Inside The O'Neal Family Tragedies

The O'Neal family is a Hollywood dynasty, full of individuals who starred in all-time blockbusters and racked up accolades and awards, their impact on entertainment dating back to the 1960s. But as famous and acclaimed as the O'Neals have been, they've probably made more headlines for their tumultuous personal lives and complex, combative family dynamic. 

At the top of the O'Neal clan: Ryan O'Neal, "Peyton Place" heartthrob and 1970s screen idol for his work in "Love Story" and "What's Up, Doc," among other hits of the era. His daughter with "Touch of Evil" star Joanna Moore: Tatum O'Neal, the youngest Academy Award winner ever for "Paper Moon" and a teen star of "The Bad News Bears" and "Little Darlings." Showbiz adjacent siblings and half siblings like Griffin O'Neal and Redmond O'Neal round out the family, along with '70s superstar Farrah Fawcett, long romantically associated with Ryan O'Neal.

The subject of public fascination for decades, the O'Neals' saga is one full of loss, torment, addiction, sickness, tragedy, heartbreak, violence, and death. Here's a look back at the darkness and most tragic moments the Hollywood O'Neals ever endured.

The following article includes allegations of domestic abuse, child abuse, and sexual assault.

Tatum O'Neal's mother faced a lot of tragedy

Joanna Moore, the former spouse of Ryan O'Neal and mother of Griffin O'Neal and Tatum O'Neal, was best known for her work on "The Andy Griffith Show" and in "Touch of Evil." Offscreen, her life was beset by tragedy, loss, and addiction. According to Tatum O'Neal's "A Paper Life," when Moore was five, her family was driving near Americus, Georgia, when her father lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a ravine, killing Moore's mother and infant sister; a year later, he died from internal injuries suffered in the accident. Moore, not riding in the car, was the only person in her immediate family left alive. Sent to live with her morphine-addicted, economically disadvantaged, and immobile grandmother, before being taken in by a well-off Georgia family, Moore was reportedly sexually assaulted as a teenager.

Following an attempt at drug rehabilitation and a stint in a mental health facility in the early 1970s, Moore was arrested for drunk driving and lost custody of her children to Ryan O'Neal, by then her third ex-husband; more arrests for driving under the influence would follow over the years. In 1997, Moore died of lung cancer.

Ryan O'Neal's abusive relationship with Tatum O'Neal

When she was eight years old,Tatum O'Neal (and her brother, Griffin) were removed from the care of their mother, Joanna Moore, because of unhealthy living conditions. They lived with their father, Ryan O'Neal, who got Tatum into acting, starring alongside her as a father-daughter con artist team in "Paper Moon." Tatum would win an Academy Award for the film; Ryan wouldn't so much as be nominated. When the nominations were announced, O'Neal wrote in her book "A Paper Life" that her father punched her in the face, and neither of her parents attended the Oscars ceremony.

Ryan O'Neal's behavior led to Tatum O'Neal's drug use and mental health issues. When she was 12, the O'Neals went to Europe to film "A Bridge Too Far," and Tatum brought along her best friend at the time, 18-year-old Melanie Griffith. Tatum then found her father and friend in bed together, and it devastated her. "I walk in on them and I end up trying to take my life in a very sort of severe way," she told NBC News. While they'd patch things up before Ryan O'Neal died in 2023, father and daughter were estranged for decades.

Tatum O'Neal's lifelong struggle with drug addiction

At the age of 15, Tatum O'Neal, feeling despondent about her image, started using cocaine as a weight loss aid at the advice of her father, Ryan O'Neal. She rapidly became addicted to cocaine, which only worsened her depression. "I felt like I was worth nothing," O'Neal told ABC News.

O'Neal later married tennis star John McEnroe, and their marriage was negatively impacted by her addiction to cocaine. After many fights and acts of domestic violence, they divorced in 1993 and entered into a shared custody agreement for their three young children. When she was apart from her kids, O'Neal got so depressed that she increasingly misused cocaine and heroin, before ultimately recognizing she had a problem. After two rehab stints and subsequent relapses, O'Neal lost custody of her children when her daughter discovered a heroin syringe in her mother's apartment. McEnroe attained full custody, and O'Neal's addiction continued to spiral until 2001, when she began the road to recovery. As O'Neal recalled to NBC News, her son Kevin had simple words of encouragement. "And he said, 'I would really appreciate it if you wouldn't do that anymore,'" 

The actor wasn't able to permanently quit, however. In 2020, O'Neal overdosed and endured several medical events, including a cardiac arrest and seizures, and she fell into a coma that lasted for six weeks. "I almost died," O'Neal told People. She spent the bulk of the following three years in rehabilitation facilities, both to quit drugs and to reacquire the basic functions she lost due to the overdose-related medical problems.

Tatum O'Neal was repeatedly sexually abused

In an October 2018 Instagram post, Tatum O'Neal shared that she'd been sexually assaulted as a child and teenager multiple times. "I am a woman and I have been sexually assaulted more than once!!" O'Neal wrote, captioning a photo of herself as a child in the film "Paper Moon." "It was not my fault when I was 5,6, 12, 13, 15. – All by older men who I thought were safe!" Some of those attacks, O'Neal told NBC News, were because she was unsupervised as a child while under the care of her frequently intoxicated mother, while living on a ranch near Los Angeles. 

Another assault allegedly occurred at the age of 12. Deeply upset and depressed to the point of crisis after her father, Ryan O'Neal, began an affair with her friend, O'Neal attempted death by suicide. She sought out her father's drug dealer. "He gave me a lot of drugs, yeah. And then he molested me," O'Neal said.

Drug addiction plagued Griffin O'Neal's life

The second-oldest child of Ryan O'Neal and his first wife, actor Joanna Moore, Griffin O'Neal was born in 1964 and became an occasional actor in the 1980s and early 1990s. Addiction to drugs and alcohol has characterized his life and the family dynamic as far back as O'Neal can remember. "My mother was an alcoholic and she took weight-loss pills," O'Neal told People in 2015. During periods of childhood in which his father raised him, O'Neal said the environment was just as substance-based. "I was the family joint roller," he said, recalling how he helped prepare marijuana for relatives at the age of nine.

O'Neal believes this all put him on a lifelong path of dealing with drug abuse. "My life has been a reign of drug and alcohol degradation. I had to self-medicate my entire life because there was pain everywhere. There were drugs everywhere in my family all day, every day." By his own account, O'Neal, who identifies as an alcoholic and admits to misusing multiple illicit substances, racked up numerous driving-under-the-influence charges, had been to rehab three times by the time he graduated high school in 1982, and served time in prison for drug-related crimes.

Griffin O'Neal caused the accidental death of a friend

In 1986, Francis Ford Coppola set up production in Washington, D.C., on the film "Gardens of Stone." He hired his son, Gian Carlo Coppola, for the camera crew and his son's friend, Griffin O'Neal, for a bit part. The pals weren't needed on the set on Memorial Day weekend, so they rented a small boat to hang out on the South River, outside Annapolis, Maryland.

O'Neal drove the boat and attempted to move it between two other watercraft, unaware that a towline was tethering them together. When his rented boat made impact, Coppola was thrown backward with tremendous force, and he hit his head on his boat's deck. Emergency medical personnel treated Coppola onsite and transported him to a nearby hospital, where doctors pronounced the 23-year-old dead, unable to revive him after he suffered head injuries. O'Neal endured a small injury to his shoulder, and in 1987, he was found guilty on a criminal charge of negligent operation of a boat (but not guilty on a count of boat manslaughter). He was ordered to pay a $200 fine and sentenced to 18 months of probation with 400 hours of community service.

Ryan O'Neal attacked Griffin O'Neal twice

On two occasions, the relationship between Ryan O'Neal and his oldest son, Griffin O'Neal, descended into arguments that escalated into violence, and the criminal justice system got involved. In May 1983, Griffin O'Neal filed a report with police in Bel-Air, California. He alleged that he and his father got into a fight over a game of racquetball, and Ryan O'Neal repeatedly punched his 18-year-old son, knocking two teeth out of his mouth. Griffin O'Neal decided not to file charges, but Ryan O'Neal later admitted to news outlet X17 that the incident had occurred as reported.

More than 20 years later, Ryan O'Neal was arrested for another alleged attack on his son, which went down at his home in Malibu. After returning home one night in February 2007, after celebrating partner Farrah Fawcett's cancer remission and 60th birthday, Ryan O'Neal said he found his son in his home, brandishing a fireplace poker like a weapon. Griffin O'Neal reportedly swung it around and accidentally hit his partner, JoAnne Berry. Ryan O'Neal located his firearm, and, thinking his son was about to attack, fired a warning shot into the banister. The older O'Neal was arrested on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and negligent discharge of a firearm, and was released after posting bond.

Farrah Fawcett died of cancer

A Hollywood power couple emerged in 1979 when movie star Ryan O'Neal began a romance with "Charlie's Angels" sex symbol Farrah Fawcett. In 1985, Fawcett gave birth to their child, Redmond O'Neal, and they frequently broke up and got back together, splitting up seemingly for good in 1997, but rekindling the relationship in 2001 when O'Neal developed leukemia.

