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Debbie Reynolds dead; ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ star was 84

Debbie Reynolds, the perky performer who enlivened many

Debbie Reynolds, the perky performer who enlivened many MGM musicals of the 1950s, most notably "Singin' in the Rain," died Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, just a day after the death of her daughter, "Star Wars" actress Carrie Fisher. Photo Credit: PA Wire/PA Images / Stefan Rousseau

Debbie Reynolds, the perky performer who enlivened many MGM musicals of the 1950s, most notably “Singin’ in the Rain,” died Wednesday at age 84, just a day after the death of her daughter, “Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher.

“She’s now with Carrie and we’re all heartbroken,” Todd Fisher, Reynolds’ son and Fisher’s brother, said from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where his mother was taken by ambulance earlier Wednesday.

He said the stress of his sister’s death Tuesday “was too much” for her. Carrie Fisher, who was 60, had been hospitalized since Friday. “She said, ‘I want to be with Carrie,’ ” her son said. “And then she was gone.”

Reynolds was rushed to the hospital on Wednesday after a 911 call was placed from the Beverly Hills home of her son. Family sources initially reported she had suffered a stroke.

Reaction to Reynolds’ death was swift. “Debbie Reynolds, a legend and my movie mom. I can’t believe this happened one day after Carrie,” tweeted Albert Brooks, who played opposite Reynolds in the comedy “Mother” (1996).

“I can’t imagine what Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds’ family are going through this week. I send all of my love,” TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres tweeted.

Reynolds was considered a triple threat in Hollywood who was equally adept at acting, singing and dancing, even though she had no formal training. The actress, who was born Mary Frances Reynolds in 1932, in El Paso, Texas, was 7 when her family moved to Burbank, California, in 1939.

Her entry into films came after winning the Miss Burbank beauty contest when she was 16, wowing the crowd with her impersonation of film star Betty Hutton. The win led to a contract with Warner Bros., which changed her name.

After a bit part in the Bette Davis comedy “June Bride” (1948) and a supporting role in “The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady” (1950), Reynolds made an impression in two 1950 MGM musicals — as vaudeville star Helen Kane in “Three Little Words” and singing “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” with Carleton Carpenter in “Two Weeks With Love.”

Her career flourished at MGM, especially after giving her the female lead opposite Gene Kelly in her signature film “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952). She endured three months of extensive dance lessons with Kelly to prepare for the movie.

“Gene Kelly kind of scared me, because he was the boss, and he was brilliant, and he was a wonderful teacher. He had to teach me. And to be given a little kitty cat, and expect it to be a lion, it didn’t happen overnight. I had to work, work, work without question,” she told CBS News in 2013.

Several box office hits followed, including “The Tender Trap” (1955) with Frank Sinatra; “The Catered Affair” (1956) with Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine and Rod Taylor; “How the West Was Won” (1962) with an ensemble cast; and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964), for which she got her sole Oscar nomination.

Reynolds received an honorary Oscar in 2015, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, but was too ill to attend the ceremony. Her granddaughter, actress Billie Lourd, accepted the statuette in her honor. “I’m so sorry that I’m sick, but I am thrilled beyond words, shocked, and you couldn’t be more amazed that a little girl from Burbank even came near this sort of accolade,” she said in a pre-recorded statement.

She also had a million-selling record with “Tammy,” the theme song to her popular 1957 movie “Tammy and the Bachelor.” She also starred in the sitcom “The Debbie Reynolds Show” in 1969, but it lasted one season.

In 1955, Reynolds married singer Eddie Fisher, the father of her two children. The couple divorced in 1959 after Fisher left her for actress Elizabeth Taylor.

“She was beautiful, smart and a very sexual woman and I was very different — not exactly a sex kitten,” Reynolds told The Daily Mail in 2011.

Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor remained good friends afterward and co-starred in the 2001 TV movie “These Old Broads” co-written by Carrie Fisher.

Neither of Reynolds’ subsequent marriages were much better. Harry Karl, whom she was married to from 1960 to 1973, gambled away her millions, and Richard Hamlett, her husband from 1984 to 1996, lost her money in a failed business venture. As such, Reynolds never stopped working. “It can be lonely sometimes, but I’m not going to attempt to walk down that avenue again,” she said in 2011 about never marrying again.

Reynolds also was involved in several business enterprises, some more successful than others. She purchased the Clarion Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1992, which was renamed the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel. It wasn’t a success, and in 1997 she was forced to declare bankruptcy.

In 1988, she penned her autobiography “Debbie: My Life,” which was followed in 2013 by the memoir “Unsinkable.”

In addition to her son, Reynolds is survived by her granddaughter.

With AP


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