Debbie Reynolds, the Oscar-nominated singer-actress who was the mother of late actress Carrie Fisher, has died at Cedars-Sinai hospital. She was 84.
“She wanted to be with Carrie,” her son Todd Fisher told Variety.
She was taken to the hospital from Todd Fisher’s Beverly Hills house Wednesday after a suspected stroke, the day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died.
The vivacious blonde, who had a close but sometimes tempestuous relationship with her daughter, was one of MGM’s principal stars of the 1950s and ’60s in such films as the 1952 classic “Singin’ in the Rain” and 1964’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” for which she received an Oscar nomination as best actress.
Reynolds received the SAG lifetime achievement award in January 2015; in August of that year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voted to present the actress with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Nov. 14 Governors Awards, but she was unable to attend the ceremony due to an “unexpectedly long recovery from a recent surgery.”
Reynolds had a wholesome girl-next-door look which was coupled with a no-nonsense attitude in her roles. They ranged from sweet vehicles like “Tammy” to more serious fare such as “The Rat Race” and “How the West Was Won.” But amid all the success, her private life was at the center of one of the decade’s biggest scandals when then-husband, singer Eddie Fisher, left her for Elizabeth Taylor in 1958.
Reynolds handled it well personally, but got more tabloid coverage when she divorced her second husband, shoe manufacturer Harry Karl, claiming that he had wiped away all of her money with his gambling. The 1987 novel “Postcards From the Edge,” written by Carrie Fisher, and the film adaptation three years later, were regarded as an embellishment on Reynolds’ up-and-down relationship with her actress daughter. In 1997, Reynolds declared personal bankruptcy after the Debbie Reynolds Hotel & Casino closed after years of financial troubles.
For movie fans, she was always the pert star of movies, TV, nightclubs and Broadway. But to industry people, she was known for her philanthropy, including more than 60 years of working with the organization the Thalians on mental-health care. She was also known for her energetic battles to preserve Hollywood heritage. She bought thousands of pieces when MGM auctioned off its costumes and props, including Marilyn Monroe’s “subway dress” from “The Seven Year Itch,” a Charlie Chaplin bowler hat and a copy of the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.” Reynolds spent decades trying to get these items showcased in a museum.
She continued to work well into her 80s, via film and TV work, guesting on “The Golden Girls” and “Roseanne” and drawing an Emmy nomination in 2000 for her recurring role on “Will and Grace” as the latter’s entertainer mother. She also did a number of TV movies, including an almost-unrecognizable turn as Liberace’s mother in Steven Soderbergh’s “Behind the Candelabra” for HBO in 2013. She also frequently did voice work for “Kim Possible” and “Family Guy.”
Marie Frances Reynolds was born in El Paso, Texas; when she was 8, her carpenter father moved the family to Burbank. At age 16, “Frannie” entered the Miss Burbank Contest, winning in 1948 for her imitation of Betty Hutton singing “My Rockin’ Horse Ran Away.” She was spotted by Warner Bros. talent scout Solly Baiano, who signed her to a $65-a-week contract. Studio head Jack Warner renamed her Debbie — against her wishes, she said.
Reynolds languished at the studio, often having to perform errands such as escorting visitors on tours or addressing envelopes; she appeared in front of the cameras only for a bit part in “June Bride” and then a flashier role as June Haver’s sister in “The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady.”
When the contract lapsed, MGM picked her up at $300 a week. The studio, where she would reside for the next 20 years, first assigned her a role lip-synching Helen Kane’s voice as the original Betty Boop in the musical “Three Little Words.” In romantic musical “Two Weeks With Love,” she used her own voice to put across “Aba Daba Honeymoon,” and she was also given a supporting role in “Mr. Imperium,” starring Lana Turner.
After the studio insisted on her as the romantic lead in “Singin’ in the Rain,” Gene Kelly put her through rigorous dance training, which she admitted she needed. “They took this virgin talent, this little thing, and expected her to hold her own with Gene and with Donald O’Connor, two of the best dancers in the business,” she once told an interviewer. Many years later, “Singin’ in the Rain” was No. 1 on AFI’s 100 Years of Musicals list, and ranked No. 5 in its 2007 list of the greatest American films.
