As a teen in Japan, a friend returned to the states and sent me a poster which I immediately tacked-up in my bedroom. Even though there was a signature printed over her thigh, I didn’t have a clue who this woman was. Little did I know that it would go on to become the most popular poster ever sold and that the woman on my wall would eventually become part of my life.
I was commissioned to photograph Farrah for a magazine cover and an inside spread to accompany an interview she had done. I was given a rough edit of the article and they left the creative direction up to me. I started kicking around ideas but before I could nail anything down, Farrah called my studio to discuss the shoot. She warned me that she had a new publicist who was determined to rebrand her image. Farrah had recently made some appearances that had people questioning her erratic behavior, most notably during an interview with David Letterman. Farrah was meeting with her publicist at her home the following day and suggested I join them to discuss the shoot.
When I arrived there was an envelope on her door with my name on it. Inside was a note instructing me to let myself in and make myself comfortable. I hesitated, it seemed bold to just walk into a stranger’s home but the note was clear and I pride myself on taking direction as good as I give it. Her home was beautiful and spacious, I noticed several walls were damaged from the earthquake that had recently rocked California. I sat down on the first piece of furniture that presented itself and was admiring a impressive bronze figure that Farrah had sculpted when I heard a voice call out from somewhere down the hall “Answer the phone.” I sat perplexed and a moment later the phone on the table across the room began to ring. Between rings someone cried out “Answer it” so I moved over to the sofa and picked-up the phone. It was Farrah calling from the bathtub. She was running late but wanted to talk to me before her publicist arrived. Farrah explained that this was the first time she was actually meeting her new publicist and on the heels of her appearance in Playboy she wanted to warn me that he would likely veto any concept that could be considered the least bit controversial. She encouraged me not to let him dictate the shoot and explained that she wanted to collaborate on something unique. We continued to chat until her publicist arrived. He seemed confused when I greeted him at the door, “Farrah will be out in a minute, she’s still in the bath.”
In a flurry of famous hair and that signature smile Farrah bounded into the room in her bathrobe still drying her hair with a towel. The confidence to casually greet virtual strangers straight out of the tub without any make-up spoke volumes, particularly if you consider the constant scrutiny she was under as she was arguably more famous for her beauty than her work. This was a woman very comfortable in her skin.
The publicist was all business, no pleasantries or small talk, “How do you plan on shooting Farrah?” It was obvious that this was a negotiation so I needed to set the bar high at the start by presenting some outrageous ideas. The publicist could do his job by killing those concepts but in the process I could hopefully negotiate something more interesting than the headshot he was championing. In the article Farrah was quoted as saying “I feel simultaneously sanctified and crucified by Hollywood” so I suggested that we crucify her nude on a telephone pole on Sunset Boulevard. Farrah loved the idea, the publicist was not amused. I cited another statement she made in the interview about living “in a bubble” and suggested that we put her in a giant clear plexiglass ball filled with butterflies and have her roll it around downtown like a hamster. The publicist was incensed but Farrah was grinning from ear to ear. Eventually we settled on a fairly mundane shoot at my studio but it was a victory considering the dry portrait her publicist would have preferred. As I was leaving, Farrah’s personal assistant, Shelly, showed up. I knew Shelly from years earlier but I had no idea that she had since been working with Farrah. We all hung out, had lunch, went through Farrah’s closet and continued to plan the shoot. As I left I was excited about the session, it’s always a huge advantage to build some trust and coordinate with talent before everyone is on set.
The morning before our shoot as we were starting to prep, Farrah called and told me that she had let her publicist go and wanted to do the shot on Sunset Boulevard. Without time to get a permit and before the days of digital cameras, we had to find a way to make that happen as well as prep our other concepts. The shoot went well but since we shot on location and in the studio it was a long day. It was well after midnight when I walked an exhausted Farrah to her car. I was concerned as she appeared to be too fatigued to drive but she assured me she was fine. When she got home she called to thank me for the day, she was excited to see the photos, especially the shot on Sunset.
Sadly, the Sunset Boulevard photo did not run in the magazine as the article made the point of accusing other publications of sensationalizing her image for sales and rightfully determined that using that image for their cover would be hypocritical. I feared Farrah would be upset but when I told her she was unfazed and in the spirit of a true artist said “We didn’t shoot it for them, we shot it for us.” Farrah and I discussed our creative endeavors and attended art openings together. She excitedly called about a sculpture she had done inspired by a discussion we had about one of my photos. We discussed collaborating on some projects but never did and as time passed Farrah and I saw less and less of one another. When she was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 she reached out and we had a long, emotional, very honest conversation about the fight she was facing. A fight that we both honestly believed she would win. Intent on making a difference, in 2007 she started the Farrah Fawcett Foundation which is still working to fund research to find a cure.
On the morning of June 25th, 2009 I was scouting for a shoot when I got a call from Farrah’s camp telling me that she had lost her courageous battle with cancer. I returned to the studio and turned on the news but there was no mention of it. I started scanning the channels waiting for the news to break, when I got to CNN they had a photo of Farrah on the screen but immediately broke in with a report that Michael Jackson was found dead in his Holmby Hills mansion. To the press, Farrah losing her long, well-publicized struggle with cancer didn’t compare to the unexpected death of the King of Pop amidst allegations of foul play. Sadly, Farrah’s passing became almost a footnote to the passing of Michael Jackson in the press and continued when In March 2010, the Academy of Motion Pictures excluded Farrah from the “In Memoriam” montage at the 82nd Academy Awards but included Michael Jackson, even though he wasn’t primarily known for his work in film.