In Conversation: Anjelica Huston,” New York Magazine, April 29, 2019
The face you see here was not the one Ms. Huston had in mind when she made this remark. This one was taken in 2008 by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, after Ryan O’Neal was arrested, along with son Redmond, on charges of drug possession.
Granted, nobody is going to look good in a mug shot. And O’Neal has looked even worse since then. That would be normal to expect for a leukemia and prostate cancer survivor who, as it happens, also turns 80 today.
But Ms. Huston would have it that the actor—a romantic heartthrob since his days on the primetime 1960s soap opera Peyton Place and the 1970 weepie, Love Story—is finally paying the wages of sin. In other words, the once-handsome actor now looks as ugly as the way he once acted towards others.
In a period when she was separated from longtime companion Jack Nicholson, Ms. Huston took up with O’Neal. It’s a safe bet to say, judging from her recollections, that this relationship-on-the-rebound is one she deeply regrets.
O’Neal, an amateur boxer before he started his acting career, not only exhibited his pugilistic skills onscreen in The Main Event, but also during an argument with Ms. Huston, according to her 2014 memoir Watch Me:
“He turned on me, grabbed me by the hair and hit me in the forehead with the top of his skull. I saw stars and reeled back. Half blind I ran away from him.”
Even as his celebrity has dimmed over the years (his latest roles were guest appearances on Bones), O’Neal has had a tabloid half-life because of the drug use of three of his four children, as well as their charges that he acted violently towards them when they were growing up.
Pointing to how their lives turned out, the actor has acknowledged he was a “hopeless father,” admitting he wasn’t ready for parenthood in his early twenties. But his defects are worse than a substance abuse problem: well into his sixties, he was a narcissistic roue to an extraordinary extent even for Hollywood. (At the 2009 funeral of longtime lover Farrar Fawcett, according to this article from Huffington Post, he made a pass at an attractive younger woman—who turned out to be his Oscar-winning daughter Tatum, from whom he’d been estranged for years.)
For all his tabloid exploits, O’Neal was fortunate indeed that Ms. Huston’s charge of abuse (which he does not appear to have denied) came a few years before the #MeToo movement. The noise afterward might have been deafening.
Watching a onetime celebrity—with looks ravaged by disease and time—can be disheartening. But some, having lived their lives with dignity, go out the same way, while others who made grave personal and professional mistakes successfully grab at a last shot at redemption.
For the longest time, O’Neal did not follow that script. Within the last year, he has been photographed with his troubled offspring, in an image long thought unthinkable. Whether that reconciliation will hold, given this troubled family, is another matter.
But while he was at it, it wouldn’t have hurt for him to try to make amends—even publicly—with Ms. Huston, in the hope that others might learn from his example of taking responsibility for domestic violence.