Ryan O’Neal, Who Became a Star With ‘Love Story,’ Dies at 82

By admin Dec9,2023

Ryan O’Neal, who became an instant movie star in the hit film “Love Story,” the highest-grossing movie of 1970, but who was later known as much for his personal life and health problems as for his acting in his later career, died on Friday. He was 82.

His son Patrick O’Neal confirmed the death in a post on Instagram. It did not give the cause or say where he died.

Mr. O’Neal was a familiar face on both big and small screens for a half-century. But he was never as famous as he was in the immediate aftermath of “Love Story.”

He was 29 years old and had spent a decade on television but had made only two other movies when he was chosen to star in Arthur Hiller’s sentimental romance, written by Erich Segal (who turned his screenplay into a best-selling novel). His performance as Oliver Barrett IV, a wealthy, golden-haired Harvard hockey player married to a dying woman played by Ali MacGraw, garnered him the only Academy Award nomination of his career.

He had played the town rich boy, Rodney Harrington, for five years on the prime-time soap opera “Peyton Place.” But in 1970 Hollywood was not that interested in television actors, and he had been far from the first choice to star in “Love Story.”

“Jon Voight turned the part down. Beau Bridges was supposed to do it,” he told a reporter in 1971. “When my name came up through Ali, they all said ‘No.’ Ali said, ‘Please meet him.’”

“So we met in one of those conference rooms where everybody sits half a mile away from everybody else,” he continued. “Weeks later, they asked me to test. Then I didn’t hear anything until they finally called and said, ‘Will you give us an extension of a week to make up our minds?’”

In the end, Ms. MacGraw persuaded Paramount to cast Mr. O’Neal. He was hired for $25,000 (a little more than $200,000 in today’s currency), and his movie career was ignited.

It never burned quite as brightly again, although he maintained a high profile throughout the 1970s, appearing in films like “Barry Lyndon” (1975), Stanley Kubrick’s elegantly photographed adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel about a poor 18th-century Irish boy who rises into English society and then falls from those heights; and “A Bridge Too Far” (1977), Richard Attenborough’s epic tale of World War II heroism.

He also demonstrated his knack for comedy in three films directed by Peter Bogdanovich. He co-starred with Barbra Streisand in “What’s Up, Doc?” (1972), a screwball comedy inspired by the 1938 Cary Grant-Katharine Hepburn movie “Bringing Up Baby”; with Burt Reynolds in “Nickelodeon” (1976), a valentine to the early days of moviemaking based on the reminiscences of Raoul Walsh and other directors; and, with his 9-year-old daughter, Tatum, in the best known of the three films he made with Mr. Bogdanovich, “Paper Moon” (1973).

In “Paper Moon,” set in the Midwest during the Depression, Mr. O’Neal played a small-time swindler hornswoggled by a cigarette-smoking orphan who just might be his illegitimate daughter. Tatum O’Neal won an Academy Award for that performance — she remains the youngest person ever to win one of the four acting Oscars — and for a while it appeared that Mr. O’Neal would become the patriarch of an acting dynasty.

When Tatum starred as a Little League pitcher in “The Bad News Bears” (1976), she became the highest-paid child star in history, with a salary of $350,000 (the equivalent of about $1.9 million today) and a percentage of the net profits. Her younger brother Griffin seemed poised for stardom as well when it was announced that he would appear with his father in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1979 remake of “The Champ,” the 1931 tear-jerker about a washed-up former boxer and his son.

But Mr. Zeffirelli ended up making the film with Jon Voight and Ricky Schroder instead, and Griffin O’Neal’s career never got off the ground. He did have one starring role, in the 1982 film “The Escape Artist,” but that film was not a success. When he was next in the public eye, five years later, it was not for his acting but for his involvement in a boating accident that killed his friend Gian-Carlo Coppola, the son of the director Francis Ford Coppola. He was convicted of negligent operation of a boat but acquitted of manslaughter.

The O’Neal family would go on to have many more problems with the law, with drugs and with one another.

Mr. O’Neal, who was well known in Hollywood for his temper — when he was 18, he spent 51 days in jail for a brawl at a New Year’s Eve party — was charged with assaulting his son Griffin in 2007. Those charges were dropped, but a year later he and Redmond O’Neal, his son with the actress Farrah Fawcett, were arrested on a drug charge. He pleaded guilty and was ordered to undergo counseling, while Redmond entered rehabilitation but continued to struggle with addiction.

Tatum O’Neal had her own highly publicized drug problems and was estranged for many years from her father, who she said physically abused her when she was a child.

Mr. O’Neal’s fame was beginning to slip by 1978, when Paramount offered him $3 million to star in “Oliver’s Story,” a sequel to “Love Story.” He accepted, even though his distaste for the project was clear.

“There’s something cheap about sequels,” he told a reporter, “and this one’s a complete rip-off.” When the movie was released, the critics agreed.

His days as an A-list star were soon over, although he continued to work steadily in the 1980s and ’90s. His more memorable movies in this period included “Partners” (1982), in which he played a heterosexual police detective who goes under cover with a gay partner, played by John Hurt; “Irreconcilable Differences” (1984), as a successful Hollywood director whose 10-year-old daughter, played by Drew Barrymore, sues him for divorce; and “Tough Guys Don’t Dance” (1987), a crime drama written and directed by Norman Mailer. He also co-starred with Ms. Fawcett in the short-lived 1991 television series “Good Sports.”

Most of Mr. O’Neal’s later work was on television, including a recurring role on the series “Bones.”

Patrick Ryan O’Neal was born in Los Angeles on April 20, 1941, the elder son of Charles O’Neal, a screenwriter, and Patricia Callaghan O’Neal, an actress. At 17 he joined his nomadic parents in Germany and got his first taste of show business as a stunt man on the television series “Tales of the Vikings.”

He never took an acting lesson, but his striking good looks, as well as the anger that seemed to boil just below the surface, helped win him roles on television not long after he returned to Los Angeles.

His marriages to the actresses Joanna Moore and Leigh Taylor-Young ended in divorce. Ms. Taylor-Young, his co-star on “Peyton Place,” told an interviewer that their marriage never recovered from the success of “Love Story,” which she said brought “a type of life which is not suitable for Ryan’s personality.”

Mr. O’Neal was romantically linked with many actresses, but it was his on-again, off-again relationship with Ms. Fawcett, which began when she was still married to the actor Lee Majors, that garnered the most attention. The couple never married but were together for almost 20 years before they separated in 1997. They later reconciled and were living together when Ms. Fawcett died of cancer in 2009. In 2012 he published a book about their relationship, “Both of Us: My Life With Farrah.”

Mr. O’Neal’s survivors include his daughter and a son, Patrick, a sportscaster. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

In 2012, Mr. O’Neal revealed that he was being treated for prostate cancer. That diagnosis came 11 years after he contracted chronic myelogenous leukemia, which eventually went into remission.

The last major role Mr. O’Neal played was himself. In the summer of 2011, he and his daughter starred in a reality show, “Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals,” on Oprah Winfrey’s cable channel, OWN. The series left the impression that the two had ended their long estrangement, but Mr. O’Neal later told an interviewer that it painted a false picture.

“We’re further apart now than we were when we started the show,” he said.

Peter Keepnews and Orlando Mayorquin contributed reporting.

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