Defiantly promising that she "will not go gently into that good night," Farrah Fawcett is taking her battle against cancer to the airwaves, sharing intimate and sometimes graphic details of the illness she claims left her feeling like "a blonde nothingness".
The 62-year-old actress, who is fighting for her life at home in Los Angeles, will tonight talk America through her painful struggle against the apparently terminal disease, which she dubbed her "terrorist" when it was first diagnosed more than two years ago.
In a two hour documentary, Farrah's Story, she chronicles every stage of her decline. Some scenes show her writhing in pain in hospital beds; others show her lying comatose, with dozens of needles penetrating her body. One particularly harrowing episode sees her vomiting continually, and unable to sleep.
Perhaps the most moving scene shows Fawcett tearfully cutting off what remains of her famous blonde hair, and shaving her scalp. It was filmed shortly after she learned the anal cancer had spread to her liver and intestines.
"You wouldn't stop until you got my hair," she jokes to doctors, adding that she's unable to eat liver any more after seeing pictures of her tumour. "I feel like Alice in Wonderland, it's so surreal. I feel like a blonde nothingness, alone in my own body... today it's not drugs that fill my body, it's despair."
The film premiered at an emotional screening in Beverly Hills on Wednesday night, attended by dozens of Fawcett's closest friends, including Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas, the actress Jacqueline Bisset, and her best friend Alana Stewart, who was responsible for much of the camerawork.
Fawcett maintains her sense of humour throughout, but the tone changes at the end of the film, when she makes an impassioned plea for America to reform its dysfunctional healthcare system, and urges the government to modernise cancer screening.
The film also shows her frustration at the media's intrusion into her treatment. Last year, police were called into her hospital after it emerged that a member of staff had sold her medical records to the National Enquirer.
An employee of the hospital, Lawanda Jackson, pleaded guilty to violating federal medical privacy laws. But Jackson died from cancer last week, before sentencing could be completed.
The public nature of Fawcett's illness has drawn comparisons with Jade Goody, the British reality TV star whose death earlier this year led to an overnight rise in the number of women seeking breast cancer screening.
In an uncanny parallel with Goody, who was married in her last weeks, Fawcett – once one of the most famous women in America, who sensationally posed for Playboy in the 1970s – has now reconciled with long-term partner Ryan O'Neal.
"Farrah is in a solid place emotionally, but physically she's a wreck," O'Neal told reporters this week. "It's a very rocky place. We put on a brave front, always, when we're with her, so she doesn't know how scared we are... in the last two years, I loved her more than I've ever loved her. I look at her with awe."