Ryan O'Neal: I Should Have Been Much Kinder to Farrah

08/03/2009 at 11:55 AM EDT

Ryan O'Neal: I Should Have Been Much Kinder to Farrah
Farrah Fawcett
Speaking publicly for the first time since the death of his longtime partner Farrah Fawcett on June 25, Ryan O'Neal says he wishes he could have a second shot at the 30-year relationship, and wonders if his own sometimes cruel character somehow led to her fateful illness.

The grieving actor, 68, tells Vanity Fair in its September issue (on sale Aug. 5) that he'd love to "do it over," given the chance, and in the process would change some unpleasant flaws in himself that caused Fawcett pain. "I would have been much kinder, more understanding, more mature," he says. "I'd lose some of the savagery. I don't know how she got cancer; maybe some of it was me."

O'Neal and Fawcett split up in 1998 after a tumultuous 20 years, and reconnected in 2001, after he was diagnosed with leukemia. O'Neal blames that split on, among other things, her menopause – and his own lack of sympathy.

"I believe Farrah was going through some kind of life change," he tells the magazine, which has Fawcett on the cover of half the September issues and pop star Michael Jackson on the cover of the other half. "I didn't have a change of life. I was always a jerk. But they're hard work, these divas; I was sick of it, and I was unappreciated. I just don't think she liked me very much. So I excused myself."

He adds: "We pulled apart, but we never popped loose."

O'Neal says his deficiencies extend beyond his relationship with Fawcett, calling himself a "hopeless father" and relating one disturbing incident from Fawcett's funeral.

"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," said O'Neal. "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."

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