March 8, 1983. Debbie Reynolds returns for a curtain call after a performance of “Woman of the Year” at New York’s Palace Theatre. (Kaye/Associated Press)
Debbie Reynolds, the silver-screen icon who came to symbolize a certain type of perky, wholesome young woman in the age of the MGM musical, passed away yesterday in California at age 84. She reportedly suffered a stroke while planning the funeral arrangements of her daughter, Carrie Fisher, who had passed away yesterday.
Reynolds’s breakout role alongside Gene Kelly in 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain was followed by an illustrious career of stage and screen, with performances alongside the likes of Fred Astaire, and roles in films like The Unsinkable Molly Brown, The Singing Nun, Divorce American Style, What’s The Matter With Helen?, Mother, and In & Out, as well as a Golden Globe–nominated 1969 television series called The Debbie Reynolds Show, and a Tony Award–nominated turn in a 1973 revival of Irene.
Reynolds’s presence in pop culture wasn’t always peppy and perfect: She received no small amount of attention for the dissolution of her marriage to singer Eddie Fisher, with whom she had two children, Todd and Carrie, and who incited an international scandal when he left her for her friend, Elizabeth Taylor. But Reynolds’s impact extended beyond her roles, both on-screen and in the public imagination. She served as the president of The Thalians, an organization dedicated to mental health causes, for over fifty years, which helped earn her the Academy Awards’ Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2016. She also appeared in several different iterations in the work of her daughter, most memorably as played by Shirley MacLaine in Postcards from the Edge, the 1990 movie based on Fisher’s 1987 semiautobiographical novel of the same name. (Meryl Streep earned an Academy Award nomination for her role as a Fisher-like character who returns to her famous mother’s house after a stint in rehab.)
Fisher followed up with Wishful Drinking, the wry, loving Broadway show, book, and HBO special that offered an unvarnished take on their relationship, Fisher’s childhood, and her struggles with addiction and the limelight. The pair had participated in a documentary together, Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, which premiered earlier this year and will air on HBO in March.
Reynolds released an autobiography titled, Debbie: My Life in 1988, followed up by an updated version in 2013 titled Unsinkable: A Memoir. In January 2015, Reynolds received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. “It’s the end of the golden era for me,” Reynolds told People in 2011. “I’m delighted I lived when I lived—and I’m still here. I’ve had a wonderful life.”
Actress Carrie Fisher, left, is joined by her mother Debbie Reynolds after she opened in New York in "Censored Scenes From King Kong," March 7, 1980.