golden Gloves contender, with an amateur boxing record of 18-4 with 13 knockouts. In the late '50s, the family relocated to Germany, where Blackie O'Neal was working as a writer on Radio Free Europe broadcasts. Ryan graduated from Munich American High School in 1959. That same year, he made his TV debut as a stunt man in the German TV series, "Tales of Vikings" (syndicated, 1959-1960), which both his parents were working on at the time.
When the O'Neals returned to the States, the sandy-haired hunk found small parts in comedy series like "Dobie Gillis" (CBS, 1959-1963) and Westerns such as "The Virginian" (NBC, 1962-1971) before landing his first big break with a recurring role (in over 500 episodes!) on the early seminal soap opera, "Peyton Place" (ABC, 1964-69). He appeared in his first feature film in 1969, an adaptation of Elmore Leonard's "The Big Bounce," in which he co-starred with his then-wife, Leigh Taylor-Young. But it would be the following year, when he was chosen from a pool of 300 actors to play opposite Ali McGraw in the melodramatic "Love Story," that everything changed for the handsome actor. The big screen newcomer netted an Oscar nomination for his role as a buff jock who endures the loss of his great love to a rare blood disease.
An overnight star, O'Neal followed this up with a co-starring role as the bumbling professor Howard Bannister opposite Barbra Streisand in the screwball comedy classic, "What's Up Doc?" In 1973, he and real-life daughter, Tatum O'Neal, paired up to play Great Depression era grifters in the black and white modern classic, "Paper Moon" - arguably his best film and one for which 10-year-old Tatum won an Academy Award. O'Neal was now one of the top-grossing lead men in Hollywood, but he experienced his share of lackluster flops films - including "Barry Lyndon" (1975) and "Oliver's Story" (1977) - before his next big success, 1979's campy "The Main Event." Again re-teamed with an afro-sporting Streisand, the couple reignited their onscreen chemistry to box office success, but the film was hardly in the same league as their first effort. Hollywood legend has it that O'Neal had been considered for the lead roles in "The Godfather" (1972) and "Rocky" (1976), both of which might have given him more staying power and street cred with the industry. But the parts famously went to other actors, Al Pacino and Sylvester Stallone, respectively.
By all accounts, the witty actor's true talents had lain in the comedies and romantic dramas that had propelled him to stardom, but during the 1980s, his cinematic momentum stalled. Most of his films during that period were forgettable, with the sole exception being "Irreconcilable Differences" (1984). In the modest box office hit, he delivered a fine portrayal of a Hollywood director and father coping with divorce, starring opposite Shelley Long and a young Drew Barrymore. O'Neal returned to television in 1991 for the short-lived CBS sitcom, "Good Sports." Fortunately the failed series boasted one bright spot for O'Neal: working alongside his longtime lover, 1970s icon Farrah Fawcett, with the two playing co-anchors. For the rest of the nineties, he showed up as a wealthy pinstripe-clad business type in several TV and film roles - most memorably in the quirky independent film, "Zero Effect" (1998) starring Bill Pullman and then-unknown Ben Stiller. O'Neal eventually regained some credibility footing on the small screen, with recurring roles on the stock market drama "Bull" (TNT, 2000-01) and Alicia Silverstone's "Miss Match" (NBC, 2003), as well as guest appearances on top shows, "Bones"(Fox, 2005- ) and "Desperate Housewives" (ABC, 2004-2012).
Earning a reputation early on for a heavy dating schedule, O'Neal was linked with some of the hottest ladies of the big and small screen throughout the years, including Mick Jagger's former wife, Bianca Jagger, fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg, Diana Ross, and co-star Barbra Streisand. His close friendship with Lee Majors of "Six Million Dollar Man" (ABC, 1974-78) fame unsurprisingly fizzled once O'Neal began dating Majors' ex, Farrah Fawcett, in a very public relationship that would last 17 years. The two were never married but had son Redmond in 1985. Prior to Fawcett, O'Neal had been married to actress Joanna Cook Moore, a troubled woman who battled drug and alcohol problems, with whom he had future famous children, Tatum and son Griffin. He had also been married to actress Leigh Taylor-Young, with whom he had a son, Patrick, in 1967.
