Ryan O’Neal dead at 82: Heartthrob stuntman with turbulent personal life

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O’Neal enjoyed a long career in Hollywood and maintained a friendship with Love Story co-star Ali MacGraw

With his rugged good looks, Ryan O’Neal was one of Hollywood’s most recognisable stars.

While his contemporary Warren Beatty seduced with dark intensity, O’Neal charmed with his boy-next-door appeal.

His career took him from television soap to starring roles in Love Story and What’s Up, Doc?

But his star faded at the end of the 1970s and only his turbulent personal life kept him in the headlines.

His son Patrick O’Neal announced his death at the age of 82 on Friday, saying “As a human being, my father was as generous as they come.

“And the funniest person in any room. And the most handsome clearly, but also the most charming. Lethal combo.”


Charles Patrick Ryan O’Neal was born on 20 April 1941 in Los Angeles.

Acting was in the blood. His mother Patricia was a stage actress while his father was a novelist and screenwriter.

O’Neal took up boxing while at school and spent a period in Germany in the 1950s where his father had moved to work on a TV series.

He developed an impressive physique both from his boxing and while working as a lifeguard.

O’Neal’s breakthrough came early with Peyton Place

This led him to being offered a job as a stuntman on a low-budget TV series, Tales of the Vikings.

He had a number of small roles in TV westerns and crime dramas before securing the part of Rodney Harrington in the TV soap, Peyton Place.

Notable for its opening titles with the intonation “This is the continuing story of Peyton Place”, the series became America’s first primetime soap.

“Some things in the script were so bad,” he later recalled, “we had to whisper them, hoping no-one would hear us.”


Peyton Place made O’Neal a household name and, like his co-star Mia Farrow, he was soon able to transfer his success to the big screen.

Love Story brought him recognition beyond the United States.

The 1970 film, based on the novel by Eric Segal, brought hankies out in cinemas across the world, and made international stars of O’Neal and Ali MacGraw.

Love Story made him an international star

The film became the third most successful in history, and its tag line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”, became the cliche of the era.

Despite his heartthrob status, O’Neal never repeated this success. Always a fiery character – he had served 51 days in jail for assault in 1960 – he acquired a growing reputation for a drunken temper.

Memorable pairing

By way of contrast, he charmed his way on screen through such money-spinners as What’s Up, Doc?, The Main Event, and Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, released in 1975.

Affairs with a string of beautiful women including Joan Collins, Ursula Andress and his What’s Up, Doc? co-star Barbra Streisand sealed his reputation as a Hollywood heartbreaker.

He starred with daughter Tatum in Paper Moon

Streisand paid tribute after his death, tweeting that she was “so sad” to have learned of his passing.

“He was funny and charming, and he will be remembered,” she added.

But his most memorable pairing was with his own nine-year-old daughter Tatum. In Paper Moon (1973), the father played a Bible-touting hustler, outfoxed by his feisty offspring.

The witty nostalgia piece was a hit, and Tatum became the youngest ever recipient of an Academy Award, for best supporting actress.

Although father and daughter became intense rivals and stopped speaking for many years, Tatum later said of their fraught relationship: “Our movie Paper Moon is always there to remind me of us.”

Personal problems

Their reconciliation was captured in a tacky TV series, Ryan & Tatum: The O’Neals, which aired in 2011.

With four children from three relationships, O’Neal endured the media spotlight on his family.

Tatum’s divorce from the tennis player John McEnroe, his son Griffin’s jail sentence for firearms offences, and O’Neal’s own turbulent relationship with Farrah Fawcett all guaranteed gallons of tabloid ink.

He had a turbulent relationship with Farrah Fawcett

O’Neal and the former Charlie’s Angel were together for 17 years, withstanding rumours of drug abuse, alcoholism and O’Neal’s violent outbursts.

Even their 13-year-old son Redmond spent six hours in jail for cannabis possession.

As his personal problems escalated, O’Neal’s career opportunities dwindled.

He binged on junk food and threw away the looks that had been his fortune, while harking back to his box-office triumphs from the 1970s.

One of his few recent film appearances was People I Know, with Al Pacino, in 2002.

He said of his role: “He’s a fading movie star who lives in Malibu – they didn’t have to look far.”

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