Farrah Fawcett

Actress Farrah Fawcett-Majors is shown in Mission Viejo, Ca., taking part in a celebrity tennis match in a television taping of "Challenge of the Network Stars." (AP photo / April 4, 1977)

Farrah Fawcett, who starred in the 1970s television hit "Charlie's Angels" and became a generation's favorite pinup after posing for a hot-selling swimsuit poster, has died. She was 62.

Fawcett, who was diagnosed with a rare anal cancer in 2006, died at St. John's Medical Center in Santa Monica at 9:28 a.m Thursday.

Three months after she was declared cancer-free in 2007, doctors at UCLA Medical Center told her the cancer had returned, spreading to her liver, and she repeatedly sought experimental treatment in Germany.

When tabloids quickly reported her cancer recurrence, Fawcett suspected that details of her medical care were being leaked. Her complaints led the UCLA center to dismiss an employee who had surreptitiously reviewed Fawcett's medical records and those of more than 30 other high-profile patients.

Forced to battle her cancer publicly, Fawcett made "Farrah's Story," a video diary that unsparingly chronicled her struggle to fight the disease and efforts to protect her privacy. It aired on NBC May 15.

Actor Ryan O'Neal, with whom she had a son, is a steady presence throughout the documentary. Last month, O'Neal told People magazine: "I won't know this world without her."

As an actress, Fawcett was initially dismissed for her role as Jill Munroe in "Charlie's Angels," one of the "jiggle" series on ABC-TV in the late 1970s. But she transformed her career and some popular perceptions in 1984 with "The Burning Bed," a television movie about a battered wife that brought her the first of three Emmy nominations. She further established herself as an actress in the play and later feature film "Extremities," about a rape victim who takes revenge on her attacker.

For many, the poster of her wearing a wet one-piece swimsuit and a blinding smile endured.

"If you were to list 10 images that are evocative of American pop culture, Farrah Fawcett would be one of them," Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, told The Los Angeles Times. "That poster became one of the defining images of the 1970s."

Yet Fawcett was part of a new generation of celebrities whose fame was fueled by heightened coverage of their ongoing personal dramas, Thompson said.

She had many: A failed marriage to actor Lee Majors; a stormy long-term relationship with actor Ryan O'Neal; a son with O'Neal who fought drug addiction; a writer-director boyfriend, James Orr, who was convicted of assaulting her; a Playboy video that featured her using her naked body as a paintbrush; and a spacey 1997 appearance on David Letterman's show that caused critics to question her mental state.

For her part, Fawcett once said all she had to do to get on the cover of People magazine was to "have a new boyfriend or even a new dog," Texas Monthly reported in 1997.

At first, her mane nearly eclipsed her fame.

"Charlie's Angels" showcased the long feathered tresses that framed her face, launching a national fad of copycat haircuts. Many Fawcettphiles believed the hair had as much to do with the poster's sales as anything, The Times reported in 1977.

Within six months, the poster sold 5 million copies, outstripping the records of such previous sex symbols as Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. It wound up selling a reported 12 million copies.

"You were a real man if you had her poster. She was our pinup girl," Mike O'Meara, a radio show host who was in high school when it came out, told the Baltimore Sun in 2006.

Fawcett quit the series that brought her initial fame in 1977 after a single season, saying producers were preventing her from growing as an actress. With Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith, Fawcett had played a private investigator whose main talent seemed to be the ability to wield a gun while going braless and shouting, "Freeze, turkey!"

"Charlie's Angels" was so popular that 59 percent of the television audience tuned in, according to Time magazine, and the Los Angeles Times' review of the series premiere pointed out why: The show dripped with "sexuality" and "good-natured but quite intentional teasing."

Along with "Three's Company"--a double-entendre-filled ABC sitcom that debuted six months after "Charlie's Angels" in fall 1976--the show is credited with helping to launch television's "jiggle" era. Still, the show was seen as empowering women, even if they did take their orders from an unseen male boss named Charlie.