Charlie's Angels was a television hit after the debut of its first season in September 1976. Stars Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Farrah Fawcett became famous for their portrayal of police officers turned private detectives Sabrina, Kelly and Jill. Fawcett's star power was boosted by her famous 1976 swimsuit poster, and, as a result, she received more fan mail and media coverage than both of her fellow angels.
Given the show's success, it was a shock when Fawcett announced in 1977 that she was quitting. However, there were financial, creative and personal considerations that compelled her to leave.
Money may have motivated Fawcett's departure
Fawcett played a key role in attracting viewers to Charlie's Angels. According to series producer Aaron Spelling, "Her hair helped make the show. It became one of our signatures." Yet she was only paid $5,000 per episode, half of what co-star Jackson, who was better known prior to the show's launch, made. And while everything from lunchboxes to board games featured Fawcett's face, she received just two percent of the merchandising income.
Thanks to the success of the first season, which ran from 1976-77, Fawcett was in line for a raise to $10,000 per episode, but, according to the Washington Post, it was rumored she wanted $75,000. In terms of merchandising, she reportedly requested 10 percent. However, the production company discovered Fawcett wasn't interested in negotiating. "I would say, 'Well, Farrah, if we give you eight percent?' and she would say, 'Well, no, I don't know,'" producer Leonard Goldberg recounted to Vanity Fair.
Fawcett said she wanted to make movies
Perhaps Fawcett didn't haggle over her Angels income because movies seemed to present the opportunity to earn a bigger payday. Early in 1977, she'd shared with the Washington Post that she wanted to make a "picture with real woman's emotions," and co-star Smith has confirmed Fawcett "wanted to do features instead of a series." As Fawcett had millions of fans who watched her on TV and purchased her famous poster, it made sense to think the public would pay to watch her on the big screen.
Fawcett and then-husband, Six Million Dollar Man star Lee Majors, created Fawcett-Majors Productions to produce their own films. According to Goldberg, Angels producers tried to tempt the actress with a deal to have her star in an upcoming movie while continuing to fulfill her Angels duties. Fawcett would also have had the opportunity to make more feature films in the future. However, she didn't take this offer.
Fawcett was interested in creative growth
However, producers couldn't guarantee Fawcett's creative satisfaction on Charlie's Angels. "I want them to start showing she's had some hard knocks, too, and cries, and is sad," she told the Washington Post. "Who's gonna care about her if all she does is say, 'Ooo! This week I get to play the hooker?'" But Fawcett understood the limitations of starring on a program that had been labeled "jiggle TV," saying at one point, "When the show got to be No. 3, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be No. 1, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra."
Knowing that Charlie's Angels was never going to be a creatively fulfilling endeavor was another factor in Fawcett's decision to go. "For me to have stayed, I would have been very unhappy and I don't think I would have done good work. We didn't have, in my opinion, the greatest writers on that show," she once stated. "Creatively, I just felt stifled. So, it was time for me to leave."
Majors encouraged Fawcett to quit the show
In addition to creative and business motivations, marital concerns likely played a role in Fawcett's decision to quit Charlie's Angels. Making the show called for long days that could begin at five in the morning. When not busy with Charlie's Angels, she still had commercials to make on the weekend. Fawcett herself admitted, "I was working very hard, I wasn't pleased with the hours."
Fawcett reportedly had a clause in her contract that said she needed to finish on set in time to go home and make dinner for her husband, according to People. Yet starring on two TV shows meant the couple had less time for each other. Majors, who'd advised his wife about her career from the time she'd first arrived in Hollywood, encouraged her to leave Charlie's Angels to make movies. However, the marriage didn't last – by 1979 the couple had separated and officially divorced three years later.
Fawcett may have wanted a break from stardom
In addition to long hours, making Charlie's Angels could be dangerous. While on location, Fawcett once had a run-in with a race car that left her leg severely bruised. Plus outshining her co-stars had drawbacks. "I felt uncomfortable when all of a sudden I got more attention and fan mail than Jaclyn Smith or Kate Jackson," she told People in 1981. "I felt them change, not outwardly, but inwardly. We never had any arguments, but I felt a little barrier."
With legions of fans, Fawcett couldn't enjoy a normal life when she wasn't working. She would be surrounded anytime she went out in public and had to cut back on regular activities. And she believed she needed to take steps to adapt to her new life, saying in 1984, "I became successful before I was ready for it or knew what I was doing. The success came before I had done what I thought was a good role. I knew that if I was going to stay in the business I had to change and I wanted to change."
A lawsuit was filed against Fawcett when she quit
No matter the reasons behind Fawcett's decision to leave, she wasn't able to simply walk away from her hit show. The show's production company insisted she was under contract, but she told People that she "started to film Charlie’s Angels before my contract was worked out." A $7 million breach of contract suit was filed against her when she quit.
The dispute was settled with an agreement that Fawcett would guest star in six more episodes throughout the remainder of the series, which ran until 1981. However, she said she was blackballed for other projects because she'd left the show. "The whole lawsuit almost sank me," she revealed to People in 1979. "The industry was furious with me and hostile because I was a TV sex symbol who wanted to be an actress. People thought I was really pretentious, and for months no one would touch me."
'Charlie's Angels' was always part of Fawcett's life
Fawcett's career never reached the same heights after she left Charlie's Angels. Her first film post-Angels, Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978), was a failure that became known as "Somebody Killed Her Career." With Fawcett's departure, actress Cheryl Ladd began appearing on Charlie's Angels as the younger sister of Fawcett's character. Fawcett admitted to People, "I was surprised that I was so easy to replace."
Over the years, Fawcett continued to be identified with Charlie's Angels, even as she garnered respect as an actress by appearing off-Broadway and earning an Emmy Award nomination for the TV movie The Burning Bed (1984). Yet she also benefited from the lasting ties the show had created — when Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer, Jackson and Smith (both breast cancer survivors) gathered to support their fellow "angel" until her death in 2009.