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The Real Reason Farrah Fawcett Left Charlie's Angels

Farrah Fawcett was never the only Angel on "Charlie's Angels." The setup in the original series makes her one of three, and over the course of five seasons from 1976 to 1981, the Angels also included Jaclyn Smith, Kate Jackson, Cheryl Ladd, Shelley Hack, and Tanya Roberts (via IMDb). Later came the films, with Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu as the Angels in 2000, and Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska as the Angels in 2019. While we're naming Angels, we can't forget Minka Kelly, Annie Ilonzeh, and Rachael Taylor, who starred in the short-lived 2011 series reboot.

Even in this remarkable crowd, however, Fawcett stands out decades after gaining instant A-lister status for helping launch "Charlie's Angels." After appearing in commercials for products including Wella Balsam shampoo, Noxema (via The Washington Post), and the 1971 Ford Mustang, it was a breakout role for her. So why did she leave at the end of the 1st season?

An Angel could never have a normal life

Bear in mind as you read this that "Charlie's Angels" originated in the 1970s. "It was a different time" is never a valid excuse, but there's no denying the era had some pretty specific parameters for gender roles. That reality played out when, according to People, Farrah Fawcett's then-husband Lee Majors (star of ABC's "The Fall Guy") made sure her "Charlie's Angels" contract wouldn't get in the way of her work as his wife. "That way," Fawcett said, "I can be home by 6:30 and have dinner ready—then he doesn't realize I haven't been home all day. I like my marriage and him being the most important thing in my life."

Whether you read that whole situation as sweet or disturbing, the fact remains that Fawcett wanted a home life with her husband. And her career while starring on "Charlie's Angels" got in the way of that. It also interfered with her own life. She found herself walking through the world as an image. People saw her as sexy and beautiful, but that wasn't all of who she was. She had more to offer as a person and as an actor, too.

”I became famous almost before I had a craft,” she told The New York Times. "I didn't study drama at school. I was an art major. Suddenly, when I was doing 'Charlie's Angels,' I was getting all this fan mail, and I didn't really know why. I don't think anybody else did, either.” All in all, the combination of long hours at work on a hit show, the adjustment to her newfound fame, and the challenges of maintaining her marriage to Majors took a toll that led to Fawcett's decision to leave. But there was more going on as well.

She should have been paid more

One thing should be made clear right up front: Farrah Fawcett wasn't anywhere close to being fired. When "Charlie's Angels" debuted in 1976, she starred alongside Jaclyn Smith and the already famous Kate Jackson. But she was the most popular from the start. Her modest acclaim from a swimsuit poster exploded, with 6 million units sold that same year, per Antique Trader. She played a huge role in making the show a hit. Yet, her salary didn't reflect all the attention she attracted. Jackson was paid $10,000 per episode, while Smith and Fawcett got $5,000 each. Fawcett's take from merchandising sales was no better. Her face helped sell dolls, bubblegum cards, and a board game based on the show, but her deal gave her only 2% of the sales (via Vanity Fair).

By the end of Season 1, plans were in place to double Fawcett's salary, and The Washington Post reported she was angling for much more—$75,000 per episode. She might have gotten any amount she wanted, but according to her manager, Jay Bernstein, it wasn't about the money for her. She wasn't asking for anything financially speaking. With a five-year contract in place obliging her to continue with the show, Fawcett was asking for one thing: She just wanted to leave. Still, it's not difficult to imagine she felt slighted throughout the 1st season when her pay didn't reflect the reality that her performance and her name were huge selling points for the show.

Far from just another pretty face, Fawcett had creative vision

Fawcett's rise to stardom was somewhat unexpected, considering she hadn't dreamed of an acting career all her life. "I majored in art history in college," Fawcett said on The Merv Griffin Show. "So that's what I kind of saw myself doing. I sculpt and I paint."

As an Angel, she didn't have time for those kinds of artistic pursuits. But she was creative by nature. And while "Charlie's Angels" focused largely on showcasing three beautiful women as sexy objects of desire, Fawcett wanted to do more with her talents. She initially hoped the series could be a vehicle. "I want them to start showing (my character) has had some hard knocks, too, and cries, and is sad," Fawcett told The Washington Post. She wanted to play a role with a range of emotions.

But "Charlie's Angels" wasn't the right place for that, and creative differences were perhaps the main reason Fawcett decided to leave in May 1977. Her decision was met with surprise from fans, a breach of contract lawsuit, and backlash from producers who didn't think she could be anything more than a sex symbol (via People). But it seems she made the right decision when she took control of her career. She went on to prove herself in meaty roles, including an abused wife who fights back in the 1984 TV movie "The Burning Bed," a rape attack victim in the 1986 film "Extremities," and a murderous mother in the 1989 TV miniseries "Small Sacrifices." Fawcett was nominated for several Golden Globe and Emmy Awards and earned a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame in 1995, where fans placed flowers after her death in 2009. She left a lasting impression as one of "Charlie's Angels" and so much more.