Debbie Reynolds, the wholesome movie ingénue in 1950s films like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Tammy and the Bachelor,” died Wednesday, a day after the death of her daughter, actress Carrie Fisher. She was 84.
Her death was confirmed by her son, Todd Fisher, her agent, Tom Markley of the Metropolitan Talent Agency, said. Reynolds was taken to a Los Angeles hospital Wednesday afternoon. Fisher told the television station ABC 7 Los Angeles that she had been stressed about the death of her daughter and suffered a stroke.
According to TMZ, she had been discussing funeral plans for Carrie Fisher, who died Tuesday after having a heart attack during a flight to Los Angeles last Friday.
“She’s now with Carrie and we’re all heartbroken,” Todd Fisher said from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where his mother was taken by ambulance, The Associated Press said. He said the stress of his sister’s death “was too much” for his mother.
On Tuesday, Reynolds expressed gratitude to her daughter’s fans on Facebook.
“Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter,” she wrote. “I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop.”
Reynolds’ career peak may have been her best-actress Academy Award nomination for playing the title role in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964), a rags-to-riches Western musical based on a true story.
Her best-remembered film is probably “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), a classic MGM musical about 1920s moviemaking, in which she held her own with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor — although she was only 19 when the movie was shot and had never danced professionally before. Her fans also cherished her sentimental good-girl portrayals like the title role in “Tammy and the Bachelor” (1957), in which she played a Louisiana moonshiner’s wide-eyed granddaughter who spouted folksy wisdom.
Her greatest fame, however, may have come not from any movie role but from the Hollywood scandal involving her husband and a glamorous young widow.
In 1955, Reynolds married Eddie Fisher, a boyish music idol whose hits included “Oh! My Pa-Pa” and “I’m Walking Behind You,” and the young couple were embraced by fan magazines as America’s sweethearts. Their best friends were producer Mike Todd and his new wife, femme-fatale film star Elizabeth Taylor.
When Todd died in a private-plane crash in 1958, Reynolds and Fisher rushed to comfort Taylor. Fisher’s comforting, however, turned into a very public extramarital affair. He and Reynolds were divorced early the next year, and he and Taylor were married weeks after the decree. That marriage lasted five years. Taylor left Fisher for Richard Burton, whom she had met in Rome on the set of “Cleopatra” (1963).
Almost 40 years later, in an interview with The Chicago Sun-Times, Reynolds said of Taylor, “Probably she did me a great favor.”
In her 1988 autobiography, “Debbie: My Life,” she described a marriage that was unhappy from the beginning.
“He didn’t think I was funny,” Reynolds wrote of Fisher. “I wasn’t good in bed. I didn’t make good gefilte fish or good chopped liver. So what did he have? A cute little girl next door with a little turned-up nose. That was, in fact, all he actually ever said he wanted from me. The children, he said, better have your nose.”
Mary Frances Reynolds was born on April 1, 1932, in El Paso, Texas. Her father, Ray, worked for the railroad and struggled financially during the Depression. Her mother, Maxene, took in laundry to help make ends meet. As Nazarene Baptists, they considered movies sinful.
With the promise of a better job, Ray moved to California when Mary Frances was 7, and the family soon followed. Her career dream was to go to college and become a gym teacher, she often said, but when she was named Miss Burbank 1948, everything changed. Two of the judges were movie-studio scouts, and she was soon under contract to Warner Bros., which changed her name.
In 1950 she made her movie debut in “The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady,” a musical comedy starring June Haver and Gordon MacRae. The same year she played Helen Kane, the 1920s singer known as the boop-boop-a-doop girl, in “Three Little Words,” and also appeared in “Two Weeks With Love,” in which she sang “Aba Daba Honeymoon” with Carleton Carpenter. The song became a huge novelty hit.