She was 20 when the film opened and her career kicked into high gear. She was next given the female lead in “The Affairs of Dobie Gillis,” co-starring Bobby Van, and segued into another musical comedy, “Give a Girl a Break,” with Marge and Gower Champion.
On loan to RKO, she impressed in the comedy “Susan Slept Here,” with Dick Powell as a screenwriter who must deal with a juvenile delinquent, played by Reynolds, on Christmas Eve. After the film became a hit, Reynolds’ contract was renegotiated. While she was assigned to lackluster musicals such as “Athena” and “Hit the Deck,” the comedies were better, such as “The Tender Trap,” with Frank Sinatra.
And she made a big impression in her dramatic turn as Bette Davis’s daughter in Gore Vidal’s adaptation of Paddy Chayevsky’s “The Catered Affair” (1956).
In 1956, she also starred in RKO’s “Bundle of Joy” (a musical remake of “Bachelor Mother”) opposite crooner Eddie Fisher, whom she had recently married.
“Tammy and the Bachelor,” which featured her million-selling single of the ballad “Tammy,” defined Reynolds and may have limited her to roles as the wholesome all-American type. She went on to play essentially the same part in such films as “The Mating Game” and “The Pleasure of His Company,” with only the occasional tart turn in movies such as “The Rat Race.”
Reynolds had one of the principal roles in 1962’s all-star Cinerama epic “How the West Was Won.” And in the 1960s she remained a star, despite the ho-hum boxoffice performances of “Mary, Mary,” “Goodbye Charlie” and “The Singing Nun.”
When Shirley MacLaine dropped out of 1964’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” Reynolds got her best chance to shine centerstage in a musical comedy about the real-life woman who went from rags to riches and survived the Titanic sinking. (One of the show’s signature songs, “I Ain’t Down Yet,” became an unofficial anthem for the actress as she survived all the turmoil in her life.
She had two of her best roles in “Divorce, American Style,” directed by Bud Yorkin and co-written by Norman Lear; and the 1971 black-comedy suspenser “What’s the Matter With Helen?” with Shelley Winters.. But her movie roles were slowing down and the actress tried series television; “The Debbie Reynolds Show” lasted only one season on NBC from 1969-70.
In 1973, the actress divorced Karl and discovered she was almost $3 million in debt as a result of his gambling losses. She worked it off by appearing 42 weeks a year in nightclubs and Las Vegas and Reno.
She also established the Debbie Reynolds Professional Studios in Burbank. She went to Broadway in a revival of “Irene,” drawing a 1973 Tony nomination for best actress in a musical, which gave daughter Carrie Fisher one of her first roles. After doing “Annie Get Your Gun” on tour, Reynolds returned to Broadway in a short-lived turn in “Woman of the Year.” She toured with Meredith Willson’s stage musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” in 1989, 25 years after the film debuted.
Reynolds appeared in a number of successful exercise tapes for older women, “Do It Debbie’s Way,” and co-authored the autobiography “Debbie, My Life” in 1987.
That same year, Reynolds’ private life was again in the spotlight when Carrie Fisher’s novel “Postcards From the Edge” debuted. The work centered on the stormy relationship between an actress and her showbiz-star mother. Though many were convinced this was a roman a clef, Reynolds laughingly pooh-poohed comparisons with the self-centered mom. (MacLaine, the original choice for MGM’s “Molly Brown,” played the mother in the 1970 film adaptation.)
In 1993, the Debbie Reynolds Hotel & Casino opened in Vegas, where she appeared for most weekends in the showroom with Rip Taylor. The next year she opened her Hollywood Movie Museum in Vegas. Reynolds said she got the idea for the hotel as an afterthought, as she was looking for a permanent home for her collection of movie memorabilia.
