Charlie’s Angel Gets Her Wings

by Judith Rich on June 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcett died today.  I’m extremely sad at the news, which kind of surprises me.  I don’t normally pay much attention to the lives of celebrities.  But the story of Farrah Fawcett captivated me and I wasn’t exactly sure why until I wrote this piece. It may seem like a stretch to be posting about the women’s movement in Iran one day and the death of Farrah Fawcett the next, but bear with me.  There’s a connection.

Her ravaged face has haunted me since watching the NBC special, Farrah’s Story,  last month documenting her journey with anal cancer.  Her story also captivated a sizeable audience, as 9 million people tuned in to watch what started out as a video diary about her cancer treatment and ended up documenting her dying process.

Something about her story wouldn’t leave me alone.  I had to investigate what was wanting to come through into consciousness through her journey.

I went to You Tube to review her film archives.  Fawcett appeared in 44 films, won three Emmy nominations, a Golden Globe nomination, and other film and off-Broadway acclaim.  While mostly remembered for her role as one of the Charlie’s Angels, she was only on the show for a single season.

But somewhere in the back of my mind was embedded an image of her in the TV movie, The Burning Bed, the film that established her as a serious actor.  This woman was more than just another pretty Hollywood face!

Maybe that’s what fascinated us about her.  She was extraordinarily beautiful, some calling her “the most beautiful woman who ever walked the face of the earth”.  But her beauty didn’t stop at her skin.  This woman had an inner beauty that defied language.  Maybe “angel” is as good a word as any.

She exuded sex appeal, yet managed to maintain a kind of shiny innocence, the classic Madonna/Whore archetype.  Despite the famous “red swimsuit” poster, which sold 12 million copies and made her the classic pin-up girl for the 80’s, her angelic nature came shining through that fatal smile.

But it’s not that fatal smile that’s etched in my memory.  Seeing her face as she approached her death, I see again the faces of the characters she played in the movies Burning Bed, Extremities and Small Sacrifices.

In each film, Fawcett portrayed the stories of real-life women who were victims of domestic violence, rape or a brutal murderer of her own children.  These roles were far from the kind of “puff” role she played in Charlie’s Angels.  These were real women whose lives were torn apart and subjected to brutal scrutiny by an existing system of laws that was unsympathetic to women’s rights.

The Burning Bed brought national attention to issues of domestic violence and was the first television movie to provide an 800 number for women seeking help from domestic abuse.  The face of the battered woman had a national champion in Fawcett, whose own face came to resemble the character she played in the movie.

Her life imitated her art

What haunts me about her story is how much her own life imitated her art. In many ways, Farrah’s personal story merged with those of the characters she portrayed.

In 1983, while performing in an off-Broadway production of Extremities, she was accosted on stage by a crazed fan, which managed to slip past the bodyguards, clutching what appeared to be a lead pipe.  He and Fawcett stood face to face in front of the audience.  She bravely attempted to go on with the show (just as she went on with the show documenting her cancer) but became visibly shaken when he began yelling, “I love you, I love you, and I’ve been looking for you”.

Her co-star and the show’s producer got the man off stage, but he managed to escape their grip and fled the theater.  He was later found outside and was only charged with disorderly conduct due to technicalities in the law. The “lead pipe” was merely paper rolled up and painted silver.  He had purchased a ticket so couldn’t be charged with trespassing.

Farrah was not protected; she was accosted in public, with no consequences to the male.  Reminiscent of the role she was portraying on stage at the time of the attack, the humiliated, brutalized woman as well as physical abuse she suffered at the hands of a boyfriend earlier in her life.

Farrah hoped to use her battle with cancer as a source of inspiration for others.

“I’m holding onto the hope that there is some reason that I got cancer that may not be very clear to me now, that I will do.”
“Today I have cancer, but on the other hand, I’m alive.  Right now I am great.  My life goes on and so does my fight.”

As Farrah lay dying, humiliation and controversy surrounded her. Even the location of her cancer, now known as Farrah’s Cancer, is thought to be a source of humiliation, given its association with the sexually transmitted HPV infection, multiple sexual partners, anal sex and HIV.

Farrah’s Last Request

Even as she approached her death, Fawcett waged a campaign in the California legislature for passage of Farrah’s Law, proposed legislation intended to make it illegal for anyone to leak private medical information to the media with or without compensation.  This legislation came about as a result of a breach of her privacy by an employee at the UCLA Medical Center where Fawcett received cancer treatments.

“As much as I would have liked to have kept my cancer private, I now realize that I have a certain responsibility to those who are fighting their own fights and may be able to benefit from learning about mine.”

All this leaves me so sad for this woman who smiled her way into our hearts, but also held up a mirror for society to see some of its darker aspects.   I pray that her soul now finds peace.

Here’s the major take-away for me:  Farrah turned the camera on herself and transformed humiliation into humility.  Her willingness to be transparent with her courageous battle with cancer turned her into a powerful source of inspiration for others.

