Debbie Reynolds, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ Star and Carrie Fisher’s Mother, Dies at 84

Debbie Reynolds Dead
CROLLALANZA/REX Shutterstock

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 Carrie Fisher’s Beverly Hills house Wednesday after suffering a 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.

Related

Carrie Fisher in "Star Wars: A New Hope"

In Memorial: Celebrity Deaths of 2016

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.

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. Younger audiences treasured her in the role of Aggie Cromwell in Disney Channel’s “Halloweentown” and its three sequels. She also frequently did voice work for “Kim Possible” and “Family Guy.”

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.

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.

Related

Debbie Reynolds: Life and Career in Photos

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.

Related

Debbie Reynolds

Stars Pay Tribute to Debbie Reynolds, Hollywood Icon and Carrie Fisher’s Mom

“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 box office 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 1990 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 voice work 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.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 122

Leave a Reply

122 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Randie Brooks says:

    Debbie Reynolds was not only a talented actress,but she was really beautiful too especially when she was young something she never got enough credit for for some unknown reasons,but she was still very pretty in her 80’s and even if she had some plastic surgery to keep young looking,she didn’t over do it like so many celebrities that totally change and ruin their faces.

  2. Marc Leslie Kagan says:

    When an actress like Debbie Reynolds passes away we lose a little bit of ourselves. When we like an actor or actress we see them grow and age on screen, we read about them, we have an interest in them, you care about them, so we are sadden when they pass away unexpectedly or not. I’ve always like classic films very much and I’ve had an interest in them since I was 15 which was in 1973. And I like many actors and actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Era so when an actor or actress passes away to me its almost like losing a friend that I’ve never meet but who seems like one nevertheless..

  3. Nan Smith says:

    Debbie Reynolds has always been one of my favorites. Although she was unquestionably Hollywood royalty, her talent – and her beauty – were often underrated. She could do anything – and make it look effortless and she always seemed current. Her performance in ‘Mother’ with Albert Brooks was revelation – and should have earned her an Oscar nomination – if not an award. She was brilliant – and still so beautiful. It’s sad but not surprising that she couldn’t survive the unexpected loss of her beloved Carrie. Here’s to a happy ever-after life together. Can you imagine a better companion to navigate the hereafter with than Carrie Fisher?

  4. Debbie Reynolds is one of the all-time greats.
    While some stars fade, she became even bigger over time.
    A legend who will be missed, but always loved.

    George Vreeland Hill

  5. gabe says:

    RIP Agatha Cromwell and princess leia

  6. Bronze Age Comics says:

    Rest In Peace Debbie. She’s now in Heaven with Carrie.

  7. C.C. Stewart Jr. says:

    I was heart broken this morning when I discovered her passing, May God be with her son and the family! We love you both and will be greatly missed!

  8. Sue Doney says:

    I was so heart broken when I heard about Debbie’s death just after losing her beloved daughter Carrie Debbie was my very favorite actress and then Carrie came along in Star Wars and I watched every one of them, god bless the ones left behind………….

  9. Di says:

    I was shocked to hear this. A day after her daughter. How much does one family have to take?

  10. Fred Garvin says:

    Careful what you ask for !

  11. Mare' says:

    As a 100% perm disabled vet, on behalf of my husband and myself, we felt a pit in our stomachs at the news of our wonderful benefactors passing. She is (was) a true patriot. As a Mom, my heart was breaking for her.

    Firstly, we have a beautiful bi-polar grown granddaughter. Only those who live this know the strength it takes. They had to have been experiencing such joy at all the good times of late.

    Of course it was a broken heart… We know it happens. So sorry for her son, and for Carries daughter, and her granddaughter.

    Unimaginable loss and grief.

    Prayers for family, friends, VETS, and all fans.

    Such a heart breaking tragedy.

    Wishing it wasn’t true…

  12. Maria Bugarin says:

    When I heard the news that Debbie passed, I had one thought, “She was kind to me.” She did a tap dance video /something and I showed up to run the TelePrompTer. “tap shuffle tap”. …she said. I got lost each time. She went one without me but kept me there and I got paid and she thanked me as if I had done a great job. A great lady in my mind. My condolences.

