Ms. Fawcett had a brief brush with theatre, appearing in Off-Broadway's Extremities.
Few predicted the widespread appeal of "Charlie's Angels," a 1976 Aaron Spelling-produced action drama with a fairly preposterous premise. After graduating from the police academy, three tall, beautiful women (originally Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Jaclyn Smith), dissatisfied by the menial work they're given by the police force, go to work for the Charles Townsend Agency as private investigators. They never see their mysterious boss, Charlie (voiced with stately timber by John Forsythe), who calls them his Angels, and communicated only through speakerphone and by way of his eunuch-like factotum (played by David Doyle). With each episode, they're given a new assignment, many of which caused them to go undercover in skimpy, sexy costumes, such as a beauty pageant contestant or roller derby girl. Critics called the series "Jiggle TV."
The show's impact was instant. The three actresses appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1976. Much of the series' instant success could be credited to Ms. Fawcett (then called Farrah Fawcett-Majors, owing to her marriage to actor Lee Majors). She played Jill Munroe. In her sunny, tan, California-style good looks and wavy mane of blond hair, men found a new sex symbol and women a new style. Thousands of women emulated her hair style, asking their hairdressers for a "Farrah Do." Her fame was further boosted by a popular poster at the time, in which she appeared in a red bikini. It sold 12 million copies — a record that still stands. As a late-'70s-style sex symbol, she was rivaled perhaps only by model Cheryl Tiegs, with whom she shared feathered blonde hair and a dazzling, wide smile.
Unhappy with her salary, Ms. Fawcett left the series after only one season. A lawsuit ensued, causing her to appear three times during the third and fourth years of the show. She was replaced by Cheryl Ladd.
Little respected by critics for her acting work in "Charlie's Angels," Ms. Fawcett had a tough time gaining credibility in the years to come. She acted in the Off-Broadway stage production, and later the movie version (for which she received a Golden Globe nomination), of the play Extremities, in which she played a rape victim who turns the tables on her attacker. A turning point came with her applauded performance as a battered wife in the 1984 television movie "The Burning Bed." The high-profile TV film became her forte, in which she gravitated toward portrayals of women in troubling circumstances. She acted in "Two Women" with Colleen Dewhurst, played Nazi-hunter Beate Klarsfeld in "Nazi Hunter," unhappy heiress Barbara Hutton in "Poor Little Rich Girl," and Life Magazine photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. She won an Emmy nomination for playing a killer in the 1989 miniseries "Small Sacrifices." Following less-than-challenging early film roles in "Saturn 3" and "The Cannonball Run," she won parts in Robert Altman's "Dr. T. & the Women" and the Robert Duvall feature "The Apostle."
She was to make her debut on Broadway in the 2003 Nancy Hasty comedy Bobbi Boland, but the production was bedeviled, and became one of the few plays in recent Broadway history to close during previews (the Playbills are coveted by collectors and fans).
Ferrah Leni Fawcett was born Feb. 2, 1947, in Corpus Christi, TX. She was voted "Beautiful Woman" by her high school, and, while studying microbiology at the University of Texas in Austin, won a campus beauty contest that got her noticed by an agent. She moved to Los Angeles after graduating. From the beginning, he career was focused on a clean, fresh, wholesome, yet sexy, American beauty that she seemed to exemplify. She appeared in commercials for Ultra-Brite toothpaste and Wella Balsam shampoo, making the most of her compelling teeth and follicles. Soon, she started making guest appearances on such series as "I Dream of Jeannie," "Harry O" and "The Six Million Dollar Man."
She is survived by her son, Redmond O'Neal, the product of a long relationship with actor Ryan O'Neal, with whom she lived for 17 years.