Los Angeles (AFP) – Ryan O’Neal snatched an Andy Warhol portrait of his ex-lover Farrah Fawcett from her home shortly after she died, even though he knew it was not his, lawyers claimed Monday.
But as a long-awaited trial opened in Los Angeles, a lawyer for the veteran actor claimed he was the rightful owner of the painting, with an estimated value of up to $12 million.
The University of Texas, where the “Charlie’s Angels” star studied as a young woman, sued O’Neal in August 2011 after spotting the disputed canvas in the actor’s home during an episode of reality TV show “Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals.”
The university says Fawcett bequeathed all her artwork to her alma mater when she died, and it insists the Warhol painting should be displayed in a museum next to a near-identical portrait of the late actress.
The university’s lawyer, David Beck, told a Los Angeles jury that O’Neal removed the work from Fawcett’s Wilshire Boulevard condominium shortly after she died of cancer on June 25, 2009, aged 62.
“We need your help to resolve a dispute as to who really owns this Warhol painting,” he said in his opening statement in the LA Superior Court.
Fawcett “had possession and control of these two paintings on the day she died and for years before that,” the university’s lawyer said, claiming O’Neal knew that when he drove away with the disputed canvas.
“He didn’t tell anyone what he was going to do, and he didn’t tell anyone what he had done,” Beck said.
But O’Neal’s attorney Martin Singer said the university was trying to take away the one portrait the 72-year-old actor has of “the love of his life, Farrah Fawcett.”
“One iconic portrait of Farrah Fawcett is not enough,” he told the six-man, six-woman jury, referring to the Warhol near-duplicate the university already has.
While the university says the portrait is worth about $12 million, O’Neal’s lawyer estimated its value at just under $1 million, adding: “The University of Texas should have been satisfied with what they got.”
Fawcett died in Los Angeles after a long battle with cancer on the same day that pop icon Michael Jackson passed away from an overdose of the anesthetic propofol, given to help him sleep as he rehearsed for a comeback tour.
The trial continues Tuesday.