Jury awards portrait of Fawcett to O’Neal

Posted Friday, Dec. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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An Andy Warhol portrait of Farrah Fawcett belongs to actor Ryan O’Neal, a jury determined Thursday.

The artwork’s ownership has been fiercely contested during a three-week trial in which Fawcett’s final wishes and her relationship with O’Neal were dissected.

Jurors voted 9-3 in O’Neal’s favor. Their verdict will allow the actor to keep the portrait in his beach-side home, where he has said it remains a powerful reminder of his decades-long relationship with Fawcett.

O’Neal wasn’t in the courtroom when the verdict was read, but his sons, Patrick and Redmond, were. The brothers hugged as jurors filed out of the courtroom.

Patrick O’Neal said that he spoke to his father and that “he was very happy.” Attorney Marty Singer said O’Neal wasn’t in court because he was having a medical procedure.

Fawcett died in June 2009 and left all her artwork to her alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. The Charlie’s Angels star left nothing to O’Neal, her longtime companion.

Within days of Fawcett’s death, O’Neal took from her condominium one of two portraits of the actress that Warhol created in 1980. O’Neal had permission from the trustee of Fawcett’s belongings and testified that the artwork was a gift from Warhol for arranging the portrait session.

University lawyers tried to discredit O’Neal’s ownership claims with footage from Fawcett’s reality show and a 20/20 television segment documenting the portraits’ creation.

O’Neal wasn’t seen in the footage, and a producer didn’t recall seeing the Love Story star at Warhol’s studio. But she also said she had no knowledge of who owned the artwork or how it was delivered.

The case featured testimony from O’Neal and several of Fawcett’s close friends, who said the actress told them that one of the portraits belonged to O’Neal. Two witnesses who were disclosed late in the trial — Fawcett’s chiropractor and a former nurse’s assistant — also backed O’Neal’s claims.

The university showed jurors footage from Fawcett’s reality show in which she told an auction house owner that she had two Warhol portraits and was considering selling one.

O’Neal’s lawyers noted that Fawcett never said on camera that she owned both.

The school also showed the panel documents that Fawcett signed loaning the portraits to The Andy Warhol Museum in which she is described as the owner and artist.

University attorney David Beck urged jurors to give the school the portrait in accordance with Fawcett’s wishes.

“You’ve seen Farrah. You’ve heard from Farrah,” Beck said Monday during closing arguments. “Please, please speak for her.”

The portrait has been a cherished possession for O’Neal, who told jurors that it is one of the strongest reminders of his nearly three-decade romance with Fawcett.

“I talk to it,” O’Neal testified last week. “I talk to her. It’s her presence, her presence in my life, in her son’s life.”

Jurors heard widely varying estimates of the portrait’s value — from $800,000 to $12 million.

UT had ‘no choice’

Beck said the jury was conscientious and noted that the panel was split on who should have the portrait.

He said the school felt obliged to pursue the case because of Fawcett’s wishes. “We had no choice,” he said.

Beck said the school’s lawyers will look at the case and decide the next step.

The jury also determined that a tablecloth that Warhol drew hearts on and presented to O’Neal and Fawcett was jointly owned by the couple. The tablecloth was given to the university, and O’Neal has said he wants it back.

Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin said he will rule on that matter during a January hearing.

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