Farrah Fawcett, dying from cancer, floated in and out of consciousness and needed a full-time nurse when Ryan O’Neal interceded to appease NBC and make sure a documentary about Fawcett’s struggle with cancer aired in time for the May sweeps period. At least, that’s the picture painted in a recent New York Times article.
We’ve blogged before about the lawsuit which pitted Fawcett-confidant and television producer, Craig Nevius, against the on-again, off-again ex-husband/boyfriend of Fawcett, Ryan O’Neal. Nevius was working with Fawcett to produce a documentary about her struggles with cancer, to help highlight flaws in the American medical system and how it treated cancer patients.
But, NBC wasn’t pleased with the progress of the documentary and insisted that it be completed on time for a May 2009 airing. Nevius did not want to release the footage without final approval from Fawcett, but she was too sick to provide it, he says.
In stepped Ryan O’Neal. He obtained a signature on a document that gave him full control of the production. He got rid of Nevius, changed the direction of the show, and made sure it aired on time.
The Times article points out that some considered the show “exploitive” and “sometimes almost unbearable.” In one scene, for example, Fawcett’s son was brought to her bed from prison, to say goodbye. He was shown crawling into her bed in prison garb and leg shackles, while his mother was “nearly comatose.” Nevius says Fawcett never would have wanted that.
In fact, he says Fawcett never wanted to change the direction of the show and fire him at all. He sued O’Neal and others, alleging they exploited Fawcett and coerced her to sign the paperwork that excluded him, or maybe even forged it. He says O’Neal threatened to beat him up, and even to kill him at times.
O’Neal and his supporters not only denied the claims, but they counter-sued as well. They claim that it was Nevius, not O’Neal, who had been taking advantage of Fawcett’s weakened state to exploit her through the documentary. They say she approved of the final film and that Nevius had been embezzling from her.
After a long court battle, Nevius dropped his claims and the lawsuit was dismissed. He said he was battling two multi-millionaires and could no longer afford the fight. He issued a public statement that included some choice words for his opponents, Ryan O’Neal and Alana Stewart, Fawcett’s friend:
I will always believe that Ryan and Alana acted as squatters: isolating Farrah from me and others in order to obtain signatures that would ultimately allow them to turn the innovative and informative film we worked on for two years into a network deathwatch.
It certainly seems like someone was taking advantage of the 62-year-old actress while she was dying from cancer. This case illustrates how the exploitation of elderly, sick or infirm people happens much more often than most people realize. While taking advantage of someone for a television production may be unusual, more conventional means of coercing a change to a will, power of attorney, beneficiary designation or joint-account owner, along with other types of financial exploitation, happen on a daily basis.
In fact, one study estimated the annual loss to exploited seniors at over $2.6 billion. That’s right, $2.6 billion each and every year, taken from our country’s most vulnerable adults.
If someone can take advantage of a celebrity like Farrah Fawcett, it can happen to your clients or family members too. And it happens to those with $100,000, just as often and easily as it does to those with millions.
So what can you do? Educate your clients to watch out for elderly or sick family members, and be vigilant. Watching for the warning signs of exploitation can help.
And if you suspect that improper influence or coercion is being used to cause a change to someone’s wishes, do not hesitate to speak with an experienced probate litigation attorney to get help. Getting a skilled attorney involved sooner rather than later can often save headaches, legal fees and a great deal of fighting down the road.
By Danielle and Andy Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of an upcoming national PBS special. The charismatic duo has appeared on the Rachael Ray Show, Forbes, ABC’s Live Well Network, WGN-TV and has lent their expertise and analysis to hundreds of media sources, including The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Kiplinger, and The Washington Post, among many others. As dynamic keynote speakers, Danielle and Andy delight audiences nationwide with highly entertaining and informative presentations, dishing the dirt on celebrity estate battles while dispensing important legal information to help people avoid family fights among their heirs. The couple spends their free time with their 8-year old son and seven-year old boy/girl twins.
For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, subscribe to The Legacy Update at www.TrialandHeirs.com.