Celebrity Legacies: Farrah Fawcett
Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies. Check out their in-depth look into the battle over Farrah Fawcett’s estate.
When someone mentions Farrah Fawcett, most people think of her looks. But what about her brains — her financial savvy in particular? The actress and model who rose to fame as one of Charlie’s Angels planned well to protect her troubled son, Redmond, after she passed away. Yet all was not angelic when it came to her financial legacy.
Farrah Fawcett was far from the stereotypical blonde model when it came to finances. She was hired to do five seasons of Charlie’s Angels, by Aaron Spelling’s production company. After the first season hit it big, Fawcett re-negotiated for more money. Relying on the fact that she never actually signed the contract, she was able to secure an increase in per-episode salary from $5,000 to $100,000.
Fawcett’s savvy definitely came into play with merchandising. She insisted on receiving 10% of the merchandising revenue related to the TV show, but Spelling balked and tried to have her blacklisted in Hollywood. So she signed her own deal for a poster — her famous red bathing suit shot — that is estimated to have sold five to six million copies, earning her a reported $400,000 for that item alone.
By the time Farrah Fawcett died from cancer in 2009, at age 62, her net worth was estimated at around $70 million. She created a thorough revocable living trust, which provided for $4.5 million to be used for the benefit of Redmond, but in a controlled manner due to his troubles. Her trust created an additional fund to support her father and outright gifts to others. The bulk of Fawcett’s assets went to a charitable foundation she created to fund cancer research, with all of her artwork going to the University of Texas at Austin, her alma mater.
What about her ex-boyfriend and father of her son, Ryan O’Neal? Despite O’Neal’s contention that he and Fawcett were almost married multiple times, O’Neal was not included in her trust. Yet that didn’t stop him from being involved in a costly inheritance fight.
In 1980, Andy Warhol painted a famous portrait of Farrah Fawcett. More specifically, he created two originals. Ryan O’Neal said Warhol approached him with the idea of the portrait, and O’Neal brought the artist and Fawcett together. In exchange for brokering the deal, O’Neal said that Warhol made the second original painting for him to keep, which he did for almost 20 years.
What happened after that? O’Neal said he eventually gave it back to Fawcett for safekeeping because his girlfriend at the time didn’t like seeing it in his house. Ryan O’Neal admitted that Fawcett walked in on him and the much-younger woman in bed together and was very upset. They later reconciled, O’Neal says, and that’s when she agreed to hold onto the second portrait for him. Fawcett kept the painting until she died. O’Neal removed it from her home a week or so later.
The University of Texas received a tip that O’Neal had the second Warhol portrait. Already in possession of one of the paintings — because of the clause in Farrah Fawcett’s trust leaving all of her artwork to the school — the University then sued Ryan O’Neal for the second one too.
The litigation lasted for years, until a jury concluded (with a vote of nine to three) that the portrait really did belong to O’Neal. His testimony swayed the jury members, more so than documents showing that Fawcett, and not O’Neal, insured the second painting and she listed herself as its owner when she loaned it to a museum.
In the end, O’Neal kept the Warhol portrait and vowed never to sell it, despite its value of around twelve million dollars. Is this what Farrah Fawcett would have wanted?
For all of her financial smarts — including her foresight to create a well-drafted trust to handle most of her assets and protect her son — Fawcett did not clearly specify what was included in her collection of artwork that she left to the University of Texas. Given the high value of the portrait, it would have made sense for Fawcett and her estate planning attorneys to spell out exactly what art she owned and what she intended the University to receive.
That way, it wouldn’t have taken a long and expensive court battle to settle who owned the painting. It’s a good lesson of how important the details of an estate plan can be. When wills and trusts are planned and prepared thoroughly, and regularly updated throughout someone’s life, then there is less chance that something will be left out or rendered unclear.
When important details are left out of a will or trust, it often provokes a family fight — even when millions of dollars aren’t on the line.
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