LOS ANGELES (AFP) – A US jury on Thursday found in favor of veteran actor Ryan O’Neal in a dispute over an Andy Warhol painting of his ex-lover Farrah Fawcett, saying it rightfully belonged to him.
The six-man, six-woman panel rejected a claim by the University of Texas, where the late “Charlie’s Angels” star went to college, that she left the valuable portrait to her alma mater.
The actor’s sons Redmond and Patrick welcomed the verdict, which came after two days of jury deliberations.
“It’s an awesome, awesome feeling,” said Patrick O’Neal, who yelped in court when the verdict was read out.
Patrick, whose mother is actress Leigh Taylor-Young, said his father could not attend because he had had minor cancer surgery on one cheek.
Twenty-eight year-old Redmond, O’Neal and Fawcett’s only child together, said he believed his mother had helped steer the jury in the right direction.
“I know she had something to do with this up there,” he said.
The university’s lawyer David Beck voiced disappointment, and remained tight-lipped about a possible appeal. He noted the length of deliberations and the non-unamimous decision; the jury voted 9 to 3 in O’Neal’s favor.
“We’ll have to see where we go from here,” he said.
The university sued O’Neal after the painting was spotted in the actor’s home during an episode of reality TV show “Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals.”
It said Fawcett bequeathed all her artwork to her alma mater when she died, and insisted the Warhol painting should be displayed in a museum next to a near-identical portrait of the late actress, also created in 1980.
O’Neal’s lawyers said during the two-week trial that Warhol gave one portrait to Fawcett and the other to O’Neal.
Defending himself during the trial, the 72-year-old said the portrait belonged to him, but he had left it at her home because his new girlfriend “was uncomfortable with Farrah staring at her” from the wall at his own home.
He said he removed the work from Fawcett’s Wilshire Boulevard condominium shortly after she died of cancer on June 25, 2009 — the same day as pop icon Michael Jackson — aged 62.
O’Neal said he kept the portrait at his Malibu home from 1980 to 1998, but loaned it to Fawcett from time to time, to take to exhibitions with her own copy.
But that changed after Fawcett caught him with another woman, when she let herself into his home in 1997. “She was hurt, she was in shock,” he said, adding that he subsequently asked Fawcett to take the painting and keep it for him.
“I asked her to keep the portrait with her, store it for me, because my young (girlfriend) was uncomfortable with Farrah staring at her,” he told the court.
Fawcett was born in Texas and went to college there for three years, but left without graduating after being “discovered” and moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. But she remained loyal to her alma mater.
“Farrah never forgot where she came from,” the university’s lawyer David Beck said when the trial opened on November 26.
While the university said the portrait is worth about $12 million, O’Neal’s lawyer Martin Singer estimated its value at just under $1 million, adding: “The University of Texas should have been satisfied with what they got.”
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