Reynolds appeared in a number of films in the 1990s, including the title character in the Albert Brooks comedy “Mother.” She also cameo’d as herself in “The Bodyguard”; appeared in Oliver Stone’s “Heaven and Earth”; and played a mother determined to marry off her son whether he’s gay or not in the 1997 “In and Out.” She also appeared in a broadly comic role as the grandmother in Katherine Heigl vehicle “One for the Money” in 2012.
Reynolds also did voicework for many animated film and TV works, starting with the title character in 1973’s “Charlotte’s Web.” and providing voices for the English version of anime “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie,” “Rugrats in Paris” and “Light of Olympia.”
In 2005 she won the President’s Award at the Costume Designers Guild Awards “for her collection and conservation of classic Hollywood costumes.” However, a deal for placement of the collection fell through, and Reynolds was forced to auction off most of the collection, which was valued at almost $11 million.
In 1955 Reynolds was among the young actors who founded the Thalians, a charitable organization aimed at raising awareness and providing treatment and support for those suffering from mental health issues; Reynolds was elected president of the organization in 1957 and served in that role for more than five decades, and she and actress Ruta Lee alternated as chair of the board. Through Reynolds’ efforts, the Thalians donated millions of dollars to the Mental Health Center at Cedars-Sinai (closed in 2012) and to UCLA’s Operation Mend, which provides medical and psychological services to wounded veterans and their families.
Reynolds was married to third husband Richard Hamlett, a real estate developer, from 1984-96.
Daughter Carrie Fisher died Dec. 27, 2016; Reynolds is survived by her son Todd, a TV commercial director from her marriage to Eddie Fisher; and granddaughter, actress Billie Lourd.
Debbie Reynolds, Wholesome Ingénue in 1950s Films, Dies at 84
Debbie Reynolds, the wholesome movie ingénue in 1950s films like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Tammy and the Bachelor,” died Wednesday, a day after the death of her daughter, the actress Carrie Fisher. She was 84.
Her death was confirmed by her son, Todd Fisher, her agent, Tom Markley of the Metropolitan Talent Agency, said. Ms. Reynolds was taken to a Los Angeles hospital on Wednesday afternoon. Mr. Fisher told the television station ABC 7 Los Angeles that she had been stressed about the death of her daughter and suffered a stroke.
According to TMZ, she had been discussing funeral plans for Ms. Fisher, who died on Tuesday after having a heart attack during a flight to Los Angeles last Friday.
“She’s now with Carrie and we’re all heartbroken,” Mr. Fisher said from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where his mother was taken by ambulance, The Associated Press said. He said the stress of his sister’s death “was too much” for his mother.
“Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter,” she wrote. “I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop.”
Ms. Reynolds’s career peak may have been her best-actress Academy-Award nomination for playing the title role in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964), a rags-to-riches western musical based on a true story.
Her best-remembered film is probably “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), the classic MGM musical about 1920s moviemaking, in which she held her own with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor although she was only 19 when the movie was shot and had never danced professionally before. Her fans may cherish her sentimental good-girl portrayals like the title role in “Tammy and the Bachelor” (1957), in which she played a Louisiana moonshiner’s wide-eyed granddaughter who spouted folksy wisdom.
Her greatest fame, however, may have come not from any movie role but from the Hollywood scandal involving her husband and a glamorous young widow.
In 1955 Ms. Reynolds married Eddie Fisher, the boyish music idol whose hits included “Oh! My Pa-Pa” and “I’m Walking Behind You,” and the young couple were embraced by fan magazines as America’s sweethearts. Their best friends were the producer Mike Todd and his new wife, the femme-fatale film star Elizabeth Taylor.
When Mr. Todd died in a private-plane crash in 1958, Ms. Reynolds and Mr. Fisher rushed to comfort Ms. Taylor. Mr. Fisher’s comforting, however, turned into a very public extramarital affair. He and Ms. Reynolds were divorced early the next year, and he and Ms. Taylor were married weeks after the decree. That marriage lasted five years. Ms. Taylor left Mr. Fisher for Richard Burton, whom she had met in Rome on the set of “Cleopatra” (1963).
