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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Tatum O’Neal’s near-death experience caps life of drug addiction, abuse and volatile relationships

Tatum O’Neal is still recovering from her near-death experience three years ago, when she overdosed on pain medication, opiates and morphine and had a stroke that put her in a coma for six weeks and has left her with lingering aphasia.

The 59-year-old has struggled with sobriety since her teens, growing up in Hollywood and becoming embroiled in a volatile marriage and ongoing estrangement and reconciliation with her father, fellow actor Ryan O’Neal.

“I’ve had a hard hard hard hard hard life,” O’Neal told People in a recent interview about her recovery. “And I rarely cry, but I am crying a lot more lately. But that’s a very good thing for my life in general as I keep going forward in my life.”

At just 10, O’Neal won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in “Paper Moon,” still the youngest actor in history to do so. 

Tatum O'Neal in a scene with Ryan O'Neal

“Paper Moon” featured Tatum O’Neal with her father, Ryan O’Neal. The duo play a pair of grifters in the 1930s. (CBS via Getty Images)

However, behind the scenes, her family life was difficult. 

Her father, Ryan, admitted in a 2009 interview with Vanity Fair that his daughter’s Oscar caused tension within the family. 

“Everybody hated everybody because of that Academy Award,” he said.

Ryan O'Neal walking with young Tatum O'Neal

Ryan and Tatum O’Neal circa 1970. (Michael Ochs Archives)

Ryan denied any of the claims. In the 2009 Vanity Fair profile, Tatum said, “He has every right to be angry about the book; no parent wants to hear their kid saying sh–ty things about them.  But what I wrote in the book was true.

“I’ve got a battle with drugs, but I’m a strong, independent person, and I fight for myself, and my father and I butt heads. When I was 16 years old, he and Farrah moved in together. And after that, I saw my dad periodically. And that took a long time for me to get over.” 

Ryan allegedly left Tatum and Griffin alone at their home to stay with Farrah Fawcett, with whom he later had one child, Redmond O’Neal.

In a 2015 interview with Winfrey, O’Neal said “I did have one psychiatrist, Dr. Beatriz Foster. She’s the only one who told me, when I was about 14, ‘I don’t think your father is a good influence on you.’ I’d never heard that before, even though he’d been hitting me and beating me and head-butting me for years. By the time I hit puberty, Ryan didn’t like me. Period. But he wouldn’t let me go. So, he left me at the beach house [in Malibu] and went off with Farrah [Fawcett]. But I had this funny survival instinct.”

 Farrah Fawcett, Ryan O'Neil, Griffin O"Neal and Tatum O'Neal

Farrah Fawcett, Ryan O’Neal, Griffin O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal backstage at a Rolling Stones concert in 1980 in Los Angeles. (Brad Elterman/FilmMagic)

Things appear to be better between the father and daughter now. 

Her son, Sean McEnroe, shared a photo in late 2020 showing the family together — Tatum, Ryan and all three of her children — Sean, Kevin and Emily — before the world would learn of O’Neal’s overdose and coma.



View this post on Instagram





A post shared by Sean McEnroe (@sean__mcenroe)

In an Instagram post earlier this year, Tatum shared a recent photo of her sitting next to Ryan with her arm around him, wishing him a happy birthday in the caption.




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A post shared by Tatum Beatrice Oneal (@tatum__oneal)

Her uncertain childhood led Tatum to begin using cocaine at 15.

“I felt like I was worth nothing,” she said at the time.


She said she was a full-blown addict by age 20. That was also around the time she began dating John McEnroe.

O’Neal later alleged McEnroe’s notorious temper extended into the home and claimed he was violent toward her. 

“He would take out all of his rage onto me,” she said in the 2004 ABC interview.

McEnroe denied her claims and released his own autobiography, “You Cannot Be Serious,” which included discussions of her drug use. 


McEnroe has been married to singer Patty Smyth since 1997, and though they don’t interact often, Tatum had kind words for the tennis star in a 2020 CBS Sunday Morning interview.

“The happiest times of my life were the times that I was married,” O’Neal said in the interview. “Sometimes we think we’re making the right decision, and maybe we aren’t. And I have to live with that, too.”

Tatum ONeal in 2018

Tatum O’Neal in 2018.  (Getty Images)

Since her overdose and stroke in May 2020, O’Neal has focused on regaining her reading, writing and speech abilities after suffering from aphasia. She noted in her People interview she “can’t really read and write yet” but is taking everything one day at time.


Sobriety is her other main priority.

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