It’s not clear what made actor Ryan O’Neal more famous—his role in the 1970’s tear-jerker Love Story or his reputation for being a difficult character. This blue-eyed charmer’s acting career didn’t take off like he wanted it to, so the ex-boxer took his aggressions out on...well, pretty much anyone foolish enough to be within arm’s length—especially his family.
But the Paper Moon star couldn’t have been all bad, could he? Let’s let these shocking facts speak for themselves.
Ryan O’Neal may not have come out of the womb fighting, but he was at it from a very early age. His father built him a boxing ring when he was just 7-years-old. In his teens, O’Neal went on to train to become a Golden Gloves boxer at University High School in Los Angeles. As he set off into adulthood, this hot-tempered youth maintained his love for fighting—in and out of the boxing ring.
O’Neal’s show biz father moved the family to Germany where he was working as a writer on a TV show. O’Neal attended Munich American High School but soon grew restless. Recognizing that her son needed more stimulation, O’Neal’s mother found him a job as a stuntman on an American TV show. It wasn’t long before O’Neal’s love of acting fully blossomed.
With the acting bug firmly planted, a whole world of possibility stretched out before him.
O’Neal’s blonde, clean-cut hair and innocent blue eyes were a perfect disguise for his fiery disposition. When O’Neal was 18 he got into an argument with a stranger at a party. Instead of using his words, O’Neal did something much worse—he went on the attack. But this was no ordinary party fight—O'Neal spent 51 days in prison for it. But this incident barely scraped the surface.
Once he returned to the US, O’Neal married the lovely actress Joanna Moore. But that wasn’t all...He also landed a coveted role on America’s first prime time soap, Peyton Place. O’Neal became a star overnight and he and his beautiful wife quickly became the talk of the town. Fans across America looked up to this perfect couple. But behind the scenes, life proved far from golden.
O’Neal and Moore had two children—Tatum and Griffin. The kids grew up in Hollywood—the land of excess—and O’Neal and Moore spent more time drinking and doing drugs than they did with their own children. But their problems went beyond neglect...There was something much more sinister happening at the O’Neal household.
Because of O’Neal and Moore’s partying, the children were frequently forgotten. They often found themselves fading into the blurry background as the party raged on around them. But Tatum O'Neal paints an even darker picture of her homelife—she claims that because her parents weren’t around, friends of the family abused her. Sadly, this was just the beginning of the tragic childhood her father afforded her.
O’Neal and Moore’s partying spun out of control. It didn’t help that Moore tried to patch up her failing career with even more booze and drugs. Everything about their marriage fell into a downward spiral. There were also shocking allegations against O’Neal claiming he battered his wife. Life at the O’Neal residence became overwhelmingly toxic and Moore finally got the courage to pack up the kids and leave. But after leaving their father, the children faced an even darker nightmare.
When O’Neal and Moore split, it left Moore—struggling with addiction and now, depression—alone with the kids. Tatum O’Neal has some harsh memories of having little food and using the floor as a bathroom. But her worst memory of all?...Her mother’s teenage boyfriend beat her frequently. And what about O’Neal? Where was he during all of this?
While O’Neal’s ex-wife and children were living a deplorable existence, O’Neal gleefully remarried in Hawaii. This time it was with his Peyton Place co-star Leigh Taylor-Young. Together, they had a son who they named Patrick, but once again, O’Neal proved that he wasn’t cut out for marriage. At the end of their relationship, Taylor-Young had some interesting words to say about her husband.
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After their short marriage, the press asked Taylor-Young what she thought of her ex-husband O’Neal—"I could speak to parts of Ryan like temper and volatility and reactivity, but I deeply know his goodness." But while his ex-wife took the road of neutrality, O’Neal’s actions spoke for themselves. Not only did he have a penchant for anger, he also had one for revenge.
No one seems to remember the specifics, but O’Neal became enraged by something unflattering that gossip columnist Rona Barrett wrote about him—I’d say she had a lot to choose from. It’s common for actors to get some bad publicity from time to time, but what isn’t common was O’Neal’s excessive and potentially deadly retaliation.
After reading Barrett’s disparaging comments, O’Neal crafted a conniving plan...One day Barret received a package with no return address and opened it only to find something that made her blood run cold—a live tarantula. O’Neal was later overheard bragging about the escapade. In spite of this vicious act, America was about to fall head-over-heels in love with Ryan O’Neal.
