By Ken Tucker
Updated May 16, 2009 at 08:24 AM EDT

The two-hour Farrah’s Story was a kind of home-movie diary of Farrah Fawcett’s life covering roughly the past two years of living with cancer. Much of the time, the camera was handled by her friend Alana Stewart, sometimes by Fawcett herself; some sequences — interviews with Ryan O’Neal, as well as a few of her doctors — looked as though they were filmed in a TV studio. It all cohered as a long, sad story that was sometimes almost unbearable, sometimes fascinating.

Anyone who has experienced or been in contact with someone diagnosed with cancer knows the outline of Farrah’s “story”: the doctor consultations and hospital visits, the often-painful treatments (Fawcett undergoes them in both California and Germany), the moments of happiness and despair. I was struck by how curious about the disease Fawcett has been, eager for information from her care-givers, giving good, hard stares at pictures of the spread or remission of her diagnosed anal and liver cancer. In those moments, she was most like the sturdy young woman so many people have long admired.

Because the TV special used the format of a journal from which Fawcett reads sections in voiceover, there was a lot of positive-thinking asserted, and the inevitable phrases one falls back on to try and make sense of an unimaginable death sentence: cancer as “my own private war” and “it’s seriously time for a miracle.”

In the middle of Farrah’s Story there was a chunk of time spent inveighing against the tabloids for reporting things that aren’t true and photographers who crowd her in public places to snap pictures of her in a weakened condition. Fawcett referred to The National Enquirer as being “as invasive and malignant as cancer.” This anger, as it was expressed by both her and Stewart, is a little baffling: After being the subject of tabloid reporting for decades, she could have expected this, and isn’t the reporting on her condition the least of her worries? Then again, however, no one can know what brings emotional pain to another person.

Her son Redmond, freed from prison for a three-hour visit in leg-chains, is a sight the heavily-sedated and in-pain Fawcett seemed to have been mostly unaware of, and that was a small mercy. It was nauseating to see Redmond, serving time for felony drug possession, give a leering smile to the camera.

Because of Fawcett’s eagerness to film so much of the past two years, the cameras caught interesting moments beyond the engulfing grievousness of her condition. Two stood out for me: a German doctor, trying to take her mind off the pain Fawcett was enduring, asked her to name her “best films.” Fawcett said, “Oh, Extremities or Burning Bed or Small Sacrifices.” And there was also one remarkable phrase she uttered in describing herself now: “a blonde nothingness.” Sad, yes, but also startlingly poetic.