Debbie Reynolds Dead

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DECEMBER 28, 2016 | 05:40PM PT

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

http://variety.com/2016/film/news/debbie-reynolds-dead-dies-carrie-fisher-mother-1201949432/

  • CreditMary Evans/Lucasfilm, via Everett Collection

    Carrie Fisher, the actress, author and screenwriter who brought a rare combination of nerve, grit and hopefulness to her most indelible role, as Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” movie franchise, died on Tuesday morning. She was 60.

    A family spokesman, Simon Halls, said Ms. Fisher died at 8:55 a.m. She had a heart attack on a flight from London to Los Angeles on Friday and had been hospitalized in Los Angeles.

    After her “Star Wars” success, Ms. Fisher, the daughter of the pop singer Eddie Fisher and the actress Debbie Reynolds, went on to use her perch among Hollywood royalty to offer wry commentary in her books on the paradoxes and absurdities of the entertainment industry.

    “Star Wars,” released in 1977, turned her overnight into an international movie star. The film, written and directed by George Lucas, traveled around the world, breaking box-office records. It proved to be the first installment of a blockbuster series whose vivid, even preposterous characters — living “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” as the opening sequence announced — became pop culture legends and the progenitors of a merchandising bonanza.

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    [ What Carrie Fisher’s career meant ]

    Ms. Fisher established Princess Leia as a damsel who could very much deal with her own distress, whether facing down the villainy of the dreaded Darth Vader or the romantic interests of the roguish smuggler Han Solo.

    Wielding blaster pistols, piloting futuristic vehicles and, to her occasional chagrin, wearing strange hairdos and a revealing metal bikini, she reprised the role in three more films — “The Empire Strikes Back” in 1980, “Return of the Jedi” in 1983 and, 32 years later, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” by which time Leia had become a hard-bitten general.

    Lucasfilm said on Tuesday that Ms. Fisher had completed her work in an as-yet-untitled eighth episode of the main “Star Wars” saga, which is scheduled to be released in December 2017.

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    Winning the admiration of countless fans, Ms. Fisher never played Leia as helpless. She had the toughness to escape the clutches of the monstrous gangster Jabba the Hutt and the tenderness to tell Han Solo, as he is about to be frozen in carbonite, “I love you.” (Solo, played by Harrison Ford, caddishly replies, “I know.”)

    Offscreen, Ms. Fisher was open about her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. She gave her dueling dispositions the nicknames Roy (“the wild ride of a mood,” she said) and Pam (“who stands on the shore and sobs”). She channeled her struggles with depression and substance abuse into fiercely comic works, including the semiautobiographical novel “Postcards From the Edge” and the one-woman show “Wishful Drinking,” which she turned into a memoir.

    For all the attention she received for playing Princess Leia, Ms. Fisher enjoyed poking wicked fun at the character, as well as at the fantastical “Star Wars” universe. “Who wears that much lip gloss into battle?” she asked in a recent memoir, “The Princess Diarist.”

    Having seen fame’s light and dark sides, Ms. Fisher did not take it too seriously, or consider it an enduring commodity.

    As she wrote in “The Princess Diarist”:

    “Perpetual celebrity — the kind where any mention of you will interest a significant percentage of the public until the day you die, even if that day comes decades after your last real contribution to the culture — is exceedingly rare, reserved for the likes of Muhammad Ali.”

    Carrie Frances Fisher was born on Oct. 21, 1956, in Beverly Hills, Calif. She was the first child of her highly visible parents (they later had a son, Todd), and said in “Wishful Drinking” that, while her mother was under anesthetic delivering her, her father fainted.

    “So when I arrived,” Ms. Fisher wrote, “I was virtually unattended! And I have been trying to make up for that fact ever since.”

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    In 1959, Ms. Reynolds divorced Eddie Fisher in the wake of his affair with Elizabeth Taylor, whom he married that same year. (Ms. Taylor later left him to marry Richard Burton.)

