Farrah Fawcett defined celebrity. She easily embodied the old-school definition of that multifaceted word. She was a pop-culture icon who time and again proved beauty and talent weren’t strange bedfellows. She was unpredictable and splashy, sexy and serious, trendsetting and tenacious.
I was 11 years old in September 1976 when ABC premiered a detective show named “Charlie’s Angels.” I was immediately in awe. We got three gorgeous women who always seemed to look flawless, no matter what the sleuthing assignment.
At the center of it all was Fawcett, whose career that pivotal year did a spectacular triple somersault. She had a brief yet memorable role in the cult sci-fi classic “Logan’s Run.” And, of course, her insanely popular red bathing suit poster hit stores.
The poster sold an estimated — and still unmatched — 12 million copies. “Charlie’s Angels” fast became a ratings gold mine. In an instant, Fawcett was nationally famous. Yet her brand of glamour somehow felt earthy. Fawcett exuded an approachable combination of all-American-girl appeal and seductive vixen allure.
Truthfully, Fawcett was never my favorite Angel. That would be Jaclyn Smith, who radiated outer and inner beauty.
But Fawcett represented a rare kind of carefree fantasy. She was the quintessential example of the sun-kissed Los Angeles lifestyle. Although a native of Corpus Christi, Texas, Fawcett could have been the face of L.A. tourism. That poster probably would have sold millions, too.
She played tennis. She had a perennial bronze tan. She smiled a perfect set of pearly whites. She had an hourglass figure. She had a much-copied hairdo that immediately set her apart. Women wanted to look like her. Hairdressers across the country had to quickly learn how to replicate that sought-after coif. Men wanted to date her.
This 11-year-old boy just wanted to collect her posters. A slew of them were released, but I particularly loved the seven she made for Pro Arts, the then Ohio-based company that put out the red bathing suit pinup. My favorite was dubbed “Farrah Paisley,” because she sat in front of a paisley-covered wall and wore a similar wrap-around that covered everything that needed concealing. She was all lithe legs and sincere smile. Her hair almost looked unkempt (gasp!), but it was all part of the appeal.
When Fawcett abruptly left “Charlie’s Angels” after the first season, I was disappointed. (It didn’t stop me from continuing to watch the show, though.) I found it difficult to keep up with Farrah’s career decisions. I wasn’t the only one. Beauty alone couldn’t keep her afloat. She made a trio of cinematic disasters — 1978’s “Somebody Killed Her Husband,” “Sunburn” in 1979 and “Saturn 3” the next year. This wasn’t the era of Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan. Celebrities had to be more than just pretty, empty-headed fodder for tabloids.
Then in 1984, three years after the end of “Charlie’s Angels,” Fawcett, ever the surviving chameleon, stunned me and everybody else with her performance in the TV movie “The Burning Bed.” I was amazed. Her role as battered wife Francine Hughes earned her the first of three Emmy nominations. She lost herself in a role that wasn’t pretty.
There’d be no posters to come out of this one. Instead, mane and teeth aside, she showed us she could act. She scored another Emmy nod as murdering mother Diana Downs in 1989’s “Small Sacrifices.”
I was a ripe 24 years old, and Farrah Fawcett, my poster queen, had earned my respect. I trumpeted her portrayals in 1986’s “Extremities,” 1987’s “Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story” and 1997’s “The Apostle” to anybody who would listen.
And yet, like all true celebrities, Fawcett tossed a few curveballs that left me and her other diehard fans cringing. In 1997’s Playboy: Farrah Fawcett, All of Me, she painted her nude body. That same year she seemed totally spaced out during an interview on “The Late Show With David Letterman.” That one’s still akin to watching a train wreck.
Then of course we have 2005’s “Chasing Farrah,” a reality TV show about ... Farrah. Um, OK. Whatever.
Even in those embarrassing projects, Fawcett was thoroughly enjoyable. She wasn’t just some spoiled, inheritance-funded party girl. She was Farrah, a pop-culture icon with enough substance to offset the loopy moments. In my mind she always returned to Los Angeles, circa 1976, the Charles Townsend Detective Agency. She’s eternally Jill Munroe solving crimes with Sabrina Duncan and Kelly Garrett.
It’s highly doubtful that today’s entertainment industry could create another celebrity like Farrah Fawcett. She was a walking array of contradictions that somehow always made sense.