Charles Patrick Ryan O’Neal (born April 20, 1941) is an American actor and former boxer. O’Neal trained as an amateur boxer before beginning his career in acting in 1960.
In 1964, he landed the role of Rodney Harrington on the ABC nighttime soap opera Peyton Place. The series was an instant hit and boosted O’Neal’s career. He later found success in films, most notably Love Story (1970), for which he received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations as Best Actor, What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Paper Moon (1973), Stanley Kubrick‘s Barry Lyndon (1975), and A Bridge Too Far (1977). He had a recurring role in the TV series Bones as Max, the father of the series’ protagonist.
O’Neal was born in Los Angeles, California, the eldest son of actress Patricia Ruth Olga (née Callaghan; 1907–2003) and novelist and screenwriter Charles O’Neal.
His father was of English and Irish descent, while his mother was of paternal Irish and maternal Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.
His brother, Kevin, is an actor and screenwriter.
O’Neal attended University High School in Los Angeles, and trained there to become a Golden Gloves boxer. During the late 1950s, his father had a job writing on a television series called Citizen Soldier, and moved the family to Munich, where O’Neal attended Munich American High School.
O’Neal appeared in guest roles on series that included The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Leave It to Beaver, Bachelor Father, Westinghouse Playhouse, Perry Mason and Wagon Train.
From 1962 to 1963, he was a regular on NBC’s Empire, another modern day western, where he played “Tal Garrett”. Also, was in an episode of My Three Sons as Chug Williams in 1962.
In 1964 he was cast as Rodney Harrington in the prime time serial drama Peyton Place. The series was a big success, making national names of its cast including O’Neal. Several were offered movie roles, including Mia Farrow and Barbara Parkins.
Eventually O’Neal was cast in the lead of The Big Bounce (1969), based on an Elmore Leonard novel. Then he played an Olympic athlete in The Games (1970). Neither film was particularly successful.
The Games had been co written by Erich Segal, who recommended O’Neal for the lead in Love Story, based on Segal’s novel and script.
A number of actors had turned down the role including Beau Bridges and Jon Voight before it was offered to O’Neal. His fee was $25,000; he had an offer that paid five times as much to appear in a Jerry Lewis film but O’Neal knew that Love Story was the better prospect and selected that instead.
“I hope the young people like it,” he said before the film came out. “I don’t want to go back to TV. I don’t want to go back to those NAB conventions.”
In between the film’s production and release. O’Neal appeared in a TV movie written by Eric Ambler, Love Hate Love, which received good ratings. He also made a Western, Wild Rovers with William Holden for director Blake Edwards.
Love Story turned out to be a box office phenomenon. It made O’Neal a star and earned him a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor (although O’Neal was bitter he was never given a percentage of the profits, unlike co-star Ali MacGraw).
Wild Rovers, badly cut by MGM, was considerably less popular, yet O’Neal was going to make another film for MGM, Deadly Honeymoon from a novel by Larry Block.
However, O’Neal pulled out – Peter Bogdanovich later said MGM head Jim Aubrey was “cruel” to O’Neal.
(The film became Nightmare Honeymoon.) He was also wanted by director Nic Roeg to appear opposite Julie Christie in an adaptation of Out of Africa that was never made.
Instead O’Neal starred in What’s Up Doc? (1972) for Bogdanovich opposite Barbra Streisand. This was the third-highest-grossing film of 1972 and led to him receiving an offer to star in a movie for Stanley Kubrick, Barry Lyndon.
While that was in pre production, O’Neal played a jewel thief in The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1972) opposite Jacqueline Bisset and Warren Oates. Then he was reunited with Bogdanovich for Paper Moon (1973) in which he starred opposite his daughter Tatum O’Neal. Tatum won an Oscar for her performance in a very popular movie and in 1973, Ryan O’Neal was voted by exhibitors as the second most popular star in the country, behind Clint Eastwood.
O’Neal spent over a year making Barry Lyndon (1975) for Kubrick.
