It had been a pop-culture phenomenon, a ratings juggernaut that spawned massive merchandising and pinup posters across the globe. Still, when Charlie’s Angels aired its final episode on June 24, 1981, the show looked much different than when it began.
Gone was Farrah Fawcett, the blonde bombshell who helped the series take flight, yet departed after just one season (though she did make several guest appearances after leaving the cast). Fellow founding Angel Kate Jackson left following the third season, upset with what she deemed to be poor script quality. With ratings sagging, Shelley Hack – who appeared on the show only in season four – was replaced for what would be the final season with Tanya Roberts, who played a street-smart former model named Julie Rogers.
Despite – or, perhaps, because of – all these changes, Charlie’s Angels was unable to maintain the sensational momentum it had established in its first two seasons. Early on, the show was the hottest thing on TV, spawning board games, dolls, lunch boxes, trading cards, a makeup line and just about any other merchandise tie-in you could imagine. But by 1981 the writing was on the wall. ABC pulled the plug on the program, but not before the series finale took a trip down memory lane.
In the final episode, Kelly, played by Jaclyn Smith and the only Angel to appear in every episode, was shot point blank by a suspect she was tailing. This established the plot’s framework, as other main characters gathered at the hospital and reminisced while awaiting news on their wounded colleague. Flashbacks featured clips from earlier seasons, allowing fans to relive big moments one last time.
Still, every finale needs a climactic reveal, and Charlie’s Angels delivered … kind of. From day one, the identity of the titular Charlie was never disclosed. Viewers were given occasional glimpses of his arm or the back of his head, and bits and pieces of information were disclosed – such as his work for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II – but his complete background remained a mystery. Most notably, the character’s face was never shown.
Watch the Final Scene of the ‘Charlie’s Angels’ Series Finale
In the final episode, Charlie visited Kelly in the hospital and aided in the doctor’s life-saving surgery. Still, the injured Angel heard only his voice, and though the character’s face was finally shown onscreen, it was shrouded by a hospital mask – preserving the mystery.
The real-life story behind Charlie was less secret. The character was voiced by actor John Forsythe, who agreed to the gig as a last-minute favor to the show’s producer, Aaron Spelling. Forsythe recorded all of his lines separately, didn’t receive a credit for his work and never set foot onto the Charlie’s Angels set. A body double was used for any instances in which part of Charlie was shown, including the finale’s hospital scene. “I thought the mystique would help it,” Forsythe recalled years later during an interview with the Television Academy. “It was an unusual thing when you just had a voice as the commanding figure.”
Though the original Charlie’s Angels signed off on June 24, 1981, it didn’t take long for producers to start pondering reunions and reboots.
In 1988, four women, including Tea Leoni, were cast for a spin-off appropriately titled Angels ’88. Production delays ultimately crushed the project’s momentum, and the show never made it to air.
In 1991, Spelling relayed the premise for a potential Charlie’s Angels reunion to Entertainment Weekly: ”All the girls have gone off on their own lives,” the producer explained, “and they come back after all these years because someone has murdered Charlie.” Again, the project would fail to come to fruition.
Though these efforts to revitalize the franchise on television (including a short-lived 2011 reboot) failed, Charlie’s Angels has enjoyed success on the silver screen. Charlie’s Angels (2000) and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003) starred Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu. Both pictures were box-office successes, combining to take in more than $500 million. The 2019 movie Charlie’s Angels – starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska – was a more modest success, taking in approximately $73 million.
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