Farrah Fawcett: 1947-2009


Farrah Fawcett and my mother were born about a month-and-a-half apart, and to my knowledge, that’s all they have in common. Fawcett’s death has been overshadowed by Michael Jackson’s, which was inevitable, but tragic in my opinion, since I think Fawcett’s story is the more important of the two.

Notice I didn’t use the word “interesting.” Michael Jackson’s life, especially after the Pepsi commercial which set his head on fire, was an epic train wreck, and when the rumors about his pedophilia (followed swiftly by lots of money and nondisclosure agreements) gained traction, Jackson ceased to be just a celebrity and became a monster.

But Farrah Fawcett never really did that. Here’s what I mean–for people around my age, men especially, the Farrah Fawcett poster was/is iconic. I might not have ever actually seen the poster–I really can’t remember–but that image holds permanent space in my memory. I was a young fan of Charlie’s Angels as well, and even though Jill Munroe wasn’t my favorite Angel (I was a Kelly Garrett eight-year old), I sensed the sexual power she wielded.

And after a single season, Fawcett gave it all up. In 1978, Playboy Magazine quoted her saying “When the show got to be No. 3, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be No. 1, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.” She was right, of course. Go watch the show and see if it’s as good as you remember.

It’s not just that Fawcett pulled away from that show that’s important, though. It’s the acting she did afterward. It’s easy to look at the current world where domestic abuse is generally frowned on and often prosecuted and forget that it wasn’t always this way. Domestic abuse was a dirty secret that wasn’t supposed to be discussed in public, and victim blaming was a common component. (It still is, but it’s not nearly as common now.) Farrah Fawcett, this icon of sexuality who had a clause written into her Charlie’s Angels contract that she could leave the set early to make dinner for her then-husband Lee Majors, made tv movies about domestic abuse and rape.

The most famous, of course, is The Burning Bed, and while it was a powerful movie on its own, it was more powerful because Farrah Fawcett was in it. Because even though she hadn’t been Jill Munroe in years, even though Charlie had gone through three more Angels and the show had been off the air for three years, everyone still remembered her as feathered-hair and gleaming-teeth sexy, and those kinds of actresses weren’t supposed to make these kinds of movies.

And because she made it, people watched it–people perhaps who wouldn’t have watched a movie about an abused woman who set her husband on fire–and the subject of domestic abuse got a lot more attention as a result.

Farrah Fawcett died the morning of June 25, 2009, and by that afternoon, the news wasn’t even on the front page anymore.

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →