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Ryan O’Neal, Star of ‘Love Story,’ ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ and ‘Paper Moon,’ Dies at 82

Ryan O’Neal, the boyish leading man who kicked off an extraordinary 1970s run in Hollywood with his Oscar-nominated turn as the Harvard preppie Oliver in the legendary romantic tearjerker Love Story, has died. He was 82.

O’Neal died Friday, his son Patrick O’Neal, a sportscaster with Bally Sports West in Los Angeles, reported on Instagram. He had been diagnosed with chronic leukemia in 2001 and with prostate cancer in 2012.

“As a human being, my father was as generous as they come,” Patrick wrote. “And the funniest person in any room. And the most handsome clearly, but also the most charming. Lethal combo. He loved to make people laugh. It’s pretty much his goal. Didn’t matter the situation, if there was a joke to be found, he nailed it. He really wanted us laughing. And we did all laugh. Every time. We had fun. Fun in the sun.”

On the heels of his cinematic duet with Ali MacGraw, O’Neal starred with Barbra Streisand in What’s Up, Doc? (1972) and The Main Event (1979) and partnered with his 9-year-old daughter, Tatum O’Neal, in Peter Bogdanovich’s wonderful Depression-era tale, Paper Moon (1973).

O’Neal also played the title character, an Irish rogue in 18th century England, in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975), the director’s highly anticipated follow-up to A Clockwork Orange, and starred in Nickelodeon (1976), his third collaboration with Bogdanovich in the decade.

Earlier, the sandy-haired O’Neal made the ladies swoon for five seasons when he starred as Rodney Harrington on more than 500 episodes on the hit Peyton Place, the 1964-69 serialized ABC melodrama spawned by the Lana Turner movie.

O’Neal was married to and divorced from actresses Joanna Moore and Peyton Place co-star Leigh Taylor-Young before beginning an on-and-off 30-year relationship with actress and Charlie’s Angels icon Farrah Fawcett that ended with her death at age 62 on June 25, 2009.

In Arthur Hiller’s Love Story (1970), O’Neal played a college kid from a wealthy family. He sacrifices his riches as he falls for MacGraw’s lovely Jenny, a wisecracking, working-class girl, only to watch her agonizingly succumb to a rare blood disease.

In the ensuing years, watching Love Story “upsets me, actually,” he told Piers Morgan in 2011. “I lost Farrah to cancer, and I just wonder [why] that played out that way for me. One was just a big deal and so successful, and then in real life it was just the opposite, a tragedy.”

Adapted from the sensational-selling novel by Yale professor Erich Segal (who also wrote the screenplay) and released in theaters mere months after the book entered stores, Love Story — made for less than $2 million — grossed $106.4 million at the box office.

The drama also received seven Oscar nominations, including one for best picture, and won for best score. (O’Neal lost out to George C. Scott of Patton in the best actor race.)

LOVE STORY, Ryan O'Neal, Ali MacGraw, 1970

Ryan O’Neal with Ali MacGraw in 1970’s ‘Love Story’ Courtesy Everett Collection

O’Neal then signed up to star for Bogdanovich opposite Streisand in the screwball farce What’s Up, Doc?, an homage to the fabled Cary Grant–Katharine Hepburn 1938 comedy Bringing Up Baby.

Next came Paper Moon, in which he portrayed a good-natured con artist in the Midwest in the 1930s. Tatum starred as his youthful partner in crime and went on to make history as the youngest winner of a competitive Oscar, taking home the best supporting actress prize.

Patrick Ryan O’Neal was born on April 20, 1941, in Los Angeles, the older son of novelist-screenwriter Charles “Blackie” O’Neal (The Three Wishes of Jamie McRuin) and actress Patricia Callaghan. He competed in Golden Gloves events in L.A. in 1956 and 1957 and compiled a boxing record of 18-4 with 13 knockouts, according to his website.

In the late 1950s, O’Neal and his family moved to Munich, and he became infatuated with the syndicated TV series Tales of the Vikings, which shot in Europe and was produced by Kirk Douglas‘ company.

According to a 1975 newspaper account, he wrote to another producer, George Cahan, on the show: “I am six feet tall, and with a false beard I will look as much like a Viking as any actor on the set … I may be the Gary Cooper of tomorrow.”

O’Neal went on to perform as a stuntman on the series.

