As reported by TMZ, Hollywood icon Debbie Reynolds has died after suffering a stroke earlier today. This was confirmed by her son, Todd Fisher, who had been with her today planning funeral arrangements for Carrie Fisher, her daughter, who just died yesterday.
Debbie Reynolds started out as a starlet on the MGM lot. After her 1950 breakout role in Three Little Words, she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer. She was then chosen to star alongside Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in the now perennial film classic, 1952’s Singin’ In The Rain. A teenage gymnast who’d been discovered in a beauty pageant that she entered to get a free lunch, Reynolds had no dance experience, but Kelly felt confident that she had the athleticism required for the female lead. In later years, she said, “The two hardest things I ever did in my life are childbirth and Singin’ In The Rain.”
That film catapulted her into stardom, which she followed with movies like Tammy And The Bachelor (scoring a hit with the single “Tammy”), The Tender Trap with Frank Sinatra, and The Pleasure Of His Company with Fred Astaire. She married crooner Eddie Fisher in 1955, starring with him in Bundle Of Joy the following year, while she was pregnant with her daughter Carrie.
Reynolds unwittingly found herself at the top of the tabloid headlines when Fisher left her for the widow of his best friend, Mike Todd, a movie producer who had died in a plane crash. The widow was Elizabeth Taylor, and Fisher would become her fourth husband. Reynolds was left at home with her two children, Carrie and Todd.
Undaunted, she continued working, hooking up with Tony Curtis in movies like Rat Race and Goodbye Charlie. She received her only Academy Award nomination as The Unsinkable Molly Brown in 1964, a role she won after Shirley MacLaine passed on it.
Reynolds remarried to shoe tycoon Harry Karl in 1960, who gambled away all of her money. They divorced in 1973. A perennial survivor, Reynolds just kept working, in 1966’s The Singing Nun, 1970’s Divorce American Style, and voicing the titular character in the classic 1973 animated version of Charlotte’s Web.
As someone who had spent her entire adult life on a movie set, Debbie Reynolds was the consummate film fan. She even opened up her own museum of movie memorabilia, including such iconic items as Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from The Wizard Of Oz, Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat, and Marilyn Monroe’s dress from The Seven Year Itch, in a hotel she owned in Las Vegas. She then moved the collection to Los Angeles, and finally to the resort town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where the development ultimately filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
Like her daughter, she was a memoirist of her amazing and noteworthy life, publishing Debbie: My Life in 1988, with a 2013 update entitled Unsinkable: A Memoir.
Unsinkable was certainly the best word to describe Debbie Reynolds, but her daughter’s death yesterday appeared to have taken its toll on the stalwart star. Reynolds’ relationship with Carrie Fisher was chronicled in Fisher’s various memoirs, as well as her movie Postcards From The Edge. When Albert Brooks was casting the lead for his 1996 film Mother, he asked Fisher to describe Reynolds. She replied, “a lovable monster,” and Reynolds was cast. She received a Golden Globe nomination for the role.
Noteworthy later roles include 2001’s These Old Broads, written by her daughter—which united Reynolds with Elizabeth Taylor, as well as Shirley MacLaine and Joan Collins—and a stint as Grace’s mother on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace. Her later voiceover roles included parts on Kim Possible and Family Guy. She was near-unrecognizable in her final major role, as Liberace’s mother in Steven Soderbergh’s Beyond The Candelabra in 2013.
She won a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2015, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 2016 Academy Awards.
It’s been a horrible, horrible 24 hours, but there is something incredible about the tie between these two amazing women, Reynolds and Fisher, who lived next door to each other and talked every day. A documentary about their lives, Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds And Carrie Fisher, co-directed by Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom, will air early in 2017 on HBO.
In a statement to TMZ about his mother’s death today, Todd Fisher said simply: “She’s with Carrie.” Debbie Reynolds was 84.