    Any semblance of a normal childhood was impossible for Ms. Fisher. At 15, she played a debutante in the Broadway musical “Irene,” which starred her mother, and appeared in Ms. Reynolds’s Las Vegas nightclub act. At 17, Ms. Fisher made her first movie, “Shampoo” (1975), Hal Ashby’s satire of Nixon-era politics and the libidinous Los Angeles culture of the time, in which she played the precocious daughter of a wealthy woman (Lee Grant) having an affair with a promiscuous hairdresser (Warren Beatty).

    She was one of roughly two dozen young actresses considered for the role of Princess Leia in Mr. Lucas’s marathon casting sessions for “Star Wars.” (Cindy Williams, Amy Irving, Sissy Spacek and Jodie Foster were among those who also read for the part.)

    Many of Ms. Fisher’s line readings from that film have since become part of the cinematic canon: her repeated, almost hypnotic exhortation, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope”; her wryly unimpressed reaction when Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) arrives in disguise to rescue her from a detention cell: “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”

    “Star Wars” became a financial and cultural phenomenon, launching more movies and a merchandising machine that splashed Ms. Fisher’s likeness on all manner of action figures and products while casting her into an uneasy limelight.

    She partied with the Rolling Stones during the making of “The Empire Strikes Back,” hosted “Saturday Night Live” and had romantic relationships with Dan Aykroyd (with whom she appeared in “The Blues Brothers”) and Paul Simon. She and Mr. Simon had a marriage that lasted less than a year, and he was inspired to write his song “Hearts and Bones” about their time together.

    As its lyrics go:

    Two people were married
    The act was outrageous
    The bride was contagious
    She burned like a bride.
    These events may have had some effect
    On the man with the girl by his side.

    In “The Princess Diarist,” she admitted what many fans had long suspected: During the filming of the first “Star Wars” movie, she and Harrison Ford (who was married at the time) had an affair.

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    Ms. Fisher acknowledged taking drugs like LSD and Percodan throughout the 1970s and ’80s and later said that she was using cocaine while making “The Empire Strikes Back.”

    In 1985, after filming a role in Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters,” she had a nearly fatal drug overdose. She had her stomach pumped and checked herself into a 30-day rehab program in Los Angeles. Those experiences later became grist for her caustic, comic novel “Postcards From the Edge,” whose chapters are variously presented as letters, diary entries, monologues and third-person narratives.

    As the main character, Suzanne, writes of her rehab stay: “Mom brought me some peanut butter cookies and a biography of Judy Garland. She told me she thought my problem was that I was too impatient, my fuse was too short, that I was only interested in instant gratification. I said, ‘Instant gratification takes too long.’”

    The book was later made into a movie, directed by Mike Nichols from a script by Ms. Fisher. Released in 1990, it starred Meryl Streep as Suzanne and Shirley MacLaine as her movie-star mother.

    On film, Ms. Fisher also played the scene-stealing best friend of Meg Ryan’s title character in the 1989 romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally…” On television, she played satirical versions of herself on shows like “Sex and the City” and “The Big Bang Theory.” She had a recurring role on the British comedy “Catastrophe” (seen here on Amazon) as the mother of the character played by Rob Delaney, one of the show’s creators.

    Her survivors include her mother; her brother, Todd; her daughter, Billie Lourd, from a relationship with the talent agent Bryan Lourd; and her half sisters, Joely Fisher and Tricia Leigh Fisher, the daughters of Eddie Fisher and Connie Stevens.

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    Ms. Fisher had a Dorothy Parker-like presence on Twitter, where she ruminated on the inexplicable mania surrounding “Star Wars” and on her French bulldog, Gary, in playful messages filled with emoji.

    Last year, after the release of “The Force Awakens,” she wrote, in part: “Please stop debating about whether OR not [eye emoji] aged well. unfortunately it hurts all 3 of my feelings. My BODY hasn’t aged as well as I have.”

    Correction: December 27, 2016
    Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this obituary misspelled the surname of the spokesman who confirmed the death. He is Simon Halls, not Hall.