Surrounded by friends and family, including off-again-on-again boyfriend Ryan O’Neal, Farrah Fawcett—looking healthy and hip in UGG boots and grey tunic—blew out the candles Feb. 2 to celebrate both her 60th birthday and the breaking news that, after four months of difficult treatment, her doctor had declared her cancer-free. “I don’t know what that wish could have been because she’d just gotten her wish,” says close friend Joan Dangerfield, who helped arrange the dinner celebration in a private room at Beverly Hills’ Mastro’s Steakhouse.
It was an amazing moment. But hours later, there was a bizarre sequel: When Ryan O’Neal, returning from the dinner, entered his Malibu home just after midnight, he got into a vicious fight with his troubled 42-year-old son Griffin. The altercation—the latest bit of O’Neal family strife (see box)—resulted in a frightening 911 call from Griffin’s pregnant girlfriend JoAnne Berry and, eventually, Ryan’s arrest on assault and weapons charges (he was booked and released on $50,000 bond).
“It was a horrible ending to a great evening,” says Ryan’s close friend Charlie Mattera, who arrived at the house shortly after the incident. Ryan, 65, issued a statement saying that he walked in on a fight between Griffin and Ryan’s youngest son, Redmond, 22 (whose mother is Fawcett), and that Griffin swung a fireplace poker at him. “I ducked; he hit his own girlfriend in the head,” Ryan told the Los Angeles Times. The elder O’Neal says he then went to his room and retrieved a gun, which he fired into a banister, as a warning, when Griffin came at him again with the poker. Griffin, he said, ran off, and Berry, in hysterics, dialed 911.
“I got hit by something. I can’t see. Help me! Help me!” Berry can be heard crying on the 911 tape. “I’m in a lot of pain. I need an ambulance.”
Berry was treated at a hospital and released. (Neither of the O’Neals nor Berry could be reached for comment.) Ryan’s daughter Tatum, who wasn’t at the scene but later spoke with Griffin, told Entertainment Tonight that her brother did not attack Ryan. “No matter what my dad is saying in the press, Griffin was not trying to start a fight with him,” said Tatum, who has been estranged from her father for years. “He was attempting to protect Redmond.”
In the following days, sheriff’s deputies were still trying to unravel what exactly happened. Fawcett, who had leaned on Ryan during her months of treatment, arrived at his house the next day. Dangerfield says that, despite their long and often difficult relationship, the two standing by each other in times of trouble is not a surprise. “There is something heroic about the both of them—you want to root for them,” says Dangerfield. “Those two are resilient.”