Debbie Reynolds Dies at 84, One Day After the Death of Daughter Carrie Fisher
By Elliott Smith
Debbie Reynolds died on Wednesday as a result of a stroke, her son Todd Fisher confirms to ET, just one day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher. She was 84.
"She missed her daughter [Carrie] and wanted to very much be with her and she had discussed some other things. She had been very strong the last several days; [there was] enormous stress on her, obviously," Todd Fisher told ET. "And this morning, she said those words to me and 15 minutes later she had a stroke and virtually left.
ET confirmed that Reynolds was rushed to the hospital on Wednesday after suffering a possible stroke. The Los Angeles Fire Department told ET that an ambulance responded to a medical call at 1:02 p.m. in Beverly Hills and transported an adult female to Cedars-Sinai Hospital.
Reynolds had reportedly been discussing funeral arrangements for Carrie, who died Tuesday after going into cardiac arrest aboard a transatlantic flight from London to Los Angeles last week.
"Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter," Reynolds said in a statement following her daughter's death. "I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop."
The title of “America’s Sweetheart” has been bestowed upon many an ingénue over the years, but perhaps no one embodied that ideal so purely and for so long as Reynolds, who maintained an indefatigable work ethic and graceful persona even in the midst of a turbulent personal life.
After being crowned Miss Burbank in 1948, Reynolds would begin a career that spanned more than 60 years, thanks to her girl-next-door charm. But it was her talent that allowed her to persevere and thrive, first in the movies, then on TV and Broadway, and later as a best-selling author and entrepreneur. Reynolds even starred on Twitter, where she shared witty bon mots with more than 24,000 followers.
As a young actress, Reynolds embodied the optimism and innocence of the post-World War II age, making her an ideal fit for breakout roles in Three Little Words, Singin’ in the Rain and Tammy and the Bachelor. For the latter, she contributed the hit song “Tammy,” which spent five weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart, another signal of her versatility.
Perhaps the role that Reynolds most identified with came in 1964, when she starred in the movie musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown. The role was initially intended for Shirley MacLaine, who complained publicly when Reynolds received the job, but Reynolds proved her worth in the part, receiving her lone Oscar nomination for her work in the film. She would later name one of her memoirs, Unsinkable.
Reynolds unexpectedly found herself in one of Hollywood’s biggest tabloid scandals, when, in 1959, her husband, singer Eddie Fisher, left her and their two young children to marry the recently widowed Elizabeth Taylor. Reynolds said she “stood no chance” against the sultry Taylor. “I was just like Jennifer Aniston with Brad Pitt when he fell in love with Angelina Jolie,” she told The Sun.
While the public sided with Reynolds in the aftermath of the divorce, her movie career began to slow down. So she segued into television, where The Debbie Reynolds Show was a minor hit for NBC in 1969. And of course, she popped up on the celebrity-driven shows of the day, including The Love Boat and Aloha Paradise, an ill-fated attempt to place Reynolds in a Fantasy Island scenario. But she really found her stride on stage, where in 1973, she took on the title role in Irene, for which she received a Tony nomination.
Around this time, Reynolds’ teenage daughter, Carrie Fisher, became an international star for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars. Over the years, Fisher would battle with mental illness and substance abuse, and later write books and plays, including Postcards From the Edge, where she would seem to be critical of her mother’s outsized presence. Yet, Reynolds and Fisher lived across the street from one another for years in Beverly Hills, California.
“I think we’ve always been open and honest -- that’s why we didn’t get along,” Reynolds told The New York Times. “As a parent you must give your opinion. And if that causes a breach, then it causes a breach. Carrie and I have disagreements and stalemates, but we still walk away loving each other.”
Reynolds certainly had a few missteps in her long and storied career, none more personal than her failure at marriage. She was divorced three times, and her last two husbands siphoned large chunks of her personal fortune. She bought a failing Las Vegas casino in 1992, spent millions in renovations and renamed it Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel, but was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1997, losing control of the property. Her financial woes caused her to auction off most of the vast collection of movie memorabilia she collected over the decades, a result that left her “heartbroken.”
Yet Reynolds pressed forward, as was her style, and enjoyed a career renaissance in the ‘90s, starring as the meddling titular character in Albert Brooks’ 1996 comedy, Mother, garnering big laughs in the comedy In & Out and earning an Emmy in 2000 for her recurring character on Will & Grace. She introduced herself to a new generation by appearing in Disney Channel movies like Halloweentown, and even shared the screen with old rival Taylor in These Old Broads, a TV movie written by Fisher.
Reynolds and Taylor had made up long ago, when both found themselves on the same cruise ship. They sent conciliatory notes to each other, squashing any hard feelings, and remained friends until Taylor’s death in 2011.
In 2015, Reynolds was honored by the Screen Actors Guild with the Life Achievement Award. In 2016, she was feted with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars, thanks to her founding work with the Thalians, an organization designed to increase awareness about mental health. However, she was unable to attend the Governors Awards ceremony last November due to health problems, but her granddaughter, actress Billie Lourd, accepted the award on her behalf.
Receiving career-spanning honors hardly slowed Reynolds down, as she continued to work until her final days, exactly as she wanted it, telling Rotten Tomatoes.com, “That’s my business, show business. So I’ll be like Irving Berlin. ‘There’s no business like show business.’ And I’ll just stay in it till they stuff me like Trigger, when I drop dead."
“I only know one thing -- you never quit your job. You finish your job no matter how bad you feel,” Reynolds recalled in an interview with USA Today.