Debbie Reynolds, one of the few remaining icons from Hollywood's studio era, passed away yesterday after suffering a severe stroke. This comes only one day after the sudden death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher.
Born in Texas, her family moved to Los Angeles when she was a child. At age 16, she won the "Miss Burbank" contest; there, she was spotted by a talent scout for Warner Bros. studios, who signed her to a contract. Reynolds had only a few small parts and eventually got a new contract with MGM. It was there that when she won the role of Kathy Selden in Singin' in the Rain, a role (which she said was the most difficult one she's ever done) that would become her signature part for her entire career. She conveyed an image of lovable sassiness in many of her early roles, including in How the West Was Won, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Divore, American Style and The Singing Nun. She had her own variety show in the late 1960s, and voiced the spider Charlotte in the wonderful animated film Charlotte's Web.
She disappeared from much of film and television in the 1970s, resurfacing in the late 1980s in guest starring roles. Her and Fisher's loving (if sometimes difficult) relationship was immortalized in Fisher's book Postcards from the Edge, made into a film in 1990 with Shirley MacLaine playing the fictional version of Reynolds.
Reynolds made a great comeback in Albert Brooks' 1996 fantastic film Mother, and had a recurring role as Grace's overbearing mother in the TV series Will & Grace, and appeared in other shows such as Rugrats, Family Guy, and Roseanne.
She was a consumate performer, full of joy and so enjoyable in everything she did. She also, quite evidently from her roles, had a very wicked sense of humour, and according to those who worked with her, was a wonderfully sarcastic wit. I remember teaching a seminar on Singin' in the Rain when I was a TA; I thought that the 18-year-olds in the class would be bored. On the contrary, all of them loved it, and it was mainly due to Reynolds, who could easily hold her own with her older, more experienced co-stars. One of those student went on to write a great paper about Reynolds' early career and her work as a feminist model for actresses.
Reynolds was also a great philanthropist. She was long involved with Thalians, an organization aimed at raising awareness and providing treatment and support for those suffering from mental health issues. She also amassed a huge collection of classic Hollywood costumes, intended for conservation and museum display.
She became something of tabloid fodder when her first husband Eddie Fisher (Carrie's father) left her for Elizabeth Taylor, though later the two women would become friends again. Indeed, Reynolds, along with Taylor, was one of the first Hollywiood celebrities to bring attention to the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, when even politicians wouldn't acknowledge the disease or those affected by it.
According to her son Todd Fisher, who was at her bedside, her last words were that she wanted to be with her daughter.
Below is one of the best scenes in American cinema, "Good Morning" from Singin' in the Rain, featuring Reynolds, Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly. Watch it, remember her well, and have some tissues handy.
Our thoughts are with her son and granddaughter.
Below is a video from ScreenAnarchy's Jason Gorber on one of our national networks, with a look at Reynolds' life and career.