Born on April 20, 1941, Ryan O’Neal worked as a boxer before getting into acting, starring in the ‘60s soap Peyton Place. His role in Love Story earned him an Oscar nod and he’s starred in a host of other films, including Barry Lyndon, Paper Moon, What’s Up, Doc? and The Main Event, the latter two co-starring Barbra Streisand. O’Neal had a long-term relationship with actress Farrah Fawcett.
Actor Patrick Ryan O'Neal was born on April 20, 1941, in Los Angeles, California. He was born into show business as the son of writer, Charles "Blackie" O'Neal, and actress Patricia Callaghan. Determined to follow his own path, O'Neal trained to become a professional boxer, competing in two Golden Gloves championships in Los Angeles in 1956 and 1957. He had an impressive amateur fighting record—18 wins to 4 losses, with 13 knockouts.
In the late 1950s, O'Neal and his family moved to Germany for his father's job writing broadcasts for Radio Free Europe. O'Neal finished up his schooling at the Munich American High School, graduating in 1959. His parents helped him land his first job in the entertainment industry as a stuntman on the German television series Tales of the Vikings, which his parents were working on.
O'Neal returned to the United States to try his luck in Hollywood. In 1962, he landed a supporting role in the television western Empire. The show only lasted a season, but more parts soon followed. O'Neal made guest appearances on such shows as The Virginian, Perry Mason, and Wagon Train before getting a role on the groundbreaking prime-time soap opera Peyton Place in 1964.
Peyton Place, based on the best-selling novel by Grace Metalious, explored the darker side of several families living in a suburban New England town. It was a huge hit with television audiences, and its popularity helped launch O'Neal's career and the career of cast member Mia Farrow.
O'Neal's personal life seemed much like the soap opera he starred in. In the early 1960s, O'Neal married actress Joanna Moore. The couple had two children together: a daughter named Tatum in 1963 and son Griffin in 1964. They split up a few years later, divorcing in 1967. That same year, O'Neal married for the second time. He wed actress Lee Taylor-Young with whom he had a son Patrick. O'Neal and Taylor-Young also divorced soon after.
After Peyton Place ended in 1969, O'Neal moved on to feature films. He landed the lead in 1969's The Big Bounce, starring opposite his wife Lee in a film adaptation of the novel by Elmore Leonard. It proved to be a box-office disappointment, but his next effort, 1970's Love Story, turned out to be a great success. He played Oliver Barrett IV, beating out 300 other performers for the role. O'Neal starred opposite Ali McGraw in this romantic tearjerker about a young man who turns his back on his wealth to marry the woman he loves, only to lose her to a terminal illness. For his work on the film, he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Turning to comedy, O'Neal starred opposite Barbra Streisand in What's Up Doc? (1971). He then played a grifter working con games with his daughter (played by his real-life daughter Tatum) in the critically acclaimed hit Paper Moon (1973). Tatum won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role. While his daughter's career appeared to be heating up, O'Neal experienced several flops, including Stanley Kubrick's 1975 historical drama Barry Lyndon and 1978's Oliver's Story, a sequel to Love Story. He also had a series of missed opportunities, having been considered and rejected for lead roles in The Godfather and Rocky. In 1979, O'Neal scored a box office win with The Main Event, starring again with Barbra Streisand in this popular boxing comedy.
His next few films failed to make much of an impression on critics or movie-goers, but he did receive some attention for his personal life. In 1983, O'Neal made headlines for a fight he had with his oldest son Griffin, in which he knocked out two of Griffin's teeth. Gossip columns also buzzed with rumors that O'Neal was dating actress Farrah Fawcett. Fawcett was still married to actor Lee Majors at the time, who was also one of O'Neal friends. While O'Neal and Fawcett never married, they welcomed a son, Redmond, in 1985.
Around this time, O'Neal scored a modest hit with 1984's Irreconcilable Differences. He co-starred with Shelley Long as parents who are sued for divorce by their daughter (played by Drew Barrymore). O'Neal returned to his television roots in 1991 with the sitcom Good Sports. He played a former football star who lands a sportscaster job at a sports cable network and ends up working with a former fling (played by Farrah Fawcett). The show lasted for only seven months.
In coming years, O'Neal became more famous for his off-screen life than his acting work. His relationship with Fawcett was an endless source of interest for the tabloid press. The couple broke up in the late 1990s, but they remained friendly after the split. They reunited in 2001, as O'Neal faced another challenge: cancer. He was able to successfully treat the disease with medication, and entered into remission. Around that same time, O'Neal appeared on the short-lived television drama Bull. He tried again in 2003 with the romantic comedy Miss Match, playing the father of a matchmaker across from Alicia Silverstone. The show was a ratings disaster, and didn't last a full season.
In 2005, O'Neal found himself under media scrutiny after his daughter Tatum published her autobiography A Paper Life. She wrote that he was an abusive father, and was responsible for introducing her and her brother Griffin to drugs at an early age. Despite this latest controversy, O'Neal scored a recurring role on the hit crime drama Bones. More family drama occurred in 2007, when O'Neal was arrested on assault charges after another run-in with son Griffin. During the altercation, Griffin's pregnant girlfriend was struck in the head with a fireplace poker, and O'Neal shot a gun into the air. The charges were later dropped. The O'Neal family continued to make headlines, however, with the drug arrests of Redmond and Tatum in 2008.
Facing another personal crisis, O'Neal supported Fawcett as she battled her own cancer. Fawcett, with the help of friend Alana Stewart, documented her struggle with the disease. The footage later became the two-hour television special Farrah's Story, which aired in May 2009. O'Neal appeared on the television news show 20/20 to talk about Fawcett's struggle and how her illness had brought them closer together. He even said that he was going to marry Fawcett, but her condition deteriorated before that could happen.
On June 25, 2009, Fawcett succumbed to her illness. Even her funeral became a part of the O'Neal family drama. Ryan refused to allow son Griffin to attend the service because he had disparaged his father in the press. Griffin told the media that Ryan only wanted to marry Farrah for her money. Ryan also did not recognize his daughter Tatum when she came to pay her respects. Son Patrick was also in attendance.
The future is now uncertain for this once-prominent Hollywood actor. "There's nothing out there for me. I don't want to be somebody's grandfather . . . so I wait around—and dream," O'Neal once told People magazine. Whether he is able to resurrect his career or not, O'Neal and his family will remain popular with the media and the public, who are fascinated by this dysfunctional Hollywood dynasty.
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