Ryan O’Neal, who became a star with ‘Love Story,’ dies at 82

His son Patrick confirmed the death in a post on Instagram. It did not give the cause or say where he died.

(Ryan Stone | The New York Times) Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal at the Broward Center in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where they were starring in the play “Love Letters,” on May 21, 2015

Ryan O’Neal, who became an instant movie star in the hit film “Love Story,” the highest-grossing movie of 1970, but who was later known as much for his personal life and health problems as for his acting in his later career, died Friday. He was 82.

His son Patrick confirmed the death in a post on Instagram. It did not give the cause or say where he died.

O’Neal was a familiar face on both big and small screens for a half-century. But he was never as famous as he was in the immediate aftermath of “Love Story.”

He was 29 years old and had spent a decade on television but had made only two other movies when he was chosen to star in Arthur Hiller’s sentimental romance, written by Erich Segal (who turned his screenplay into a bestselling novel). His performance as Oliver Barrett IV, a wealthy, golden-haired Harvard hockey player married to a dying woman played by Ali MacGraw, garnered him the only Academy Award nomination of his career.

He had played the town rich boy, Rodney Harrington, for five years on the prime-time soap opera “Peyton Place.” But in 1970, Hollywood was not that interested in television actors, and he had been far from the first choice to star in “Love Story.”

“Jon Voight turned the part down. Beau Bridges was supposed to do it,” he told a reporter in 1971. “When my name came up through Ali, they all said ‘No.’ Ali said, ‘Please meet him.’

“So we met in one of those conference rooms where everybody sits half a mile away from everybody else,” he continued. “Weeks later, they asked me to test. Then I didn’t hear anything until they finally called and said, ‘Will you give us an extension of a week to make up our minds?’”

In the end, MacGraw persuaded Paramount to cast O’Neal. He was hired for $25,000 (a little more than $200,000 in today’s currency), and his movie career was ignited.

He also demonstrated his knack for comedy in three films directed by Peter Bogdanovich. He co-starred with Barbra Streisand in “What’s Up, Doc?” (1972), a screwball comedy inspired by the 1938 Cary Grant-Katharine Hepburn movie, “Bringing Up Baby”; with Burt Reynolds in “Nickelodeon” (1976), a valentine to the early days of moviemaking based on the reminiscences of Raoul Walsh and other directors; and, with his 9-year-old daughter, Tatum, in “Paper Moon” (1973), the best known of the three films he made with Bogdanovich.

In “Paper Moon,” set in the Midwest during the Depression, O’Neal played a small-time swindler hornswoggled by a cigarette-smoking orphan who just might be his illegitimate daughter. Tatum O’Neal won an Academy Award for that performance — she remains the youngest person ever to win one of the four acting Oscars — and for a while, it appeared that Ryan O’Neal would become the patriarch of an acting dynasty.

When Tatum starred as a Little League pitcher in “The Bad News Bears” (1976), she became the highest-paid child star in history, with a salary of $350,000 (the equivalent of about $1.9 million today) and a percentage of the net profits. Her younger brother Griffin seemed poised for stardom as well when it was announced that he would appear with his father in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1979 remake of “The Champ,” a 1931 tear-jerker about a washed-up former boxer and his son.

But Zeffirelli ended up making the film with Jon Voight and Ricky Schroder instead, and Griffin O’Neal’s career never got off the ground. He did have one starring role, in the 1982 film “The Escape Artist,” but that film was not a success. When he was next in the public eye, five years later, it was not for his acting but for his involvement in a boating accident that killed his friend Gian-Carlo Coppola, the son of director Francis Ford Coppola. He was convicted of negligent operation of a boat but acquitted of manslaughter.

The O’Neal family would go on to have many more problems with the law, with drugs and with one another.

Ryan O’Neal, who was well known in Hollywood for his temper — when he was 18, he spent 51 days in jail for a brawl at a New Year’s Eve party — was charged with assaulting his son Griffin in 2007. Those charges were dropped, but a year later, he and Redmond O’Neal, his son with actress Farrah Fawcett, were arrested on a drug charge. He pleaded guilty and was ordered to undergo counseling, while Redmond entered rehabilitation but continued to struggle with addiction.

Tatum O’Neal had her own highly publicized drug problems and was estranged for many years from her father, who she said physically abused her when she was a child.

Patrick Ryan O’Neal was born in Los Angeles on April 20, 1941, the elder son of Charles O’Neal, a screenwriter, and Patricia Callaghan O’Neal, an actress. At 17, he joined his nomadic parents in Germany and got his first taste of show business as a stuntman on the television series “Tales of the Vikings.”

He never took an acting lesson, but his striking good looks, as well as the anger that seemed to boil just below the surface, helped win him roles on television not long after he returned to Los Angeles.=

O’Neal’s survivors include his daughter Tatum and son Patrick, a sportscaster. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

In 2012, O’Neal revealed that he was being treated for prostate cancer. That diagnosis came 11 years after he contracted chronic myelogenous leukemia, which eventually went into remission.

The last major role O’Neal played was himself. In the summer of 2011, he and his daughter starred in a reality show, “Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals,” on Oprah Winfrey’s cable channel, OWN. The series left the impression that the two had ended their long estrangement, but O’Neal later told an interviewer that it painted a false picture.

“We’re further apart now than we were when we started the show,” he said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.