  13. Good_Night says:

    And the beat goes on. R.I.P.

  14. Lone Ranger says:

    I had my first crush as a boy over Debbie Reynolds after meeting her in a movie called Tammy. I have loved blondes ever since. I was always hoping to meet her one day. Least we know they both will be walking hand in hand together through the gates of heaven.

  15. subtle2 says:

    Sure, I enjoyed “Singing in the Rain” on its release on 1952. Outstanding at the time and forever. Then in the late 1950s, the media was so full of “Debbie and Eddy” that it was a turn off. Then some 30 years ago, I had a tape cassette with the soundtrack of “Singing” for jogging to. Then, the many times I’ve seen the movie and it finally came through–what a remarkable talent!
    In the late 1950s she was so much the “girl next door” that one did not think of the talent.
    So, for the last 20 years I’ve told the story to my daughter.
    Now, I’m telling it on the pages of “Variety”.

  16. Faye says:

    So sorry for the family’s loss of two amazing women who will be missed.

  17. I new her on Facebook. She was my friend I will miss her .my condoles to her family see was a good to me . I will really miss my friend Debbie. She help get thrust a bad time in my life .She will be graveley. Missed she was my friend.

  18. sosrcountry says:

    I really hate hearing this. Debbie was so talented, my favorite movie being …Molly Brown. She danced her heart out in that movie. I bought two Soundtracks and wore both out by playing them all the time. She deserved an Oscar for that role.

    You will be missed Debbie. Much Sympathy to Todd and Billie.

  19. zooly says:

    To Todd Fisher, I am so sorry for your losses. Your mom and your sister were inspirational women to me over the years. Such a terrible thing to lose them both…. Prayers for you and your family.

  20. Rudy Mario says:

    This is too much to take.
    Incredibly sad.
    Does Godvreallyvexist?

    • Elaine Button says:

      Yes, God does exist. Carrie said months ago she was weary, who can say what she was talking to God about? For all we know she said take me home. Her mother was 84, a long active life. Yes it is sad to have her pass but maybe she wanted to go. We should not put our own thoughts and desires into someone else’so life. Hard as it is, death is very much a part of life. My thoughts are with you, hoping you find that Peace that passes all understanding. God is real.

    • BathhouseBarry says:

      Dullard

      • Elaine Button says:

        I don’t know, am thinking you could go troll another website. What? People expressing their sadness and grief is funny to you? Even the most ignorant “dullard” should have enough sense to leave a comment section like this alone. If a person is so distraught they feel that God isn’t real, let them alone. Let them express that overwhelming feeling. Did no one ever teach you to keep quiet if you have nothing good or nice to Say? Geesh.

  21. Getbendt says:

    This is sad to hear but at the same time kind of heartwarming. Hopefully there was not much pain and the family sees it as a silver lining. We all have to go sometime in our future so if it can be seen as heartwarming that’s the best you could expect.

    • Anthony Sakal says:

      Richard Nixon described her as a superstar because he, like me and my sister, grew up with a talent which gave Hollywood persona and gravitas in the most positive way. She was easily loved and I cherish the conversations I had with her over her little red poodle. She lived two doors away from my veterinary office on E. 74th Street while she was doing the play ‘Irene’. I got such a kick over how much affection Carrie displayed for that dog I thought she might have become a veterinarian. Carrie’s illness and death were on my mind and both I and my wife feared for how her mother would endure such a tragedy. Now we all know and we also know that wherever she and her daughter are they feel neither pain or grief. Only those friends and admirers who remain carry those burdens. She and her daughter will not be forgotten and someday we will all, hopefully, join them in happiness. This is not the end but is quite possibly the beginning of a tomorrow which lasts forever.

  22. Laraine says:

    Unfreaking believable!!! So so sorry for the family!!

  23. James Blair says:

    Its a wrap for Reynolds. Sad

  24. Laura Wesselmann says:

    Broken heart syndrome. Takasubo syndrome? Worked her ass off only to lose her daughter young’

  25. brian j menenedez says:

    We all die because of each other we all live because of eachother

  26. McB says:

    Are you serious? What a dreadful thing to say

  27. laura says:

    This is just SO SHOCKING, words cannot express. Unbelievable that Debbie would pass away the very next day. It’s as if she always felt she could have done more for poor Carrie in her life of such sadness, such weakness, unable to overcome drugs, addictions, all of it. A mother never can shake loose her love and protective feelings of her child. She, no doubt, thought she hated the thought of Carrie being alone.

  28. B. dworkin-robertson says:

    Of all the things to say…when an addict won’t stop, no one can MAKE them…besides, do you know their whole story…? How disrespectful of you…

  29. Nina says:

    1what the hell kind of thing is that to say?! What a moron.

  30. Walt4322 says:

    How come you can’t keep your fingers from typing idiotic comments?

  31. Toc7 says:

    Debbie, my daughter died before me and it nearly destroyed me. I know how you felt and I pray to God you and your daughter are with God, in glory and in peace, rejoicing the everlasting life together. Those who love Christ will be joining you.

  32. Deborah Wallace says:

    oh no..so sorry, prayers for Debbie’s family…she was so kind, beautiful inside and out. I was named after her. I met Debbie two times in Vegas, talked, pictures taken and autographs after two of her talented Shows in Vegas. God Bless you all \o/

  33. Ledene says:

    Keep Singin in the Rain…rest peacefully with your beloved daughter. You both will be greatly missed…

  34. Fist Carrie now Debbie!? I made a little tribute video for both; it’s the least I could do. Rest in peace, we’ll miss you both.

  35. botvinnik says:

    Debbie didn’t die from a stroke, she died from a broken heart.

  36. Carmen says:

    RIP Debbie. You were one of the best. An end of an era has left us today and will be dearly missed.

  37. NY Joyce says:

    I told my daughter yesterday this woman was going to follow her child. You really don’t expect to be in your eighties and burying a child.

  38. J says:

    My condolences to Billie Lourd who lost both her mother and grandmother in these past two days.

  39. Sensible Enough says:

    Man, what is with 2016? So horrible. Losing someone like Carrie would devastate any mom. Two American Originals gone… what a loss.

  40. Sue says:

    I do believe Debbie has died as a result of Carrie’s death. The shock of losing a child is deblitating. I think at 84it becomes a lethal condition to deal with funeral arrangements for a daughter that has been with you for sixty years. Mother and daughter RIP, prayers to son and daughter/granddaughter.

    • laura says:

      It’s true. The stress is bad, but usually not bad enough to bring on heart failure (which is my guess). The stress was more complicated than that, with Carrie suffering greatly in her life. Those years of separation between the two, more Carrie’s fault than her mom’s, put a strain on them, but Carrie persisted with her drug habits, etc. Her life spiraled out of control as her poor mom watched in desperation with a feeling hopelessness.

  41. Woke up this morning with the Theme song From How the West Was Won going in my head. How strange is that ?

  42. Bayard says:

    Your compassion is overwhelming.

  43. Jim Rowland says:

    Debbie was in Tammy when I was dating my first serious girlfriend. Lotta memories Nice ones.

  44. Bayard says:

    That poor family, now they have to plan two funerals and around the Holiday season to boot. Perhaps the one good thing that can be said is mother and daughter are united together among the stars, forever. Rest in peace, Ms. Reynolds, you truly were one of a kind.

  45. Bonnie says:

    RIP Debbie. You’re with your beloved Carrie.

  46. Bob Anderson says:

    Stay classy brah…

  47. Ken says:

    There’s a priceless moment early on in “Singin’ In The Rain” when Debbie (as pert, spunky ingenue “Kathy Selden”) accidentally slams awful movie queen “Lina Lamont” (the incomparable Jean Hagan) right in the kisser with a big cake at a Hollywood party. I howl every single time I run it!

    But tonight I am saddened. Miss Reynolds was a great star…a legend.

    May God embrace and protect both mother and daughter.

  48. PATRICIA TEMPELTON-FOX says:

    She also was the wonderful and delightful Grandmother in Halloween Town. She continued to share her characters, with another generation. She was a wonderful, and will be ever so missed.

  49. TheOhioWordguy says:

    …Who says you can’t die of a broken heart? RIP Debbie and Carrie.

  50. Russell Turner says:

    You can go from celebrity to statistic in the blink of an eye.

More Film News from Variety

Loading