Ryan O’Neal, Beau Bridges, and Jon Voight were all approached with the same role, but only O’Neal saw something that the others didn’t—and boy was he right. 1970’s Love Story, which would later become the world’s number one weep-fest, launched O’Neal’s career into the stratosphere and even earned him a nomination for Best Actor. But even though taking on the film was the right choice, he still made a significant mistake.
O’Neal raked in only $25,000 for starring in Love Story. What made O’Neal angry was that his co-star, Ali MacGraw—whose husband was the Paramount Studio Head—received a percentage of the film’s profits, thus securing her fortune. O’Neal, lacking clout and foresight, never made a similar deal and lost out on a ton of money. But O’Neal soon found other, more lecherous, ways to reap his just reward...
Portraying a young, handsome man who loses his wife to cancer turned O’Neal into a babe magnet. The rumor was that O’Neal didn’t have to flirt—he simply had to walk into a room to get any woman he wanted. That’s how he reportedly robbed French actress Anouk Aimée away from Albert Finney. O’Neal was a total womanizer, but it wasn’t long before his fatherly duties interrupted his libertine agenda.
O’Neal’s ex-wife passed the point of no return. Guilty of utter neglect, she became unfit to raise youngsters Tatum and Griffin. Clearly, O’Neal himself wasn’t up for dad of the year, but surely he’d be better than the addicted and depressed Moore. O’Neal got on board for parenting, and soon found a surprising way to blend his movie star career with his fatherhood responsibilities. A silver lining teased the edges of his cloudy personal life.
Peter Bogdanovich had already directed O’Neal in the zany comedy What’s Up Doc with Barbra Streisand and was looking for a father-daughter team to appear in his new film, Paper Moon. When Paul Newman and his daughter dropped out, O’Neal and Tatum were offered the roles. O’Neal truly thought that this was his golden ticket—that the illusive Oscar was in reach...But despite the success of the film, nothing went as planned...
In Paper Moon, O’Neal plays a con man who uses a fake daughter as a way to grift various people of their hard earned cash. Given O’Neal’s disappointing track record as a father, this wasn’t a stretch for him. But while his performance was more than convincing, it was young Tatum who stole every scene. In fact, the Academy nominated Tatum and not O’Neal.
Enraged by his snub and resenting his daughter’s success, O’Neal made a shocking decision...
Tatum O’Neal went on to win the Best Supporting Actress award, becoming the youngest to win a competitive Oscar. When a clearly startled 10-year-old Tatum took to the podium and looked across the sea of adoring peers, she couldn’t help but notice a glaring omission—neither of her parents attended the ceremony. Clearly, O’Neal had better things to focus on—himself and his own career.
After his daughter won the Academy Award, O’Neal used her as arm candy at celebrity events. He took Tatum out on the Hollywood circuit, exposing her to a party lifestyle she wasn’t prepared to deal with and which left lasting scars. O’Neal even took his daughter to the bastion of overindulgence—Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion. From then on, their unconventional relationship became even more questionable...
At this time, O’Neal dated Bond Girl—Ursula Andress. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly, but they had a problem in the bedroom...O’Neal’s daughter—Tatum—shared the bed with them. Apparently, Andress found it shocking to share her lover’s bed with a young child. But this wasn’t the most disturbing incident to transpire on O’Neal’s watch...His illicit habits paved the way for tragedy.
The O’Neal household overflowed with all sorts of bad influences for children. O’Neal’s drug habit meant that sketchy dealers frequently visited the home. On one occasion, a dealer came upon Tatum unsupervised. That’s when something terrible happened...The drug dealer molested Tatum. Devastated and distraught, she mustered up the courage to tell her father the terrible truth...
When Tatum told her father about her horrific run-in with the dealer, O’Neal blamed his daughter, insisting that she must have led him on. And then O’Neal made matters worse—much worse...He kept the accused drug dealer on the payroll. In O’Neal’s mind, daughters were a dime a dozen, but a good dealer was hard to find. But luckily for Tatum, not all of her father’s friends were out to get her.
There was one person O’Neal dated that seemed to have a good relationship with Tatum—folk singer Joni Mitchell. Mitchell and Tatum grew close and spent a lot of time together—shopping and cooking. Mitchell said they got along because they “loved the same man.” But sadly, this respite from the madness didn’t last long. Mitchell’s upcoming music tour ended the relationship and Tatum had no choice but to face her father on her own.
O’Neal's parenting advice wasn’t just abhorrent, it was downright dangerous. When teenage Tatum O’Neal started to put on a few extra pounds, O’Neal swooped in with some fatherly advice. Since there were so many contraband drugs lying around the house, he suggested she snort some of them for weight loss. Her father’s poor judgment led Tatum down a dark and dangerous path.