After appearing on such shows as The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Untouchables, Leave It to Beaver and My Three Sons, O’Neal co-starred opposite Richard Egan on Empire, a 1962-63 NBC Western set in New Mexico.

As Peyton Place was drawing to a close, O’Neal made his big-screen debut in The Big Bounce (1969), an Elmore Leonard adaptation that also starred then-wife Taylor-Young, then played a marathon runner in Michael Winner’s The Games. Segal adapted the screenplay, and that led to their Love Story collaboration.

In a 2014 interview with Jim Hemphill for Filmmaking magazine, O’Neal said that making Barry Lyndon was a grueling proposition. “He shoots a lot of takes, and you don’t get a stand-in,” he noted. “We shot for something like 350 days, and afterward they had to carry me away.”

He drew on his days in the ring in The Main Event, playing down-on-his-luck boxer/driving school instructor Eddie “Kid Natural” Scanlon, whose contract is owned by Streisand’s Hillary Kramer.

Also in the 1970s, O’Neal starred with Jacqueline Bisset as a computer programmer turned crook in The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973); played a general in the World War II-set A Bridge Too Far (1977); portrayed a getaway driver in Walter Hill‘s The Driver (1978); and returned as a widower in the Love Story sequel Oliver’s Story (1978).

Later, he appeared on the big screen in So Fine (1981); Partners (1982), directed by James Burrows; Irreconcilable Differences (1984), with Shelley Long; Richard Brooks’ Fever Pitch (1985); Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987), written and directed by Norman Mailer; Chances Are (1989), with Cybill Shepherd; Zero Effect (1998), starring Bill Pullman; and Terrence Malick‘s Knight of Cups (2015).

Paul Mazursky talked about working with O’Neal on Faithful (1996) in a 2009 story for Vanity Fair.

“He’s sweet as sugar, and he’s volatile,” the filmmaker said. “He’s got some of that Irish stuff in him, and he can blow up a bit. One day he was doing a scene and I said, ‘Bring it down a little bit,’ and Ryan said, ‘I quit! You can’t say “Bring it down” to me that loud!’

“I said, ‘If you quit, I’m going to break your nose.’ He started to cry. He’s sort of a big baby at times, but he’s a good guy, and he’s very talented. He’s had a strange career, but he was a monster star.”

Recently, O’Neal had recurring roles on the TV series Miss Match and Bones.

His relationship with Fawcett began after they were introduced by her then-husband, actor Lee Majors, in 1979. (Majors was headed to a film shoot in Canada and wanted O’Neal to take her to dinner one night because he was worried Fawcett would get lonely.)

They lived together for years in Malibu; had a son, Redmond, who went on to battle drug addiction (he and his father were arrested at home for drug possession in 2008); and starred together in the 1989 ABC dramatic telefilm Small Sacrifices and as co-anchors on the 1991 CBS sitcom Good Sports.

They broke up for a spell after Fawcett caught him in bed with a younger actress but reunited after O’Neal was diagnosed with leukemia.

In 2012, he published a memoir, Both of Us: My Life With Farrah, and three years later, he was back with MacGraw for a national tour in Love Letters.

O’Neal had Tatum and a son, Griffin, with Moore. Patrick is his son with Taylor-Young. His younger brother, Kevin, a regular on the TV version of No Time for Sergeants in the 1960s, died in January.

Griffin, who appeared in Nickelodeon with his dad and sister, was the driver in a 1986 motorboat accident that killed Gian-Carlo Coppola, then 23, son of director Francis Ford Coppola.

The son later accused his father of giving him cocaine when he was 11, and they had a brawl in 2007 that brought out the cops.

O’Neal and Tatum, who has also battled drug abuse during her life, did not get along either, and their attempt at reconciliation was documented in the 2011 OWN reality series Ryan & Tatum: The O’Neals, which lasted eight episodes.

“He meant the world to me,” Tatum said in a statement to People. “I loved him very much and know he loved me too. I’ll miss him forever, and I feel very lucky that we ended on such good terms.”

“My dad was 82 and lived a kick ass life,” Patrick wrote. “I hope the first thing he brags about in Heaven is how he sparred 2 rounds with Joe Frazier in 1966, on national TV, with Muhammad Ali doing the commentary, and went toe to toe with Smokin’ Joe. YouTube has it, and trust me, it’s so awesome. Ryan by a majority decision.”

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