The various incarnations of the O'Neal families were no strangers to tabloid headlines. His relationship with Fawcett was on-again/off-again, with the former "Charlie's Angels" (ABC, 1976-1981) star coming under attack several times for dazed and incoherent television show appearances, suggesting drug problems. Daughter Tatum had been making news over several decades for her drug addiction, suicide attempt, and marriage to volatile tennis star John McEnroe. In 2004, she wrote a tell-all autobiography, A Paper Life, that graphically painted her father as neglectful and abusive towards her and her brother Griffin, as well as heaping blame on him for exposing her to the drug-riddled Hollywood atmosphere as a kid. O'Neal denied her accusations, and in an interview during his run on Alicia Silverstone's "Miss Match," he was quoted as saying that Silverstone was the daughter he wished that he had had.
O'Neal's parental problems were not strictly daughter-centric. In a high-profile 1983 incident, the actor was accused of knocking out son Griffin's front teeth during an argument. A toothless Griffin's face was promptly splashed across periodicals, tarnishing O'Neal's reputation at that time. Things would get even messier, when some 20 years later, an altercation between O'Neal and his now 42-year-old son resulted in assault charges against the father. O'Neal maintained that the shots he fired at his Malibu home during an argument with Griffin were not meant to harm, but rather, scare away his son, who had allegedly come after his dad with a fireplace poker. During the melee, Griffin's pregnant girlfriend, JoAnne Berry, was struck in the face with the poker. An accusatory "who-started-it" went back and forth between the two, in full view of the media, with O'Neal's friends jumping to his defense and Tatum, not surprisingly, siding with her brother. As with his sister, this was not the first time the troubled Griffin had made headlines. Previously, he had been arrested for drunk driving and, in 1986, was charged with reckless boating for an incident resulting in the death of his friend and director Francis Ford Coppola's son, Gian-Carlo Coppola. Griffin would go eventually be indicted for manslaughter for his role in the tragic accident.
Despite the messiness of the various family run-ins and accusations, in 2001, O'Neal received an outpouring of public sympathy when he was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a type of blood cancer. He was treated and officially declared to be in remission when, ironically, his former lover, Fawcett, was diagnosed in September of 2006 for rectal cancer. O'Neal stood by her side in a very public display of affection. The two were interviewed for having survived their ordeals together as supportive friends with a great deal of love still between them. While Fawcett reported that she was cancer-free in 2007, reports surfaced that her condition had turned malignant and that she was seeking alternative treatment in Germany. But the news was overshadowed when O'Neal was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and negligent discharge of a firearm after an altercation with his son, Griffin. He was released after posting $50,000 bail.
In 2008, O'Neal added to his legal problems when he and his son, Redmond, were arrested for felony drug possession of methamphetamine after Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies conducted a probation search on his son, who was previously arrested for felony possession of meth and heroin, and driving under the influence. According to the L.A. district attorney's spokesperson, the narcotics were found in O'Neal's shoes which were inside his bedroom. O'Neal pled guilty to the charge of felony possession in a Malibu courtroom. The charge was to be cleared from his record pending successful completion of a court-approved drug diversion program. Meanwhile, news about Fawcett's rapidly declining health resurfaced in the winter of 2009, especially after the two-hour video diary, "Farrah's Story" aired on NBC to nine million viewers. On the program, O'Neal was shown supporting her through numerous cancer treatments and attempting humor to keep her spirits it up. It was a true testament to the love the couple had for one another. O'Neal taped an interview with Barbara Walters on "20/20" (ABC, 1978), where he declared that his long-time companion was "fighting for her life." He kept his spirits up by also stating that he intended to finally marry her after 26 years of him asking for her hand. But before the interview could be aired, Fawcett succumbed to her cancer on the morning of June 25, 2009, with family and friends by her side at a Santa Monica, CA hospital. She was 62.