American actress Farrah Fawcett was an art student at the University of Texas before she deduced that she could make more money posing for pictures than painting them. A supermodel before that phrase had fallen into common usage, Fawcett moved from Wella Balsam shampoo ads into acting, making her first film Myra Breckenridge in 1970. She worked in TV bits and full supporting parts, obtaining steady employment in 1974 with a small recurring role on the cop series Harry O, but true stardom was still some two years down the road. In 1976, producer Aaron Spelling cast Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith in a pilot for an adventure series titled Charlie’s Angels. The pilot graduated to a series, and the rest was TV history; during her Charlie’s Angels tenure Fawcett was the most visible of the three actresses, adorning magazine covers and pin-up posters (including one particularly iconic image), which set sales records. There were even Farrah Fawcett dolls before the first season of Charlie’s Angels was over.
Now in the hands of high-profile agents and advisors, Fawcett (billed Farrah Fawcett-Majors after her marriage to Lee Majors) decided she’d outgrown Angels and left the series, even though she had another year on her contract. While the studio drew up legal papers to block her move, she was replaced by Cheryl Ladd. Fawcett settled her dispute by agreeing to a set number of guest appearances on the program. Some industry cynics suggested that Fawcett would have problems sustaining her popularity. Certainly such lukewarm film projects as Sunburn (1979), Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978) and Saturn 3 (1980) seemed to bear this theory out. But Fawcett took matters into her own hands and decided to make her own opportunities–and like many other performers who strive to be taken seriously, she chose the most extreme, demanding method of proving her acting mettle. Playing a vengeful rape victim in both the play and 1986 film version of Extremities (an apt title) and making a meal of her role as a battered wife who murders her husband out of self-defense in the TV movie The Burning Bed (1984), Fawcett confounded her detractors and demonstrated she was a more-than-capable actress. Other TV movie appearances of varying quality cast her as everything from a child killer to a Nazi hunter to famed LIFE photographer Margaret Bourke-White. Never as big a name as she was in 1976, Fawcett nonetheless affirmed her reputation as an actress of importance. Her fans were even willing to forgive her misbegotten fling at situation comedy in the 1991 series Good Sports, in which she co-starred with her longtime “significant other” Ryan O’Neal. Fawcett died in 2009 at age 62, following a lengthy and well-publicized battle with cancer.