The O'Neal Family Hollywood Tragedy
10/06/2008 at 01:00 AM EDT
Police arrive at the Beverly Hills home of actor Ryan O'Neal. There's been an incident with his son; drugs are involved, charges are filed. It's a shameful moment in the history of the O'Neal family, and when it happened—way back in the late 1970s, after O'Neal's then-teenage son Griffin was caught buying drugs—few could have fathomed it would be a mere prelude to three decades of dysfunction. "The O'Neal family is talented as hell, but we're as screwed up as a soup sandwich," says Griffin, now 43. "It is a truly, truly, truly sad situation."
Blessed with great looks and talent but cursed, seemingly, by addictions and the riches to indulge them, the Hollywood clan has for years been ravaged by drug woes, violence and bad luck. The latest drama unfolded on Sept. 17, when sheriff's deputies and probation officers swept into the Malibu home of O'Neal, 67, and arrested him and son Redmond, 23, his only child with on-and-off partner Farrah Fawcett. Redmond, who lives with his father and was on probation after pleading guilty to felony drug possession and a DUI charge in June, "was found in possession of narcotics" believed to be methamphetamines, says L.A. County Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore. "Later, a vial of drugs was found in [Ryan's] bedroom."
Father and son are now out on bail and are awaiting formal charges; Ryan O'Neal's attorney Mark Werksman says Ryan should not have been arrested. "Those were not Ryan's drugs. He doesn't use drugs. This situation is very upsetting to Ryan because he's just trying to live his life quietly." Others—including Griffin and his Oscar-winning sister Tatum—are upset for different reasons. "I'm really worried about Red," says Tatum, 44, who has battled drug addiction and was arrested in June for buying cocaine. "I don't know what's going on with my dad. I want them to both get better and get the help they need."
Many friends and relatives interviewed for this article trace the roots of the family's troubles (see box) to Ryan O'Neal's volatile personality. A heartthrob on the '60s TV show Peyton Place and in the '70s classic Love Story, O'Neal "has a vicious dark side," says a family friend. "One minute he is the most charming guy in the room, and then he is brutal. And there is little in between." In her poignant 2004 memoir A Paper Life, Tatum claimed her father was not only prone to striking her and Griffin—their mother was O'Neal's first wife, actress Joanna Moore, who died of lung cancer in 1997—but also turned them on to drugs (O'Neal has said Tatum's book tells "malicious lies").
Patrick O'Neal, 41, Ryan's son with second wife Leigh Taylor-Young, is a Fox Sports broadcaster who has stayed out of trouble, says a pal. But his other three children have had a harder time of it. "I didn't get away from my family in time," says Griffin, who lost two front teeth when his father hit him in the '80s and claimed Ryan attacked him with a gun during a fight in 2007 (formal assault charges against Ryan, who claimed Griffin first attacked him with a fireplace poker, weren't filed due to insufficient evidence). "If you want to be emotionally healthy and strong, you can't hang out [with the family]. It will kill you."
Griffin, who has struggled with cocaine addiction, says he has been sober for two years, while Tatum says, "I am sober right now, and I thank God every day I have been able to overcome my demons." Redmond, however, has been in and out of rehab. And, says Griffin, "my father is killing him by enabling him." A friend says that Fawcett, 61—who was asleep in Ryan's Malibu home at the time of the arrests—has "had some of her biggest fights with Ryan over Redmond. She wanted more discipline and Ryan was more casual. And casual won." Says Griffin: "Farrah can't stand drugs; she can't stand to see her son loaded."
Beyond the drugs and violence, the O'Neals are also coping with serious illness. Griffin is battling a rare bone disease (see box), while Ryan is in remission after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2001. Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006 and is still struggling with that illness. But sickness has also brought the O'Neals together. Tatum has offered Griffin her New York City home while he seeks treatment for his disease. And Ryan has stood by Fawcett during her cancer ordeal. "There is such goodness in him, such compassion," says Leigh Taylor-Young, adding that O'Neal was by her side when she fell ill after their divorce. She also feels that O'Neal is, in his own way, trying to do what is best for his son. "Redmond is a very sweet boy," she says, "and Ryan loves him with all his heart."
If convicted for drug possession again, Redmond will likely face more drug treatment and possibly jail time for violating probation. Tatum believes her own sobriety could inspire him: "He deserves to have the life a 23-year-old should have—going to school, hanging out with friends, getting a job." But her greatest fear is that the problems which have nearly destroyed her loved ones will persist. "Addiction runs in families; it's a disease," says Tatum. "I'm praying for both Red and my father. I'm praying for my whole family."