In the days before she died, Farrah Fawcett was worried about her son, Redmond O’Neal.
“She was saying his name, ‘Redmond,'” her dear friend Mela Murphy, who was at her side at St. John’s Health Center in Los Angeles, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “That was the last thing she said.”
Redmond, 34, is her son with longtime love Ryan O’Neal. He had battled drug addiction and was in prison on drug charges, and his future was uncertain. “I told her I’d take care of him, that I’ll always be there for him,” Murphy says. “I said, ‘You can go now.’ It was just a few hours before she died.”
Fawcett died on June 25, 2009, of anal cancer at age 62. In this week’s issue of PEOPLE (on stands Friday), those closest to her remember the mom who struggled to save her emotionally troubled son— and the friend who fought so bravely to survive.
“She never gave up,” says her Charlie’s Angels costar Jaclyn Smith. “She was relentless in her fight.”
Behind her blonde-haired beauty was a talented, thoughtful and complex woman. And in making her cancer battle public, she found a way to redefine herself. She chronicled her cancer, first diagnosed in 2006, in the documentary Farrah’s Story, co-produced with her close friend Alana Stewart. And in 2007, she launched The Farrah Fawcett Foundation, which funds HPV-related cancer research, prevention and education, and provides patient assistance for those in need.
“Farrah was glad she went public,” Stewart says. “She got thousands of letters from people thanking her for her courage in coming forward to say she had anal cancer. That was her thing — to fight the fight.”
That strength made the reality of her final days difficult to accept.
“I always thought she was going to pull through,” says Murphy, who grew close to the star when she began working as her hairdresser in 1990. “Even after the chemotherapy was causing her hair to come out in clumps and she shaved her head, Farrah wanted to do a photo shoot completely bald. ‘Go for it,’ I told her. She looked so gorgeous with those high cheekbones. She had no reservations. She was about going forward.”
And so Murphy was shocked one day when she went into her friend’s laundry room. “There were piles of my clothes that she’d borrowed, all folded,” she recalls. “Enough to fill a wardrobe box. That’s when I knew.”
- People’s special edition celebrating the life of Farrah Fawcett is on sale now at Amazon and wherever magazines are sold.
On the night before she died, Murphy and O’Neal were at Fawcett’s side in the hospital, sharing memories and trying to comfort her. At one point, when her friend could no longer drink fluids, Murphy snuck in a bottle of Kahlua. “Kahlua and milk, that was our drink,” she says. “I dipped a swab in it and gave it to her. She looked at me and laughed.”
Fawcett died the next morning. To her loved ones, she had made one request.
“The one thing she told me was she wanted her mother’s ashes in the coffin,” says Murphy. (Farrah’s mother, Pauline Fawcett, died in 2005 at age 91.) “Her mother meant so much to her. So Ryan made sure they were brought over from Texas. That was Farrah. She always thought about the people she loved.”