Fawcett died at 9:28 a.m. PST on Thursday at St. John's Heath Center in Santa Monica, Calif. She was with longtime partner Ryan O'Neal, friend Alana Stewart, friend and hairdresser Mela Murphy and her doctor Lawrence Piro. She had recently returned to St. John's for treatment of complications from anal cancer, first diagnosed three years ago.
"She's gone. She now belongs to the ages," O'Neal tells PEOPLE, also confirming that she received the last rites of the Catholic Church. "She's now with her mother and sister and her God. I loved her with all my heart. I will miss her so very, very much. She was in and out of consciousness. I talked to her all through the night. I told her how very much I loved her. She's in a better place now."
Added O'Neal: "She was with her team when she passed ... Her eyes were open, but she didn't say anything. But you could see in her eyes that she recognized us."
Though O'Neal recently said that he and Fawcett had planned to wed, they did not tie the knot. "There just wasn't time, and Farrah wasn't in any condition to do it," says O'Neal.
Friends and family plan to honor Fawcett with a funeral service at a Catholic cathedral in Los Angeles in the next few days.
Like so much about Fawcett's life – including her bumpy relationship with O'Neal – her heroic struggle to beat the disease was closely followed by her legion of fans.
"I've watched her this past year fight with such courage and so valiantly, but with such humor," Fawcett's Charlie's Angels costar Kate Jackson told PEOPLE in November 2007.
O'Neal, in particular, remained a steadfast supporter of Fawcett, who, despite her frailty, spent the last months of her life filming a TV documentary chronicling her illness, including several trips to Germany to undergo experimental treatment. Fawcett is survived by her son with O'Neal, Redmond, 24, who is currently serving a jail term in California after repeated drug offenses.
Redmond was not there at Fawcett's side when she died, but spoke to his mother on the phone and told her "how much he loved her and asked her to please forgive him that he was so very, very sorry," O'Neal tells PEOPLE.
Texas CharmerBlonde, blue-eyed and petite – and with a trademark mane as flowing and famous as the M.G.M. lion's – the Corpus Christi, Texas, native was born Feb. 2, 1947, the younger daughter of an oil-field contractor and his homemaker wife.
A magnet for male students at the University of Texas at Austin, Fawcett eventually set off for Hollywood. Quickly noticed by casting agents, she began landing small parts in forgettable movies, such as 1970's Myra Breckinridge, based on a gender-bending novel by Gore Vidal. Her role: an ingenuous blonde.
In 1973, Fawcett married actor Lee Majors, forever known as Col. Steve Austin on TV's The Six Million Dollar Man. Three years later, she appeared in the cult sci-fi film Logan's Run and began her stint with costars Jackson and Jaclyn Smith on Charlie's Angels. Well-coiffed and scantily clad, the threesome created an instant sensation, with a weekly following of 23 million fans.
"I became famous almost before I had a craft," Fawcett told The New York Times in 1986, four years after her divorce from Majors. (By then, she was already involved with Ryan O'Neal.) "I didn't study drama at school. I was an art major. Suddenly, when I was doing Charlie's Angels, I was getting all this fan mail, and I didn't really know why. I don't think anybody else did, either."
Bumpy Film CareerThough she left TV for what was assumed to be greener pastures – feature films – Fawcett's initial three big-screen vehicles all crash-landed. Her first, 1978's Somebody Killed Her Husband, was lampooned in MAD magazine under the title, Somebody Killed Her Career.
It took some serious dramatic TV roles, including that of a battered wife in 1984's The Burning Bed (which earned her an Emmy nomination), as well as starring in small-screen biopics about pioneering photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White and ill-fated Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, for Fawcett to bounce back.
"What would you do if someone said to you, 'You're so popular right now that you can be on the cover of every magazine, but if you do that, you might get overexposed and a backlash will develop'?" Fawcett told The Times after she had emerged from one of the valleys of her career.
Still, she said of fighting for survival in Hollywood, "That's life. Everything has positive and negative consequences."