In 2006, doctors diagnosed Fawcett with anal cancer, a relatively rare illness that the American Cancer Society estimated would cause approximately 1,870 fatalities in 2023. Following surgery to remove a tumor in 2007, Fawcett's doctors pronounced her to be free of cancer, but sadly, the cancer returned months later. Fawcett turned to non-traditional treatments in Europe, which ended up causing a blood clot. Meanwhile, the cancer spread to her liver. Throughout her treatment, Fawcett documented her life in "Farrah's Story," a homemade video produced by her friend, Alan Stewart, and which aired on NBC. 

Just after O'Neal proposed marriage and arranged for a hospital priest to perform the ceremony, Fawcett suffered a serious setback and the priest delivered the last rites. Fawcett died at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, on June 25, 2009. Fawcett was 62.

Ugly events surrounded Farrah Fawcett's funeral

Griffin O'Neal credits two women for raising him: His mother, Joanna Moore, and Farrah Fawcett, his father's companion. "She was a great friend," O'Neal told "Larry King Live" in 2009 (via Parade), weeks after Fawcett's death. "She stayed nice all the way to the end. And it broke my heart when I was not allowed to say goodbye to her." O'Neal was barred from attending Fawcett's funeral. "Ryan didn't want me in. I call him Ryan now," O'Neal said of his father, Ryan O'Neal.

Griffin O'Neal's sister, Tatum O'Neal, did attend Fawcett's memorial service. And that's where she bore firsthand witness to her father's womanizing ways and possible mental decline. "I had just put the casket in the hearse and I was watching it drive away when a beautiful blonde woman comes up and embraces me," Ryan O'Neal told Vanity Fair (via HuffPost). "I said to her, 'You have a drink on you? You have a car?' She said, 'Daddy, it's me — Tatum!' I was just trying to be funny with a strange Swedish woman, and it's my daughter. It's so sick." 

Griffin O'Neal explained that his father was hitting on everyone, and that his advanced age was causing him to not recognize his close friends and family. Griffin and Ryan O'Neal remained permanently estranged.

Redmond O'Neal had a lot of problems with drugs, the law, and mental health

Ryan O'Neal and Farrah Fawcett had one biological child together. Redmond O'Neal, born in 1985, entered the family business and worked on some projects as a voice actor in the late 1990s. Throughout his adult life, his addiction to drugs has caused numerous legal issues. In 2005, O'Neal was arrested on suspicion of possession of cocaine and methamphetamine, resulting in probation. Three years later, O'Neal entered a guilty plea and received probation on charges of possession and driving under the influence. He was arrested during a subsequent probation search when police discovered methamphetamine in O'Neal's bedroom. Another arrest in 2011, for heroin possession, resulted in yet more probation and a court-mandated drug program, but O'Neal's repeated failure to pass court-ordered drug tests finally landed him behind bars in 2015.

O'Neal committed a slew of crimes in the Los Angeles area over the first week of May 2018. After allegedly starting fights with two strangers, stabbing two other men, threatening the staff of a coffee shop with a knife, and robbing a convenience store with a weapon, O'Neal possibly faced a lengthy prison term but was deemed unfit for a regular trial. Instead, he was incarcerated in a state-run mental health facility, allegedly under treatment for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.

Ryan O'Neal was diagnosed with cancer twice

In May 2001, Ryan O'Neal's spokesperson announced that her client had been diagnosed with leukemia. "It is treatable and he is doing very well," Dede Binder told Reuters (via ABC News). By the time of the announcement, O'Neal had already received treatment for chronic myelogenous leukemia, a type of cancer that affects the blood marrow, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Following a lengthy period of remission, O'Neal learned that he'd developed a different type form of cancer in 2012. "Recently I was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer," he told People (via The Hollywood Reporter). "Although I was shocked and stunned by the news, I feel fortunate that it was detected early and according to my extraordinary team of doctors the prognosis is positive for a full recovery." Nevertheless, a year later, O'Neal revealed that the diagnosis had terrified him. "It shook me. It shook me up. It shook my family up," he told the Prostate Cancer Research Institute in 2013, while in remission. "As long as I'm examined every three months or so, and they keep tabs on my progress, I feel the sky's the limit."

Ryan O'Neal died after a series of health issues

After working consistently in film and television for over 50 years, Ryan O'Neal quietly retired from acting in 2017 after an episode of "Bones," in which he'd had a recurring role since 2006. As the actor aged into his seventies and eighties, he experienced several serious health problems and limited mobility. In addition to leukemia and prostate cancer, O'Neal reportedly had diabetes and faced several heart issues. In what would be his final public appearances, multiple media outlets captured photos of O'Neal walking with the aid of a cane, and later, a wheelchair.

On December 8, 2023, O'Neal's son, sports broadcaster Patrick O'Neal, announced on his Instagram page that the actor had died. "My dad passed away peacefully today, with his loving team by his side supporting him and loving him as he would us," he wrote. Ryan O'Neal was 82 years old.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, mental health issues, may be the victim of child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, or is struggling or in crisis, contact the relevant resources below: