Debbie Reynolds died Wednesday afternoon as a result of a stroke, a family source confirmed to Deadline. She was 84 and had been taken to Cedars Sinai Medical Center complaining of difficulty breathing, just a day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died at 60 after a heart attack.
A teenage beauty queen, Reynolds had moved to MGM after some unproductive years at Warner Bros., where her only film of note was The Daughter Of Rosie O’Grady. She will forever be remembered as Kathy Selden, the fledgling actress of serious intent who wins the heart of Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood in the 1952 Freed Unit classic Singin’ In The Rain. The infectious musical comedy tracked the end of the silent film era and the emergence of sound through the romance between Lockwood, who makes the transition effortlessly, and Kathy, who ends up voicing Don’s erstwhile co-star, Jean Hagen’s New Yawkish-pitched Lina Lamont.
Scripted by Betty Comden and Adolph Green with songs by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, Singin’ In The Rain instantly propelled Reynolds to stardom in a Hollywood constellation she would call home for the rest of her life. She was rarely off the celebrity radar screen over more than six decades that included a headline generating divorce when her husband, singer Eddie Fisher, left her for Elizabeth Taylor; more choice roles on film (including The Tender Trap (1955), with Frank Sinatra; A Catered Affair (1956), with Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine, and the title role in another musical, 1964’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown; and Broadway (as the star of the 1974 revival of Irene). Molly Brown brought her her sole Oscar nomination for best actress. In 1967, she co-starred with Dick Van Dyke, Jason Robards, Jean Simmons and others in Norman Lear’s Divorce American Style.
With “Tammy,” the title track from 1957’s Tammy And The Bachelor, she also had a top of the charts hit in a recording career that fell square in the middle of the post-WWII mainstream. In her later years, she savored a kind of adulation as the eccentric mother of another star and curator of one of Hollywood’s greatest costume collections, which she eventually had auctioned off for millions.
Her TV career had an inauspicious infancy with The Debbie Reynolds Show in 1969, an I Love Lucy-style sitcom in a time when variety shows were changing with the culture with programs like Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour; Reynolds’ show was canceled after one season. Nevertheless, she was a guest star on many series, right up through NBC’s hit Will & Grace. She also contributed small but pinpoint perfect performances in such films as Albert Brooks’ 1996 Mother and as Kevin Kline’s mother, with Wilford Brimley as the father, in Frank Oz’s 1997 In And Out, in which both parents claimed, in solidarity with their son, that they’re gay.
Reynolds’ personal life was marked by marriages that ended in divorce and financial wreckage, from which she invariably bounced back with entrepreneurial ingenuity and an un-defeatable optimism. She married shoe magnate Harry Karl in 1960, and real estate developer Richard Hamlett in 1985.
She began collecting Hollywood costumes in 1970, using all $600,000 of her personal wealth to purchase MGM’s prop and costume collection, which included Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from The Wizard Of Oz and Orson Welles’ fur-trimmed coat from Citizen Kane. It would in time become an invaluable repository that, to her unending disappointment, failed to find an appropriate home. Beginning in 2011, she auctioned it off, earning $26 million from the first two sales. The collection also included her size 4-1/2 shoes and Marilyn Monroe’s pleated white dress from The Seven Year Itch, which sold for $4.6 million.
To younger audiences, Reynolds was perhaps more well known as the mother of Carrie Fisher, who spoke openly about their close, loving, and often difficult relationship in much of her fiction and nonfiction. Their relationship notably informed much of Fisher’s debut novel, Postcards From The Edge and the subsequent film adaptation starring Shirley MacLaine and Meryl Streep. Fisher later co-wrote the TV comedy film These Old Broads, which starred Reynolds. And most recently, the pair were the subject of the Cannes documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, set to air on HBO in early 2017.
Reynolds always exhibited seemingly boundless energy and never slowed down, remaining a prolific performer throughout her life. Her recent credits including Penguins of Madagascar, One for the Money and Behind The Candelabra.
Reynolds is survived by her son, Todd Fisher and her granddaughter Billie Lourd.
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