Debbie Reynolds, one of Hollywood’s most reliable entertainers for well over 60 years, has died after suffering a suspected stroke at 84 years old. Reynolds’s son Todd confirmed the news to Variety, saying, “She wanted to be with Carrie.”
The news comes as a particular shock this week, as Carrie Fisher — Reynolds’s daughter with singer Eddie Fisher — died on the 27th, just over 24 hours before her mother.
Reynolds first tap-danced her way into movie audiences’ hearts as the bright-eyed star of Singin’ in the Rain. The 1952 classic was a vehicle for Gene Kelly, but Reynolds more than held her own with an infectious joy, gamely keeping up with her 20-years-older co-stars with a grin — and she’d only learned to dance three months before.
That energy defined much of her career. She forged ahead as a sparkling presence in movie musicals alongside the likes of Fisher and Bing Crosby. Her performance in 1966’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown earned her an Academy Award nomination. In 1973, she made her Broadway debut — which soon got her nominated for a Tony — in Irene.
She later embarked on an eclectic comedy career in sitcoms — from The Love Boat to playing Debra Messing’s mother on Will & Grace — and voiceover (Rugrats) alike.
Her personal life sometimes threatened to overshadow her work, especially when Fisher pursued their equally famous mutual friend Elizabeth Taylor while they were still married. (To borrow Carrie Fisher’s analogy: Think of Reynolds as the Jennifer Aniston to Taylor’s Angelina Jolie.)
Reynolds and her daughter — who performed together in cabarets when Carrie was a teenager — had an openly complicated relationship as Carrie struggled with mental illness, and then wrote Postcards From the Edge largely based on their unique dynamic. But as Fisher detailed in her 2006 book and one-woman special Wishful Drinking, she and Reynolds found a way to reconcile their relationship and appreciate each other’s strengths despite their turbulent histories.
In 2015, Fisher presented her mother with the Screen Actors Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award, hailing Reynolds as a performer whose talents ranged from baton twirling to nightclub singing to French horn playing, as well as the private roles of FIsher’s own “unsolicited stylist, interior decorator, and marriage counselor.”
Once Reynolds was onstage with her daughter, she remembered her days on Singin’ in the Rain and Unsinkable Molly Brown fondly. “In [Unsinkable Molly Brown], I got to sing this wonderful song, ‘I Ain’t Down Yet.’” She then reached up to adjust her perfectly coiffed hair with a smile. “Well, I ain’t.”