O’Neal’s daughter struggled with many things—her crazy father, her addiction to drugs, and her unstable home life. In a moment of despair she made a life threatening decision—to take her own life by slitting her wrists. Luckily, her attempt proved unsuccessful. To add to devastation, O’Neal failed to offer Tatum a single shred of empathy. Instead, O’Neal criticized her attempt—“You cut the wrong way.”
Sadly, O’Neal’s daughter wasn’t the only victim of his neglect...He also had it in for his son.
O'Neal liked to play pool with his son, Griffin, but he didn’t like to lose. Griffin recalled that whenever his father lost a pool game, he'd beat him up. At one point, it got so bad that O’Neal punched his son’s teeth out. Griffin didn’t hold back when describing life with his father—"He was violent all the way through my upbringing. He was a very abusive, narcissistic psychopath.” But O'Neal was more than a bully, he was also an enabler.
O’Neal didn’t learn much from his abysmal shortcomings. Griffin O’Neal maintains that when he was 11-years-old, his father offered him drugs. O’Neal absolutely denies this, claiming he’d never share his expensive drugs with anyone, let alone Griffin. But whether the claim is true or not, O’Neal’s track record speaks for itself. For O’Neal, his children were never a main concern and unfortunately, they always paid the price.
One of O’Neal’s many girlfriends was actor and model—Anjelica Houston. One evening, while the two of them were at a party, Houston spent too long in the bathroom. This flipped O’Neal’s switch. Incensed by her, he allegedly head-butted Houston, making her “see stars.” He continued the assault in the bathroom where he batted her in the head with an open hand. Houston wisely dumped him, leaving O’Neal free to pursue his next victim.
O’Neal’s buddy, The Six Million Dollar Man’s Lee Majors, had coupled up with Farrah Fawcett of Charlie’s Angels and formed a formidable Hollywood twosome. While shooting a show up in Canada, Majors had concerns that his angel would get bored while he was away. Majors didn’t seem to know O’Neal that well because he made a bionic blunder.
Majors asked the always randy O’Neal to take his wife out on a date—just to keep her company. What happened next should surprise, well—absolutely no one.
O’Neal, following Majors’ instructions, asked Fawcett out. Like an angel, Fawcett obediently told her husband about it and he forbade her to go on the date. Maybe Majors realized the potential catastrophe O’Neal's reputation posed and changed his mind...But the damage was already done. O’Neal wanted Fawcett for himself, and with his lusty determination, nothing could stop him—not even the Six Million Dollar Man.
While O’Neal planned his seduction of Fawcett, her husband was stuck up in Canada, powerless to prevent his friend’s disloyal schemes. Surely playing a hero with bionic implants should’ve helped Majors defend his marriage. Turns out, he was no match for O’Neal’s womanizing expertise. No matter how many times he called O’Neal to warn him away, Majors could do little more than slam the phone into its cradle and hope for the best.
As always, and to no one’s surprise, O’Neal got his way. Fawcett soon separated from Majors and hooked up with her new lover. O’Neal, who’d been reluctant to move out of his own Malibu home, finally took the plunge for Fawcett's sake. But when he moved, he left Tatum alone to fend for herself. O’Neal turned his back on his daughter, and focussed on Fawcett. But how much of O’Neal’s attention could one woman take?
Farrah Fawcett was well regarded at the time for her beauty—her famous red swimsuit poster adorning the walls of countless teenage boys' bedrooms. O’Neal, however, felt obliged to give Fawcett beauty tips. One such tip was to wear less makeup. Fawcett gamely gave it a try, and when her former manager told her she looked tired, O’Neal nearly jumped across the table and choked him.
O’Neal had good reason to be optimistic about having a child with Fawcett. After all, she wasn’t plagued with his ex-wife’s self-esteem and addiction issues. Having already failed as a father twice, O’Neal was eager to prove himself. When Fawcett gave birth to Redmond James Fawcett O’Neal in 1985, he stepped up to the plate...This time, however, O’Neal’s parental blunders dipped to an all-time low.
O’Neal’s child with Fawcett struggled even more than his siblings. By the time he was a teenager, O’Neal was supplying him with drugs. As a result, Redmond ended up in 13 different rehabilitation centers. His other misdemeanors included possession charges, thievery, and attempted murder. At one of his hearings, the state ruled him incompetent to stand trial. To top it all off, his father looked down on him with veritable disappointment.