Almost 40 years later, in an interview with The Chicago Sun-Times, Ms. Reynolds said of Ms. Taylor, “Probably she did me a great favor.” In her 1988 autobiography, “Debbie: My Life,” she described a marriage that was unhappy from the beginning.
“He didn’t think I was funny,” Ms. Reynolds wrote of Mr. Fisher. “I wasn’t good in bed. I didn’t make good gefilte fish or good chopped liver. So what did he have? A cute little girl next door with a little turned-up nose. That was, in fact, all he actually ever said he wanted from me. The children, he said, better have your nose.”
Mary Frances Reynolds was born on April 1, 1932, in El Paso. Her father, Ray, worked for the railroad and struggled financially during the Depression. Her mother, Maxene, took in laundry to help make ends meet. As Nazarene Baptists, they considered movies sinful.
With the promise of a better job, Ray moved to California when Mary Frances was 7, and the family soon followed. Her career dream was to go to college and become a gym teacher, she often said, but when she was named Miss Burbank 1948, everything changed. Two of the judges were movie-studio scouts, and she was soon under contract to Warner Bros., which changed her name.
In 1950 she made her movie debut in “The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady,” a musical comedy starring June Haver and Gordon MacRae. The same year she played Helen Kane, the 1920s singer known as the boop-boop-a-doop girl, in “Three Little Words,” and also appeared in “Two Weeks With Love,” in which she sang “Aba Daba Honeymoon” with Carleton Carpenter. The song became a huge novelty hit.
Her roles seemed to mirror 1950s attitudes toward love, marriage and family. In 1955 she played a marriage-minded all-American girl opposite Frank Sinatra in “The Tender Trap.” In 1956 she starred with her new husband in “Bundle of Joy,” a musical remake of the 1939 comedy “Bachelor Mother.”
After the Taylor-Fisher-Reynolds scandal, Ms. Reynolds rode on a crest of good will and was a popular co-star in a long string of films, mostly lighthearted romantic comedies, including “The Gazebo” (1959), “Say One for Me” (1959) and “The Pleasure of His Company” (1961). She also played the title role in “The Singing Nun” (1966), appeared in “Divorce American Style” (1967) and was part of the all-star ensemble cast of “How the West Was Won” (1963), a rare drama among her more than three dozen movie credits.
“Drama’s unhappy, and playing someone unhappy would make me unhappy,” she told The Boston Globe in 1990. “Ain’t for me, honey.”
She took a stab at series television with a sitcom, “The Debbie Reynolds Show” (1969), in which she played a wacky Lucy Ricardo-like wife who wanted to be a journalist like her husband. It lasted only one season. But she soon achieved a kind of immortality as the voice of Charlotte the selfless spider in the animated film version of E. B. White’s children’s classic “Charlotte’s Web” (1973).
She had married Harry Karl, a wealthy shoe manufacturer, in 1960, but by the time they divorced, in 1973, he had gambled away or otherwise misspent both his fortune and hers. Ms. Reynolds set out to re-establish herself financially.
She headed to New York that year to make her Broadway debut in a revival of the 1920s musical “Irene,” for which she received a Tony Award nomination for best actress in a musical. In 1976 she had a short-lived one-woman Broadway show, “Debbie.” She made her last Broadway appearance in 1983, taking over the role originated by Lauren Bacall in the musical version of “Woman of the Year.” She later toured the country with stage shows including “Annie Get Your Gun” and a new version of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
She had taken her musical and comedy talents to Las Vegas as early as 1960 and became a fixture there in the ’70s and ’80s. She and her third husband, Richard Hamlett, a Virginia real estate developer, established their own hotel, casino and movie-memorabilia museum there. But there were financial problems, and the property had to be sold in the ’90s.
