Debbie Reynolds Dead at 84: From Miss Burbank to Glamorous Hollywood Starlet

The iconic actress was from Texas but became the toast of Tinsletown.

ByABC News
December 28, 2016, 9:08 PM

— -- Debbie Reynolds, the legendary Hollywood entertainer and mother of Carrie Fisher died Wednesday at age 84, her son Todd Fisher confirmed to ABC News, leaving behind an enviable showbiz legacy that personified Old Hollywood.

Reynolds -- who died just one day after Fisher died at age 60 following a cardiac arrest last week -- struggled with her health in recent years. Earlier this year, her son Todd Fisher told ABC News that "when she was in the hospital and barely recovering from an operation, she had a small stroke."

He said, "She could barely talk but she sang with me, 'Me and My Shadow.' She was able to sing the song, she knew the whole song."

Reynolds told ABC News at the time that music "brought [her] through" the health scare.

Mary Frances Reynolds was born April 1, 1932, in El Paso, Texas. Soon after, her family moved to Burbank, California, where, at age 16, Reynolds won the Miss Burbank beauty contest, leading to her first contract with Warner Bros. and her new name, Debbie Reynolds.

A natural performer, Reynolds was a baton twirler in school but never took dance lessons until her contract with Warner Bros. By age 19, she'd landed her first major role as Kathy Selden in 1952's "Singin' in the Rain." That was followed by a slew of films, including "The Affairs of Dobie Gillis" and "Tammy and the Bachelor," for which she recorded the No. 1 song "Tammy." By the end of the decade, Reynolds was a major star.

In over 40 films, Reynolds starred alongside some of the legends of Hollywood -- Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Bob Fossee and Fred Astaire.

"Fred Astaire was my dream dancer," Reynolds told ABC News earlier this year. "I loved Fred Astaire's way of dancing. He led you into the dance. Once in a picture together he said, 'Don't worry about anything, just go with me.' He had long fingers and you just melted into his body."

Her favorite role was playing Molly Brown in the musical "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," for which she earned an Academy Award nomination. "I loved playing her. She was sort of like me," said Reynolds, who titled her updated 2013 autobiography, "Unsinkable: A Memoir."

Reynolds survived a scandalous first marriage to singer Eddie Fisher, who left her for Elizabeth Taylor. Parents to Carrie Fisher and Todd Fisher, the couple divorced in 1959. Her second marriage, to millionaire businessman Harry Karl, lasted from 1960 to 1973. She was married for a third and final time to real estate developer Richard Hamlett from 1984 to 1996.

"My three husbands all left me for another woman, and obviously I wasn’t a very sexual lady," Reynolds told The Express in 2015. "It seemed that I was more interested in raising my children, not in pursuing my husbands."

But she was far from a perfect mother, according to her daughter, Carrie Fisher, who grew close to her mother in later years. "Admittedly, I found it difficult to share my mother with her adoring fans, who treated her like she was part of their family. She has led two lives, public and private -- sometimes concurrently, sometimes not," Fisher said during a speech last year while presenting the SAG Life Achievement Award to her mother.

Among Reynolds' biggest contributions to the public were her massive movie memorabilia collection, which she was later forced to auction, and her Debbie Reynolds Dance Studios, which she opened in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Everyone from Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears to Bette Midler, Madonna, Usher and Mariah Carey has trained or rehearsed there.

Reynolds is survived by her son, Todd Fisher, and her granddaughter, Carrie's Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd.