Just hours after posting my tribute to Carrie Fisher, news broke that her mother Debbie Reynolds had died after a stroke. And I am devastated.
I have adored Debbie Reynolds since I was tiny & watching Singin’ in the Rain for the first time. It remains to this day one of my all time favourite films & I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it, & Kathy is obviously my favourite character in it. Debbie was only nineteen when she played her, which is my current age, & she often spoke about how the two hardest things she ever had to go through were childbirth & shooting Singin’ in the Rain. She would wake up at 4am & get three buses to get to the studio to shoot every day, where she danced until her feet bled – literally.
The highlight of Debbie’s performance as Kathy Seldon in Singing’ in the Rain is her number Good Mornin’, which my mum used to sing to my sister & I every morning to wake us up for school. That musical number always floored me because of how full on it was, & Debbie stole the show. Even though Gene Kelly was a tyrant & not only insisted on dubbing her already perfect tap dancing in a studio, but also reducing his costar to tears by saying she couldn’t dance. But, this led to Reynolds getting an amazing story – she was found crying underneath a studio piano by non other than Fred Astaire, who not only consoled her but helped her with the steps to boost her confidence.
Though it’s the role she was most recognisable for, that was only one element of Debbie’s hugely successful acting career. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the incredible musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown, & was a five time Golden Globe nominee. In 2015 Reynolds received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, as well as the Academy Awards Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2016 She was greatly talented & widely admired for it.
She achieved greatness in her personal life too. She was the former president of mental health organisation The Thalians, an organization dedicated to mental health causes. According to the organisation’s website, the group was founded in 1955 with Reynolds as one of the original members, & only two years later she was made president — a role she held for more than fifty years.
Although part of the industry, she was a huge fan of Old Hollywood & a collector of many significant items from it. Her daughter once described her as “an extraordinarily kind, generous, gifted, funny woman who would give you the shirt off her back if Vivien Leigh hadn’t once worn it in Gone With The Wind”. Reynolds was an avid collector of movie memorabilia & had a huge passion for collecting costumes, props & posters – many of which she would drive over to her fellow actors to gain autographs on to further add to their significance. She realised well before studios did that a pair of shoes worn by a star in a popular movie was no longer just a pair of shoes. She opened a museum displaying her collections but it was ultimately closed in 1997 due to financial problems, & she was forced to auction off the majority of her collection which upset her greatly.
Debbie & her daughter, Carrie shared a wonderful relationship. Many stories about them have been shared the last couple of days, but my favourite may be of when the pair met President Nixon in the 1970s. Carrie Fisher stated that when her mother asked her to join her in meeting him she refused,stating “I will not go. I want him impeached.”. Debbie responded “I will take away your credit cards.”, & so Carrie went.
Her relationship with her granddaughter Billie was beautiful as well – my favourite example of this is a story told by Billie on a talkshow just a few weeks ago that you can watch here.
I can’t begin to understand what a loss this is to Billie Lourd & Todd Fisher. They’ve lost two family members very dear to them in the space of two days, which is a devastating blow. Best wishes are with them in this difficult time.
2016 has been hard on devastating deaths of beloved celebrities. Debbie Reynolds may be the one I have taken hardest. She was one of the first actresses that made me want to do what she did, & she continues to inspire me daily.
She will never be forgotten.