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Ryan O'Neal, Star of 'Love Story,' 'Paper Moon,' Dies at 82

'He is a Hollywood Legend. Full stop,' writes his son Patrick O'Neal

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Diana Mrazikova/Zuma press/Alamy Live News

Ryan O’Neal, who rocketed to a best actor Oscar nomination at 29 as the Harvard swain of a doomed beauty (Ali MacGraw) in 1970’s smash-hit tearjerker Love Story, died Dec. 8 after decades of illness, including leukemia in 2001 and stage 4 prostate cancer in 2012.

“My dad passed away peacefully today, with his loving team by his side supporting him and loving him as he would us,” his son Patrick O’Neal wrote on Instagram.

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Starting out as a Golden Gloves boxer, O’Neal landed early bit parts on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and Leave It to Beaver and a bigger role for five years on the soapy hit Peyton Place, which also launched Mia Farrow. But his real breakout was Love Story, one of Paramount Pictures’ biggest hits — Patrick O’Neal said it saved the studio. It collected seven Oscar nominations, including one for best picture. It won for best music.

It also made him an A-list star opposite Barbra Streisand in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 screwball comedy What’s Up, Doc? and 1973’s Paper Moon, which earned his costar daughter Tatum an Oscar. 

In his most prestigious film, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975), he played a poor Irish rogue who traveled Europe trying to pass himself off as an aristocrat. He often used his boyish, blond good looks to play men who hid shadowy or sinister backgrounds behind their clean-cut images.

Filming Kubrick’s three-hour movie was tedious work, however, and Kubrick’s notorious perfectionism created a rift between him and the actor that never healed.

O’Neal’s career continued with roles on TV’s Bones and Desperate Housewives, but his private life with actress Farrah Fawcett and his tumultuous family life often upstaged his professional life.

Twice divorced, O’Neal was romantically involved with Fawcett for nearly 30 years, and they had a son, Redmond, born in 1985. The couple split in 1997 and reunited a few years later. He was by Fawcett’s side as she battled cancer, dying in 2009 at age 62.

He told Piers Morgan in 2011 that watching Love Story upset him.  “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.”

With his first wife, Joanna Moore, O’Neal fathered actors Griffin O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal. He had son Patrick with his second wife, Leigh Taylor-Young.

Love Story popularized the catchphrase “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” At 76, he toured with MacGraw in the play Love Letters, and told Playbill, “Love does mean never having to say you're sorry. Ali doesn't believe it, but I do. It just means: 1) You don't have much to say you're sorry for, and 2) If you do, she knows you're sorry.”

In remembering his father, Patrick wrote: “My dad was 82 and lived a kick ass life. 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.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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