The resulting film was considered a commercial disappointment and had a mixed critical reception; it won O’Neal a Harvard Lampoon Award for the Worst Actor of 1975. Its reputation has risen in recent years but O’Neal says his career never recovered from the film’s reception.
“Oh it’s all right but he [Kubrick] completely changed the picture during the year he spent editing it,” said O’Neal.
O’Neal had been originally meant to star in Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love but was replaced by Burt Reynolds. He made Nickelodeon (1976) with Reynolds, Bogdanovich and Tatum O’Neal, for a fee of $750,000. The film flopped at the box office.
He followed this with a small role in the all-star war film A Bridge Too Far (1977), playing General James Gavin. O’Neal’s performance as a hardened general was much criticised, although O’Neal was only a year older than Gavin at the time of the events in the film.
“Can I help it if I photograph like I’m 16 and they gave me a helmet that was too big for my head?” he later said. “At least I did my own parachute jump.”
The film performed poorly at the US box office but did well in Europe.
O’Neal initially turned down a reported $3 million to star in Oliver’s Story (1978), a sequel to Love Story.
Instead he appeared in the car-chase film The Driver (1978), directed by Walter Hill, who had written The Thief Who Came to Dinner.
This was a box office disappointment in the US but, like A Bridge Too Far, did better overseas. Hill later said he “was so pleased with Ryan in the movie and I was very disappointed that people didn’t particularly give him any credit for what he did. To me, he’s the best he’s ever been. I cannot imagine another actor.”
O’Neal was meant to follow this with The Champ (1979), directed by Franco Zeffirelli, but decided to pull out after Zeffirelli refused to cast O’Neal’s son Griffin opposite him. Instead he agreed to make Oliver’s Story after all once the script was rewritten.
However the film was a flop at the box office.
“What I have to do now, seriously, is win a few hearts as an actor,” he said in 1978. “The way Cary Grant did. I know I’ve got a lot of winning to do. But I’m young enough. I’ll get there…”
Around this time, O’Neal was meant to star in The Bodyguard, from a Lawrence Kasdan script, opposite Diana Ross for director John Boorman. However the film fell over when Ross pulled out, and it would not be made until 1992, with Kevin Costner in O’Neal’s old role.
There was some talk he would appear in a film from Michelangelo Antonioni, Suffer or Die, but this did not eventuate.
O’Neal instead played a boxer in a comedy, The Main Event, reuniting him with Streisand. He received a fee of $1 million plus a percentage of the profits. The Main Event was a sizeable hit at the box office.
A 1980 profile of O’Neal described him:
“ Unlike most stars of the post-Hoffman era he is very handsome, especially when moustached: he has blond curly hair and a toothpaste smile: he seems to lead an interesting life.
Maybe he would really come on if he had the apprenticeship of the stars of the 30s: for he is, to underline the point, a throwback to that era. There are no nervous tics, solemnity is at bag; his is an easy, genial presence, and thank heaven for it! ”
O’Neal was looking to follow it as the lead in the film version of The Thorn Birds to be directed by Arthur Hiller but the book ended up being adapted as a mini series.
Instead O’Neal made a British-financed thriller, Green Ice (1981), for the most money he had ever received up front.
The movie had a troublesome production (the original director quit during filming) and flopped at the box office.
He had a cameo in Circle of Two, a film his daughter made with Richard Burton.
O’Neal says Burton told him during filming he was “five years away from winning acceptance as a serious actor. On the other hand, my agent, Sue Mengers says I’m right on the threshold. Split the difference, that’s two and a half years. One good picture, that’s all I need…”
However, in the early 80s he focused on comedies. He received $2 million for the lead in So Fine.
This was followed by Partners (1982), a farce written by Francis Veber in which O’Neal played a straight cop who goes undercover as one half of a gay couple.
He then played a film director loosely based on Peter Bogdanovich in Irreconcilable Differences (1984); he received no upfront fee but got a percentage of the profits.
It was a minor box office success.