And perhaps now you can see the connection between Farrah’s story and the story of the women of Iran.  Iranian women have suffered unspeakable abuse and oppression at the hands of the male-dominated Islamic regime.  Their lives have been The Burning Beds, and like Farrah’s characters, they’re now fighting back. They’ve turned decades of  intimidation into inspiration for themselves and the rest of the world.

May the courageous spirit of Farrah Fawcett now live on  in the hearts of our Iranian sisters as they continue their struggle for justice and equality.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe M June 25, 2009 at 2:36 PM

Thank you Judith;
I too was grappling with why I was drawn to watching Farrah’s Story, what I had taken away for watching it and what it meant to me. I never took her acting seriously until I watched “The Burning Bed” and realized she had become a serious talented actress (or always was and didn’t had the roles to show it and I owned one of those posters from the 80’s). I believe that some women where tremendously empowered by watching that move. I hope that people dealing with cancer are all empowered by watching Farrah’s Story. I think it was the way she didn’t hesitate for a second about what to do each time after receiving bad news. It seem to me that she always responded with OK, and what are we going to do next so that I can beat this.

I guess I should not be as surprised as I was the other night watching the news, that it is the Iranian women leading the fight for justice in their country and pushing the men to stand up too. I hope that the Iranian women can receive strength from many of the courageous and powerful women of the world such as Farrah and yourself. My thoughts and prayer are with them and you.
Love Joe

Lisa June 25, 2009 at 7:13 PM

I also am not one to fawn over celebrities or follow their stories. I didn’t see the NBC show you refer to. But I found myself feeling a little stunned and somehow upset by the news. I found myself thinking about you, Judith, and your own battle. And I think what hit me is the parallel in the way you both continuously put yourselves out there to help others, and inspire others to live, love, and connect in order to maximize our own potential as well as our ability to help others. I appreciate you greatly for that. I have confidence that your outcome will differ from Farrah’s, and am thankful to have connected with such an intelligent and generous woman. May the Iranian women find such role models in their fight.

Judith Rich June 26, 2009 at 10:13 AM

Thanks Joe and Lisa,
So nice to hear from you both. I hope you don’t mind the “shared respoonse”. Thank you both for your well wishes with my cancer. It seems like forever ago I was diagnosed and still nothing has happened except for two biopsies and now it’s time to set the date for surgery. I’m hoping for mid-July, so will keep everyone posted.
I’m so taken by the women’s stand in Iraq and to know that it’s the feminine energy that is driving the struggle for reform. Not surprising in that they have the most to lose and the most to gain if they prevail.
The irony of Michael Jackson’s passing yesterday right after Farrah and how that news has eclipsed her death has not escaped me. Seems like even in her death, she is being pushed aside. So sad to lose the two of them. Both clearly angels!
My best to you both. Love and blessings,

Stef Levine June 27, 2009 at 12:06 AM

Judith: I love the way the universe works. As you know I recently found out that I’m pregnant. The one symptom that has been affecting me is fatigue. The last several days I’ve been going to bed immediately after putting my daughter to bed, yet tonight I felt compelled to watch tv despite my fatigue. Something definitely drew me to putting on the replay of Farrah’s Story. So much of her recent story surprised me – Farrah’s Law, her valient effort against cancer, the immense love she had for her family and friends. I just saw her as the seemingly flighty Angel. Seeing her reading the letters from fans and fellow cancer patients, her devotion to getting her message out, her true joy for life all put me in awe of who she was (and still is). When I saw her finally lose her hair, I wept, for I saw my mom who had died of cancer when I wa 11. Whenever I think I can’t know my mom any more, or I think the memory is fading, I get a glimpse into what she went through by continuing to experience life and being open to powerful messages. No accident that I was drawn to your blog tonight either. You mirror so much of what I was feeling about Farrah. And her connection to te women in Iran. I find it to be poetic justice that the women are leading the fight in Iran…the keepers of life. To oppress women is to oppress the miracle of life. No accident Iran sees so much death. Farrah too led such a poetic fight…the assumed dumb blonde that truly changed women’s lives over and over. I remember my parents making a point of me watching the Burning Bed on TV, what a gift they gave me at such a young age. That movie, and more specifically Farrah’s role, taught me that as a woman I never had to take oppression from any person or situation. That I can stand for what I believe, for what matters to me no matter who or what stands in my way. Thank you Farrah. And thank you Judith, because you too are my Angel, having shown me through your trainings, your friendship, your word, your example, your love how much I matter as a woman, as a human. My daughter (s?) thanks you too.

Judith Rich June 27, 2009 at 7:28 AM

Dear Stef,
It’s amazing to discover the pearl of wisdom in the most unexpected places, yet that’s where wisdom is most often found. Thank you so much for coming by and sharing your experience of Farrah and what she taught you.

I think her story is a tragic one, a beautiful, abused woman who portrayed abused women, who ended up even in her death, being pushed to the side by the passing of a much bigger star on the very same day. But unlike MJ, she got to press into courage at the end of her life and the world got to see a glimpse of her mighty spirit.

She’ll never know how she touched your life, my life and others. But I’m glad you took the time to share here as a way to pay tribute and acknowledge her.
I’m thrilled about your news. Frankie is going to be delighted to have a new playmate. All the best to you and Ken.

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