Ryan O’Neal was a very famous Hollywood film actor and television star who will be remembered most for his role in Love Story (1970), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama. He also starred in What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Paper Moon (1973), which earned him another Golden Globe nomination, Barry Lyndon (1975), A Bridge Too Far (1977), The Driver (1978), and many others. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in February 2021.
He died on December 8, 2023, after suffering from multiple health issues that had left him so debilitated that he could not walk without a cane.
• In 2001 at age 60, he developed chronic myelogenous leukemia, a slowly progressing bone marrow blood-cell cancer
• In 2012, at age 72, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer
• He also suffered from diabetes, severe shoulder problems and recurrent blood infections.
Acting Career and Multiple Relationships
O’Neal started as a stunt performer and extra in films and television. He drew national recognition playing Rodney Harrington in the hugely popular Peyton Place, a TV series that ran from 1964 to 1969. This began a long and successful acting career, and by far his most memorable role was Oliver Barrett in Erich Segal’s Love Story, with Ali McGraw (1970). The Guardian newspaper said, “There were plenty of handsome leading men in the Hollywood of the early 70s: Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds … but none of them were as purely and fascinatingly pretty as Ryan O’Neal, none with that cherubic pertness, complicated with a kind of wounded vulnerability: a pout, a frown, a beguiling flash of femininity to go with the dreamboat male-lead looks, which went hand-in-hand also with something worldly and hard-edged.”
In 1963, at age 22, he married his first wife, actress Joanna Moore and they divorced in 1967. His second marriage was to his Peyton Place co-star Leigh Taylor-Young from 1967- 1973.
His many partners — from casual dating to long term relationships — included Anjelica Huston, Anouk Aimée, Barbara Allen, Melanie Griffith, Julie Christie, Bianca Jagger, Cybill Shepherd, Jacqueline Bisset, Barbra Streisand, Ursula Andress, Joan Collins, Lana Wood, Claudine Longet, Barbara Parkins, Mia Farrow, Leslie Stefanson, Barbara Carrera, Lauren Hutton, Juanita Brown, Diana Ross and Diane von Fürstenberg.
The love of his life was Farrah Fawcett, the noted actress on Charlie’s Angels. He spent almost 30 years with her from 1979 to 1997, with episodes of breaking up and coming back together. Fawcett had ended the relationship when she discovered O’Neal with Leslie Stefan, but when he was diagnosed with leukemia, she moved back into his home and they continued to live together until she died from anal cancer in 2009.
What is Cancer?
Normal cells have a programmable death called apoptosis. They divide a certain number of times and then die. For example, skin cells live 28 days and then die, and cells inside your mouth live for 48 hours and then die. In cancer, cells have lost their programmed death and try to live forever. Cancer cells rarely kill a person if they remain in a single location, but when they become so numerous that they leave the original site, they invade and destroy other parts of the body. For example, breast cancer does not kill as long as it remains in the breast, but when the cancer cells leave the breast, they can invade the lungs and the person smothers to death, or they invade the brain to stop it from functioning, and so forth.
Your Immune System Tries to Protect You from Cancer
Your body makes new cells every day, guided by the genetic material inside each cell. Each day, mutations occur in some cells that turn these once-normal cells into cancer cells that try to live forever. To protect you from developing cancer, your immune system searches out and kills these cancer cells in the same way that it kills germs that try to invade your body.
When a germ gets into your body, your immune system recognizes that the germ’s cells have proteins that are different from your body’s own cells. Your immune system produces cells and proteins that attack and kill these invading germs. In the same way, your immune system notices that cancer cells have proteins that are different from those on your normal cells, so it attacks and kills the cancer cells and removes them from your body. A cancer spreads when your immune system fails to keep the proliferating cancer cells under control.
Lessons from the Deaths of Ryan O’Neal and Farrah Fawcett
I tell my patients that one of the best ways to help prevent some cancers is to choose your parents wisely, since heredity and genetics can be important risk factors. Beyond that, many different factors can damage the genetic material called DNA in cells so that they don’t undergo normal apoptosis and die. These factors include:
• smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke
• exposure to sun and tanning beds
• overweight and obesity
• excessive alcohol use
• exposure to toxic chemicals
• a pro-inflammatory diet
• lack of exercise
• infectious diseases – see Every New Contact Puts You At Risk for Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com