A 1984 profile called him “the Billy Martin of Hollywood, whether it’s his love affair with Farrah Fawcett… his precocious actor daughter Tatum or fisticuffs with his son Griffin. He just can’t seem to stay out of the news.” O’Neal said he felt more like Rocky Marciano, “wondering why guys are always picking fights with me. If I’m in a good picture, they’ll like me. If I’m not they’ll hate me. Hey I’m mad too when I don’t make good pictures.”
O’Neal said too many of the roles he had played were “off the beaten path for me”. In particular he regretted doing The Thief Who Came to Dinner, A Bridge Too Far, The Driver, So Fine, Partners and Green Ice.
He blamed this in part on having to pay alimony and child support. He also said agent Sue Mengers encouraged him to constantly work.
“If I could get a good director to choose me for a picture, I was okay,” he said. “But they stopped calling me in the mid-70s… I made a whole bunch of pictures that didn’t make any money and people lost interest in me… Directors take me reluctantly. I feel I’m lucky to be here in the first place and they know it too. I’m a glamour boy, a Hollywood product. I have a TV background and they can point to the silly movies I’ve made.”
He tried something different playing a gambler in Fever Pitch (1985), the last movie for Richard Brooks. Even less conventional was Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987) for director Norman Mailer. Both movies flopped at the box office.
O’Neal had a good supporting role in the romantic comedy Chances Are (1989). He returned to TV opposite his then-partner Farrah Fawcett in Small Sacrifices (1989).
He and Fawcett made a short-lived CBS series Good Sports (1991).
He had a good role in Faithful (1996) with Cher. It was directed by Paul Mazursky who later said of O’Neal:
He’s sweet as sugar, and he’s volatile. He’s got some of that Irish stuff in him, and he can blow up a bit. One day he was doing a scene, and I said, ‘Bring it down a little bit,’ and Ryan said, ‘I quit! You can’t say “Bring it down” to me that loud!’ I said, ‘If you quit, I’m going to break your nose.’ He started to cry. He’s sort of a big baby at times, but he’s a good guy, and he’s very talented. He’s had a strange career, but he was a monster star.
He is a recurring character on Fox’s Bones (2007–2017; died in the hospital after a shootout saving his grandchildren).
In 2011, Ryan and Tatum attempted to restore their broken father/daughter relationship after 25 years. Their reunion and reconciliation process was captured in the Oprah Winfrey Network series, Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals.
In 2016, O’Neal reunited with Love Story co-star Ali MacGraw in a staging of A.R. Gurney’s play Love Letters.
O’Neal said that in 2009 he “made a tremendous amount of money on real estate, more than [he] deserve[s]”.
O’Neal was in a long-term relationship with actress Farrah Fawcett from 1979 until 1997.
They then reunited in 2001 and were together until her death in 2009.
He was previously married to actresses Joanna Moore and Leigh Taylor-Young; both marriages ended in divorce.
He has four children: Tatum O’Neal and Griffin O’Neal (with Moore), Patrick O’Neal (with Taylor-Young), and Redmond James Fawcett O’Neal (with Fawcett).
“I got married at 20, and I was not a real mature 20,” said O’Neal. “My first child was born when I was 21. I was a man’s man; I didn’t discover women until I was married, and then it was too late.”
O’Neal had custody of Tatum and Griffin due to his first wife’s drug and alcohol issues. He had romances with Ursula Andress, Bianca Jagger, Anouk Aimee, Jacqueline Bisset, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, and Anjelica Huston.
For several years, O’Neal was estranged from his elder three children. However, in 2011, Tatum reconciled with her father with a book and a television show. On August 4, O’Neal, Tatum, and Patrick attended Redmond’s court appearance on firearms and drug charges.
In 2001, O’Neal was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). After struggling with leukemia, O’Neal was frequently seen at Fawcett’s side when she was battling cancer.
He told People magazine, “It’s a love story. I just don’t know how to play this one. I won’t know this world without her. Cancer is an insidious enemy.” In April 2012, O’Neal revealed he had been diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer. He reported that it had been detected early enough to give a prognosis of full recovery.
Sources : Wikipedia / YouTube