NEW YORK • Debbie Reynolds, the wholesome ingenue in 1950s films such as Singin' In The Rain and Tammy And The Bachelor, died on Wednesday, a day after the death of her daughter, actress Carrie Fisher. Reynolds was 84.
Her death was confirmed by her son, Todd Fisher, 58, according to her agent at the Metropolitan Talent Agency. She had been taken by ambulance to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon, where she died. Fisher told TV station ABC 7 Los Angeles that she had suffered a stroke.
According to celebrity news website TMZ, Reynolds was at her son's Beverly Hills home to discuss funeral plans for Fisher - who died on Tuesday aged 60, after having a heart attack last Friday - when the family called 911 to report a possible stroke.
She had the stroke after telling her son, "I miss her so much, I want to be with Carrie", he was quoted as telling TMZ.
"She's now with Carrie and we're all heartbroken," Fisher said from the hospital. He said the stress of his sister's death "was too much" for his mother.
5 things you may not know about Debbie Reynolds
1 She was spotted by Warner Bros talent scouts when she won the Miss Burbank beauty pageant in California in 1948.
"I'm just here 'cause I won this contest and I got a free blouse and scarf," she said in 2013 of her Warner screen test.
At age 16, she was offered a contract for US$65 a week and her name, Mary Frances, was changed to Debbie by studio head Jack Warner.
2 She never won an Academy Award, only getting a nomination for her work in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). But in 2015, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave her a humanitarian award for her philanthropic work, which included mental health advocacy.
3 Her husband Eddie Fisher's affair with film femme fatale Elizabeth Taylor won her sympathy worldwide.
Minutes after the singer announced they were separating, she appeared before reporters in front of her house. The picture of her in pigtails cast her as an innocent victim. She reportedly said: "I'm still very much in love with Eddie."
4 Singin' In The Rain (1952) brought her fame, but she lamented later: "Singin' In The Rain and childbirth are two of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life."
She recalled dancing till her feet bled as she kept pace with her demanding co-star and co-director Gene Kelly.
"I was crying under the piano on one of my breaks, my feet were killing me and my back was like it was broken," she recalled.
5 She was a businesswoman, establishing her own hotel in Las Vegas with third husband Richard Hamlett and a museum which housed her film memorabilia collection till it was shut in 1997. In 1984, she created and starred in an exercise video, Do It Debbie's Way, and four years later, produced the exercise video, Couples (Do It Debbie's Way).
What people say
Some of the magic people have left the tribe... for the moment I am inconsolable.
ACTRESS-SINGER JOELY FISHER, half-sister of Carrie Fisher
This year, the world has turned upside down and the seas are extinguishing all the brightest lights.
COMEDIENNE SARAH SILVERMAN
There is nothing harder than having to bury a child. Debbie died of a broken heart, but she's with her daughter now.
STAR TREK ACTOR GEORGE TAKEI
Dear Debbie Reynolds, I totally get it. Hug her so tight for all of us.
ACTRESS ALYSSA MILANO
On Tuesday, Reynolds had 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."
Her career peak may have been her Best Actress Oscar 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 movie-making, in which she held her own with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, although she had never danced professionally before.
Her greatest fame, however, may have come from the Hollywood scandal involving her husband Eddie Fisher and film star Elizabeth Taylor. In 1955, Reynolds married music idol Fisher. Their best friends were producer Mike Todd and his new wife Taylor.
When Todd died in a plane crash in 1958, Reynolds and Fisher rushed to comfort Taylor. Fisher's comforting, however, turned into a very public extra-marital affair. He and Reynolds divorced early the next year and he and Taylor married weeks after the decree.
"I was like Jennifer Aniston with Brad Pitt when he fell in love with Angelina Jolie," Reynolds said in a 2013 interview with the New York Daily News. "If Angelina wants someone, then that is that. Certain women have that power."
Fisher and Taylor, however, were divorced in 1964. Taylor left Fisher for her Cleopatra (1963) co-star Richard Burton. Reynolds and Taylor did make peace years later and appeared together in the 2001 TV movie These Old Broads, written by Carrie Fisher.
Born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas, Reynolds was 16 when she signed with MGM studio after winning a beauty contest in southern California in 1948. She made her acting debut in 1950 in The Daughter Of Rosie O'Grady.
Her breakout performance was in Singin' In The Rain when she was only 19 - the same age her daughter Fisher would be years later, when she first played Princess Leia in Star Wars.
Both had a fraught relationship over the years, with the two estranged for some time, but they eventually reconciled. A documentary about their lives together, Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher And Debbie Reynolds, produced by Todd Fisher, is to air in March on HBO.
Reynolds' roles seemed to mirror 1950s attitudes towards love, marriage and family. In 1955 she played a marriage-minded, all-American girl opposite Frank Sinatra in The Tender Trap. In 1956, she starred with her new husband in Bundle Of Joy, a musical remake of the 1939 comedy Bachelor Mother.
After the Taylor-Fisher-Reynolds scandal, she rode on a crest of goodwill and was a popular co-star in a long string of films, mostly lighthearted romantic comedies. These included The Gazebo (1959), Say One For Me (1959) and The Pleasure Of His Company (1961) - and was part of the all-star ensemble cast of How The West Was Won (1963).
She had a sitcom, The Debbie Reynolds Show (1969), in which she played a wacky Lucy Ricardo-like wife who wanted to be a journalist like her husband. It lasted only one season. But she soon achieved a kind of immortality as the voice of Charlotte the selfless spider, in the animated film version of E.B. White's children's classic Charlotte's Web (1973).
She married Harry Karl, a wealthy shoe manufacturer, in 1960. By the time they divorced, in 1973, he had gambled away or otherwise misspent both his fortune and hers.
To re-establish herself financially, she made her Broadway debut in a revival of the 1920s musical Irene, for which she received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.
She had taken her musical and comedy talents to Las Vegas as early as 1960 and became a fixture there in the 1970s and 1980s. For a while, she seemed to be better known as Carrie Fisher's mother.
In 1984, she married real estate developer Richard Hamlett, and they bought a Las Vegas hotel and casino, where she also performed. That marriage ended amid the financial collapse of that property and Reynolds filed for bankruptcy protection in 1997.
"There are good men, including my father and my son Todd, but I happened to marry idiots, which is why I gave up years ago. I have very bad taste in men," she said in a 2010 interview.
In 1996, she made a big-screen comeback when Albert Brooks cast her as his self-possessed widowed mother in the comedy Mother. Her performance earned her a Golden Globe nomination. From 1999, she won new fans with a recurring role on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace. She continued acting and doing voice work in films and on TV into her late 70s, also appearing as Liberace's mother in the 2013 HBO movie, Behind The Candelabra.
In a 2010 interview, she reflected on her philosophy of life.
"I always go by a five-year plan. I get through today and I'm not going to get upset for five years," she said. "I always picture a long tunnel and at the end of the tunnel, there's a light. I know I can make it to that light and I'll take five years to get there. Now I've gone through many tunnels. So, I just keep trying. I never give up."
Her 2013 autobiography, Unsinkable: A Memoir, detailed the highs and lows of her rocky personal life and a career which was still going strong into her 80s as she performed her one-woman stage show. She is survived by Todd Fisher and a granddaughter, Billie Lourd.
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS