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Michael Jackson was not the only celebrity to pass away today. Farrah Fawcett died. She was 62 years old. For many TV viewers, she'll be best remembered for her role on "Charlie's Angels" and also as a sex symbol - the smiling woman in a ubiquitous poster.
Fawcett was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. Her struggle with the illness was recently the subject of a TV documentary. Jesse Baker has this remembrance.
JESSE BAKER: Remember the poster? The red one-piece swimsuit, the glowing white grin set against the backdrop of a tattered blanket. That 1976 pinup girl poster sold a record 12 million copies. At the time, the name Farrah Fawcett was little known in Hollywood. She'd had a few TV cameos and a small part in a sci-fi film, "Logan's Run."
But mainly, Fawcett made a living off TV commercials for things like Wella Balsam Shampoo, Noxzema and Ultra-Bright, which she sold as the only toothpaste with sex appeal.
(Soundbite of TV commercial)
Ms. FARRAH FAWCETT (Actor): Ultra-Bright has more whitener than any leading toothpaste - and the paste that turns toothpaste from dull to dynamite.
BAKER: From dull to dynamite can also be used to explain how Farrah Fawcett's TV career exploded in the fall of '76.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Charlie's Angels")
Mr. JOHN FORSYTHE (Actor): (As Charlie Townsend) Once upon a time there were three little girls who went to the police academy.
BAKER: Every Wednesday night at 10 p.m. on ABC, Farrah Fawcett reported for duty as private investigator Jill Monroe for the Charles Townsend Detective Agency.
Mr. FORSYTHE: (As Charlie Townsend) And they were each assigned very hazardous duties. But I took them away from all that and now they work for me. My name is Charlie.
BAKER: Farrah Fawcett, Jacyln Smith and Kate Jackson were Charlie's Angels - three stunning women who used their feminine prowess to fight crime in a man's world. Actress Jacyln Smith said there was instant chemistry on the set, which was good, because they had no idea how hard it was to shoot a TV series. Ms. Smith says Farrah Fawcett kept them laughing.
Ms. JACYLN SMITH (Actor): That's the beauty of Farrah. There is this incredible sexiness and worldliness, but she was like a little girl. You know, I'm really tired. And this is hard. But, I mean, you know, we did it and we had fun and we laughed.
BAKER: When the show premiered, no one knew, least of all its three stars, the kind of success it would have. The angels graced the covers of Time magazine and TV Guide that year, and introduced the nation to what critics called jiggle TV. Farrah Fawcett was the breakout star for the series and despite the success, Fawcett broke her contract with the studio and left the show after only one season.
She was America's it girl. Women across the country, like this one on the Phil Donahue show had only one question for Farrah.
(Soundbite of TV show, "The Phil Donahue Show")
Unidentified Woman: How long does it take you to do your hair in the morning?
Ms. FAWCETT: Well, I get up and I shampoo my hair as I'm taking a shower…
BAKER: New York hair stylist Nick Orojo(ph) remembers the Farrah phenomenon well.
Mr. NICK OROJO (Hairstylist): It was kind of big and flicky and soft and feminine and sexy.
BAKER: Newspapers and women's magazines printed careful step-by-step instructions on exactly how to get the Farrah flick.
Mr. OROJO: But you would definitely have to say that, you know, Farrah Fawcett's hair was iconic and it was a major statement and everybody wanted the Farrah.
BAKER: Farrah Fawcett went on to be nominated for three Emmy's, including her role as a battered wife in the 1984 TV movie "The Burning Bed." But Farrah Fawcett the actress, and even Farrah Fawcett the person were overshadowed by Farrah the phenomenon - the girl from the pinup poster.
For NPR News, I'm Jesse Baker.
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