A decade or so later, it looked as if Ms. Reynolds would finally find a permanent home for her Hollywood memorabilia museum, this time in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., the home of Dolly Parton’s theme park, Dollywood. But that, too, fell through, and in 2011 a large portion of her collection was auctioned off at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills.
Two sales, the first in June and the second in December, took in a little more than $25 million, including $4.6 million for the dress Marilyn Monroe wore in the famous subway-grate scene in “The Seven Year Itch.”
For a while, Ms. Reynolds seemed to be better known as the mother of Ms. Fisher — who shot to stardom as Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” movies and wrote semi-autobiographical novels — than as an actress or singer. Ms. Fisher’s 1987 book, “Postcards From the Edge,” made into a film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine, reflected the sometimes difficult relationship between her and her famous mother.
Ms. Reynolds’s career took something of a back seat to her personal life when she married Mr. Hamlett in 1984, but they divorced 12 years later.
In 1996, Ms. Reynolds made an attention-getting big-screen comeback when Albert Brooks cast her as his often clueless yet admirably self-possessed widowed mother in “Mother.” Her uncharacteristically low-key comic performance earned her a Golden Globe nomination, if not the Oscar nomination that many had predicted.
The next year she played Kevin Kline’s mother in the sexual-identity film comedy “In & Out.” And beginning in 1999, she won new fans with a recurring role on the NBC sitcom “Will & Grace” as Bobbi Adler, the Debra Messing character’s gregarious, uninhibited mother, who had a tendency to burst into song (show tunes, of course).
Ms. Reynolds continued acting and doing voice work in both films and television into her late 70s. In 2013 she appeared as Liberace’s strong-willed mother in the HBO movie “Behind the Candelabra,” with Michael Douglas as Liberace. She appears in the documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” which was shown at the New York Film Festival in October, and of which her son is a producer.
She is survived by her son, Mr. Fisher; and a granddaughter, Billie Lourd.
Debbie Reynolds dies one day after daughter Carrie Fisher passes
Debbie Reynolds, one of Hollywood's biggest stars in the 1950s and 1960s, died Wednesday, one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher passed away, Reynolds' son Todd Fisher said.
Reynolds, 84, was taken to a Los Angeles hospital Wednesday afternoon, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Todd Fisher told CNN, "My mother passed away a short time ago. She spoke to me this morning and said she missed Carrie."
Fisher did not give a cause of death.
Reynolds had long career in entertainment
Reynolds had complained of breathing problems, an unidentified source told The Times.
"She's with Carrie now," Todd Fisher said.
Reynolds. who was born Mary Frances Reynolds, was a bubbly singer, dancer and actress who starred in "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."
Her film career began after being spotted in a beauty pageant at the age of 16. And she became famous when she was picked to co-star with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor in "Singin' in the Rain," one of Hollywood's best-known musicals.
She was married then famously divorced from singing sensation Eddie Fisher, who left Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor in 1959.
"I have no regrets about my career. I'm just thrilled I've had it," she told CNN's Larry King in 1990. "You know, it stood by me. Marriages failed; my career always stayed. It gave me the fun of life, you know. It allowed me to travel and meet wonderful, funny people."
On Wednesday, King tweeted: "Debbie Reynolds was pure class. She was loving, talented, beautiful, unsinkable. I feel sorry for anyone who never got a chance to meet her."
Though she stepped away from film for much of her career, Reynolds continued to entertain on Broadway stages and in Las Vegas nightclubs. She also appeared on many television shows, including one of her own -- "The Debbie Reynolds Show" -- that lasted just one season.
Fisher's daughter with actress Connie Stevens, Joely Fisher, tweeted Wednesday before news of Reynolds' death: "God speed mama."
Actress Ruta Lee, a longtime friend of Reynolds, told CNN affiliate KABC entertainment reporter George Pennacchio that Reynolds used her celebrity to help others.
"I was blessed by the almighty in having this wonderful sister who taught me so much in life," she said. "Debbie was without a doubt one of the most generous, wonderful, loving human beings that God put on this Earth."