When Redmond was in prison and facing the lowest time in his life, his father’s comments to Vanity Fair Magazine brought him even lower—“So many arrests, the poor, stupid boy!" O’Neal and Fawcett let Redmond live on the streets as they didn’t know how to help him. Older sister, Tatum O’Neal, shared her grief over her sibling’s sad story—"I love him, but I have never seen a more scary side of addiction...Nobody knows what to do with Redmond."
Amid all the family drama, O’Neal still had time to be a terrible husband. Fawcett was one of the most sought after beauties in America and yet O’Neal had the audacity to cheat on her. Fawcett literally walked in on O’Neal in bed with another woman—model and actress—Leslie Ann Stefanson. But that wasn’t even the most upsetting part...O’Neal's defense sounded downright creepy.
Caught in the act, O’Neal told Fawcett that Stefanson was more like a daughter than a lover—“My own daughter had flown the coop, so here was this replacement.” This was about a woman he was sleeping with. O’Neal always managed to twist his own wrongdoings into ridiculous cover ups. But at the end of the day, the story wasn’t twisted—he was.
O’Neal couldn’t bear to take the blame for his infidelity and blamed Fawcett—or rather—her body. Her menopause really cramped his style, and whatever changes she was going through, well, it wasn’t for him. O’Neal said he’d had it with divas and, in his words, “excused himself” from his almost two-decade long relationship. But this wasn’t the end for this famous couple...Tragedy brought them back together.
In 2001, O’Neal found out that he had leukemia. Fawcett was no longer his girlfriend, but she quickly became his caregiver and nursed him until he saw remission. But their medical troubles didn’t end there...When Fawcett received her own cancer diagnosis, O’Neal stepped up. Within this double tragedy, the two reunited. But don’t expect a happily ever after—it’s Ryan O’Neal after all.
O’Neal stayed by Fawcett’s side throughout her cancer treatment, and together, they made it through. During a celebration meant to commemorate Fawcett’s happy recovery and 60th birthday, the O’Neal household came together in solidarity. Everything seemed to be going smoothly, but it was only a matter of time...
After Fawcett retired for the evening, O’Neal and his clan promptly turned the celebration of life into a celebration of dysfunction. An argument broke out between O'Neal and his son Griffin after Griffin allegedly attacked his father with a fireplace poker. Fawcett, who was sleeping peacefully upstairs awoke to a horrible noise—the sound of a weapon being fired.
By the time the authorities arrived, details of the incident were sketchy. O’Neal claimed he shot at his son out of self-defence. After all, Griffin had gone off on a rampage, even injuring his own pregnant wife. O’Neal brandished the weapon with the intention of scaring his son, but it had all gone wrong. Officers took O’Neal away, but later sent him home on a $50,000 bond.
When Fawcett’s cancer came back with a vengeance, O’Neal made an important decision. Faced with losing her, he proposed. But sadly, they never made it to the altar. Just before the priest arrived to officiate the wedding, Fawcett passed away. Instead of saying his vows, O’Neal listened to her last rites. He carried his grief with him until the day of her funeral. It was there that he came face-to-face with a beautiful stranger.
At Fawcett’s funeral, O’Neal said goodbye to his partner of 3 decades. At the ceremony, a blonde woman he didn’t recognize gave him a hug of condolence. Unsurprisingly, he responded suggestively, hitting on this affectionate stranger—"You have a drink on you? You have a car?" But this just wasn’t any woman...The two of them had met before.
After getting a good look at the blonde funeral attendee, O’Neal realized he was staring at his very own daughter. It all clicked into place when she said—"Daddy, it's me—Tatum!" Oops. Having not seen Tatum for 5 years, O’Neal hadn’t recognized her at all. Unsurprisingly, this awkward reunion reflected the sad state of their relationship—it was a bond beyond repair.
Even though O’Neal and his daughter Tatum have tried to reconcile, O’Neal realizes that he just wasn’t father material—"I don't know why. I don't think I was supposed to be a father. Just look around at my work—they're either in jail or they should be." O’Neal was spot on with this comment as his terrible parenting produced a legacy of heartbreak.
If O’Neal's legacy is his children, then he has a lot of explaining to do. Tatum, Griffin, and Redmond all bear the scars of poor parental guidance. Their lives are peppered with addiction, aggression, and loss. But there is one child that stands alone...O’Neal and Leigh Taylor-Young’s child Patrick has only good things to say about his father, and he might be the only one.
Patrick O’Neal, a sportscaster for Fox Sports West, wrote an article for The Huffington Post called "In Defense of Dad". In the article, Patrick called his dad his hero and thanked him for everything he had done for him over the years. With a world of criticism at his back, O’Neal could count, at least one of his children, as his defender and supporter.
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