LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) – Ryan O’Neal is duking it out, legally speaking, with the University of Texas over an Andy Warhol portrait of his late girlfriend, actress Farrah Fawcett.
The issue began when the university saw the portrait hanging in the actor’s home during an episode of the reality TV show “Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals,” Lawyers for the university sued the actor last August, claiming the portrait belongs to the school because Fawcett agreed to have all her artwork donated, after her death, to her alma mater.
“I am shocked and appalled that the University of Texas has alleged that I (stole) the Warhol portrait, which was a gift from my good friend, the late Andy Warhol,” O’Neal fired back in a sworn declaration filed in L.A. Superior Court Friday.
The 71-year-old actor was romantically involved with Fawcett, the mother of his son Redmond, on-and-off for 30 years. They never wed. The actress died of cancer at the age of 62 in June 2009.
According to news reports, O’Neal said that he introduced Fawcett to the iconic artist, known for works fixated on pop culture. In the ‘80s, Warhol allegedly asked if he could create a portrait of Fawcett in connection with an episode of the 20/20 TV news program. O’Neal maintains that he asked Warhol to create two copies of the portrait, so that the actor and Fawcett could both have one.
“Mr. Warhol readily agreed to my request for two copies of the portrait,” O’Neal said.
Warhol presented the couple with their copies several weeks later, O’Neal said.
“Mr. Warhol thanked us and then handed one copy to me, saying, `Ryan, this is for you,”‘ O’Neal said. “Similarly, he handed a copy to Ms. Fawcett and said, `Farrah, this is for you.”‘
O’Neal said he usually kept his copy at his Malibu home, although he sometimes displayed it at Fawcett’s L.A. residence to protect it from the ocean air.
“At no time did I ever relinquish ownership of my copy of the Warhol portrait, regardless of whether it was displayed at my home of Ms. Fawcett’s home,” O’Neal said. “At no time have I represented to anyone that I did not own my copy of the Warhol portrait.”
“It is a prized possession and a precious memento of my life with Ms. Fawcett,” he said. “The allegations by the University of Texas are completely false.”
The actor said Warhol gave him and Fawcett other gifts in the 1980s, including napkin drawings, one featuring O’Neal’s lips and another depicting one of Fawcett’s eyes.
“On another occasion Mr. Warhol presented us with a joint gift of a napkin drawing featuring a montage of hearts and he inscribed it to both Ms. Fawcett and me,” O’Neal continued in the declaration. “It is my recollection that the napkin drawing was primarily maintained at Ms. Fawcett’s residence. I have never relinquished my ownership interest in the napkin drawing.”
O’Neal maintains the napkin was removed from Fawcett’s home after her death and given to the University of Texas. He has countersued to get it back and also wants unspecified damages.
Craig Nevius, who worked on a TV show and documentary chronicling Fawcett’s life, publicly spoke out that O’Neal never owned the portrait and insisted both copies belonged to the actress, according The Hollywood Reporter.
O’Neal reportedly sued Nevius in July for voicing the allegations in Star Magazine and on “Good Morning America,” the entertainment news source reported online.
Nevius’ attorney Lincoln Bandlow told The Reporter:
“The Court correctly found that O’Neal’s lawsuit is aimed at my client’s speech about matters of public interest. That important speech was this: for years Farrah Fawcett had in her possession two valuable portraits of her done by Andy Warhol, she repeatedly stated that she owned both of them, she died with both of them hanging on her wall, she left nothing to O’Neal in her will and a year after her death, one of the portraits ended up hanging on O’Neal’s wall. The Court repeatedly quizzed O’Neal’s lawyer about how it got there. O’Neal and his lawyer have no answer to that question. Based on the overwhelming evidence that Mr. Nevius had at the time he spoke, it was imminently reasonable to conclude that Mr. O’Neal took something that does not belong to him…”
A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 22 to determine if the lawsuit will proceed.
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