Debbie Reynolds on How Music 'Brought Her Through' Life

Song and dance have been a huge part of the 84-year-old star's life.

ByABC News
June 22, 2016, 4:56 AM
Honoree Debbie Reynolds accepts an award onstage at TNT's 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on Jan. 25, 2015 in Los Angeles.
Honoree Debbie Reynolds accepts an award onstage at TNT's 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on Jan. 25, 2015 in Los Angeles.
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

— -- Without music and dance, Debbie Reynolds' life wouldn't be the same.

From her start in Hollywood at age 16 to her recent health scare, song and dance have carried her through.

"I wouldn't have known what to do. I wouldn’t have been as happy or joyful," the "Singin' in the Rain" star, 84, told ABC News.

In fact, music was a huge part of her recovery from a health scare last year. Daughter Carrie Fisher first opened up about her mom's "frail" health last month when she told People magazine that Reynolds "had an illness that she's recovered amazingly from."

Reynolds' son Todd Fisher explained to 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."

Added Reynolds: "Music will bring you through.... It brought me through."

Music made Reynolds a star. A natural performer, she was a baton twirler in school but never took dance lessons until her first contract with Warner Bros. at age 16. By age 19, she landed her first major role as Kathy Selden in 1952's "Singin' in the Rain." By the end of the decade, she was a major star with a number one pop song.

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 revealed. "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."

In the '70s, Reynolds decided to share her love for music and dance when she opened the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studios in Los Angeles. Everyone from Michael Jackson to Justin Timberlake to Britney Spears to Bette Midler to Madonna to Usher and Mariah Carey has trained or rehearsed there.

It all started when Reynolds purchased an old post office depot-turned furniture shop to store her prized film memorabilia and rehearse her Vegas act.

"She went out of her way to build the finest dance floor," Fisher said, adding that it was similar to a basketball court, with tongue-and-groove oak floating on a layer of rubber. She also had one of the largest studios around, making it perfect for full-scale production rehearsals, like the "Thriller" video. And she offered the least expensive dance classes -- and still does, at $11 per class.

"Yes, all these big stars use it, but it was also her dream that it remains affordable," Fisher explained. "She literally has the lowest price for classes. Her business people have complained."

"At my age, I'm not spending any money," Reynolds said. "It's fun to let it go, for it to be affordable, so people can learn and have a good time."

Although the price has remained the same, the studio just joined with Mindbody, a cloud-based software company, to make scheduling the classes with some 250 teachers a lot easier than the old pen and paper and chalkboard method they always used. Eventually, they hope to bring virtual classes from the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studios to people around the globe.

For Reynolds, the thought is mind-blowing. "I never thought I would live this long," she quipped.

But as long as she's around, you can bet she'll be dancing. This October, she'll be back in Vegas with her cabaret show at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa.

"You have to keep on dancing," she said.