Pop culture icon Farrah Fawcett dies of cancer at 62

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Actress Farrah Fawcett passed away today at the age of 62 after a three-year battle with cancer. Though she became better known in recent years for her unpredictable public behavior, she was best known as a sex symbol and actress, and left behind a considerable body of work on TV and in film.

Her most famous roles included her turns on the hit 1970s TV series Charlie's Angels and The Six Million Dollar Man, where the bubbly blonde fought crime and looked pretty good doing it, too. Working alongside other models-turned-actresses such as Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith, Fawcett soon became an international star thanks to a combination of effortless charm, sexy curves and a hairstyle that was emulated by thousands of women. Meanwhile, those curves would simultaneously be immortalized in a poster of her wearing a red one-piece bathing suit, which did almost as much to cement her superstar status as her acting roles.

Fawcett didn't act in many other sci-fi or fantasy-related projects, but two of them remain iconic—albeit for opposite reasons. In 1976, the same year that Charlie's Angels debuted, she appeared in Logan's Run, director Michael Anderson's chronicle of a youth-obsessed future society. While Fawcett didn't have a big role in the film, it went on to become one of the most famous sci-fi movies of the 1970s, earning $25 million at the box office. (Bryan Singer discussed remaking the film in recent years, but his plans stalled in 2005, and producer Joel Silver is still looking for the right screenwriter and director to helm the project.)

Meanwhile, Fawcett appeared in a more substantial role opposite Kirk Douglas in Stanley Donen's 1980 film Saturn 3, another sci-fi opus. Numerous problems behind the scenes, including the redubbing of Harvey Keitel's character by British actor Roy Dotrice and eventually the replacement of original director John Barry by Donen, derailed the film's artistic vision and commercial prospects, and it was widely panned by critics upon its release. At the same time, however, it earned the dubious distinction of being the first film in which Fawcett appeared nude (if only briefly).

Fawcett began her career in the late 1960s doing television commercials for Noxzema shaving cream and Ultra Brite toothpaste before landing a small role on I Dream of Jeannie. Work on shows like The Dating Game and Harry O led to her casting on The Six Million Dollar Man, before Pro Arts Inc. pitched the idea of the iconic poster to her agent in 1976. Though it was shot months prior to the debut of Charlie's Angels, the one-two punch of her wall-sized image and her winning charm on the show catapulted her to stardom, even though she only appeared on the show for one complete season, returning sporadically in subsequent seasons as a condition of the lawsuit that followed her early departure.

In the early 1980s, Fawcett began to find more meaty roles in dramatic projects, including the main character in the TV movie The Burning Bed, which earned her an Emmy nomination. Much of her subsequent work was done on the small screen, until the mid-'90s, when she elected at age 48 to pose for Playboy.

While the issue eventually became one of the magazine's best sellers of the decade, it offered Fawcett's career a much-needed rejuvenation, and she appeared in a small but important role in writer-director-star Robert Duvall's 1997 film The Apostle. Additionally, she turned up in Robert Altman's 2000 film Dr. T and the Women, but not before she appeared on David Letterman's nighttime talk show behaving erratically. While she was finally finding more of the substantive roles that she enjoyed earlier in her career, Fawcett's work would often be overshadowed by appearances like this one.

Her sitcom work on shows like Ally McBeal and Spin City in the last decade gave her yet another career resurgence, not to mention another Emmy nomination (for her turn on The Guardian). But in 2006 Fawcett was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment, and after a series of reports that her condition had improved or worsened, Associated Press reported that the cancer had metastasized to her liver. Though she passed away before the two could be married, longtime partner Ryan O'Neal proposed, and she accepted, in just the last few weeks of her life, formalizing a bond between the two that was more than three decades old. He was also by her side when she passed at approximately 9:28 this morning.

Even among the many memorable stars of the 1970s and '80s, Fawcett remains a pop-culture icon, thanks to her memorable TV series, her film and television guest appearances and her bubbly, irresistible presence. Be it on Charlie's Angels, a poster on the wall or even David Letterman, hers was a smile that brightened the lives of millions of people, and she will be long remembered for her contributions to the entertainment industry.