Singer sold millions of records, was TV sensation

Singer Eddie Fisher, one of the last pre-rock ‘n’ roll teen idols in the 1950s, who was better known for his high-profile marriages, including to Elizabeth Taylor, died Wednesday in Berkeley, Calif., of complications from hip surgery. He was 82.

The father of thesps Carrie Fisher and Joely Fisher, he sold millions of records and was a sensation on TV and in nightclubs. But his singing fame lasted only into the mid-1960s and was overshadowed by his private life and complicated by drug and alcohol problems.

In 1959, he caused a Hollywood scandal when he left Debbie Reynolds to marry the recently widowed Taylor, a former family friend. He was later summarily abandoned by Taylor in an even more publicly scandalous manner for Richard Burton on the Italian set of “Cleopatra.”

Born Edwin Jack Fisher in Philadelphia, he started out singing in his synagogue and won a radio singing contest at age 13. While he was still in his teens, he became a singer at Grossinger’s in the Catskills and joined Eddie Cantor’s touring show, which helped him land an RCA Victor recording contract. By 1949 he was named Billboard’s most promising male vocalist.

The recording “Thinking of You” was a hit and led to a headlining engagement at the Paramount. Fisher was just 22, making $1,000 a week and comparisons were being made to Sinatra.

His career was interrupted by his Army service in 1951, when he was assigned to the U.S. Army Band, and appeared on TV, radio and records during his furloughs, resulting in about 10 hit singles that sold more than 7 million copies.

During this period he first met Reynolds, his future wife (they married in 1954) and befriended Mike Todd, the brash impressario who would later marry Taylor and leave her a widow shortly thereafter.

The day he was released from the Army, Fisher got a deal for a Coca-Cola sponsored NBC TV show, “Coke Time,” and became a national Coke spokeman. Though his drug and alcohol problems began during this time, he had a string of major hit recordings such as “I’m Walking Behind You,” “O, My Papa” and “Anytime.” Other hit songs included “I’m Yours,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Lady of Spain,” “Count Your Blessings,” “I Need You Now” and “Dungaree Doll.”

When Todd was killed in a plane crash and Fisher left Reynolds for Taylor, it caused a major scandal — even though Fisher later said his marriage with Reynolds was over by the time this occurred. After marrying Taylor, he appeared with her in the film “Butterfield 8″ (he had appeared with Reynolds in 1956′s “Bundle of Joy”).

Though Fisher continued to perform in Vegas and other major nightclubs, rock ‘n’ roll had taken hold by the mid-’60s, and his crooner style was considered passe. His last hit was “Games That Lovers Play” in 1966.

But his drug addiction, gambling and drinking took an even greater toll, lasting through his third marriage to singer Connie Stevens, which produced two more children (his first two were by Reynolds). That marriage as well as one to Terry Richard ended in divorce, while a fifth wife, Betty Lin, predeceased him.

Fisher wrote two memoirs: “Been Here, Done That” and “Eddie: My Life, My Loves.”

Survivors include son Todd Fisher, who manages Reynolds’ business; daughters, actress-author Carrie Fisher, actress Joely Fisher and Tricia Leigh Fisher; plus six grandchildren.

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