December 29th, 2016

Debbie Reynolds dies at 84…

…one day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher.

Carrie Fisher’s death came as a shock because she had not been ill until experiencing cardiac arrest during a flight, and at 60 she was still relatively young. Afterwards, on learning that her 84-year-old mother was still alive, it made sense to feel especially bad for Debbie. Losing a child is an almost unspeakably terrible experience.

But when one day later Reynolds herself dropped dead, the story catapulted into a deeper realm (there’s even some resemblance to the ancient myth of Demeter and Persephone in the sorrow of the grieving mother), evoking pathos:

The Greek word pathos means “suffering,” “experience,” or “emotion.” It was borrowed into English in the 16th century, and for English speakers, the term usually refers to the emotions produced by tragedy or a depiction of tragedy.

It’s like a kick to the gut when a person seems to die of heartbreak. Who would have thought of that as the fate of Reynolds, who kept it light in most of her roles as the wholesome and innocent (yet sassy and spunky) girl-next-door?

Debbie Reynolds was part of my own youth, because she became a star in the Fifties. The movie I remember seeing her in when I was a child wasn’t “Singin’ in the Rain.” It was “Tammy and the Bachelor,” which I must have viewed at least five times in summer sleep-away camp. On rainy days, that seemed to be the movie they always showed.

Reynolds’ life wasn’t an easy one, as you can see from the clip I’m about to present (she had three husbands who really did her wrong, and two of them cleaned her out financially as well). I’ve cued it up for a 5-minute clip from a lengthy interview Oprah did with both Reynolds and Fisher in 2011. In it you can see their relationship, a strong bond forged through years of hardship and humor:

Here’s a short bio Carrie made and narrated about her mother’s life:

And lastly, here’s a short and very touching (and to me, surprising) clip of Debbie and Carrie singing together. I had no idea that Carrie Fisher sang, although of course both of her parents did it for a living. Her mother mentions here that she’d encouraged Carrie to sing back when she was young, and Carrie adds that she had stopped singing for thirty years. I believe this was the first time Carrie had sung in public for a long, long time.

You’ll see how she does:


[ADDENDUM: Via Althouse, I discovered this wonderful interview with Reynolds. Great stories; really quite fascinating.]

13 Responses to “Debbie Reynolds dies at 84…”

  1. DNW Says:

    I was unaware – and this is NOT meant to be a snide remark – that Debbie Reynolds was still alive.

    I wonder how many of the 50’s generation of studio stars are still alive. Some number I would guess.

    Believe I I have seen it written that Kirk Douglas is the last of those who straddle the line between the 30’s/40’s age and the 1950’s.

    There must be some child actors from the forties still alive.

  2. DNW Says:

    Just punched-in “Doris Day”; she seems to be among us.

    Never watched her movies on TV as a kid; well, maybe the “Daisey” one, sort of.

    But, as you say, it’s an oddly reassuring feeling to know that that some of these cultural features of our childhoods still endure in life. Even if we didn’t like them or find what they were doing of any interest at the time.

  3. neo-neocon Says:


    What surprised me was how relatively young Reynolds still was. But she (like her daughter) had become a star at a very young age.

  4. London Trader Says:

    Olivia de Havilland is still alive at 100.

  5. Sharon W Says:

    Debbie Reynolds was an immense talent and it is a testament to her love and fidelity that she could have such a wonderful relationship with her daughter after such trying life circumstances. She was an overcomer in an age where overcoming was the expectation and goal, but seldom accomplished with such success. May the angels lead them into paradise….

  6. Nick Says:

    She was so good in Singin’ in the Rain. Everyone talks about how she kept up with Kelly and O’Connor in the dance sequences, but it’s more impressive that she kept up with them in energy and humor. She wasn’t the typical girl in a musical, the generic dance partner to be wooed. She was fun. She was worth wooing.

  7. Michael Adams Says:

    I think a pretty good prima fascie case can be made that Hollywood actors are all sociopaths. It is nice to see the Reynolds/Fisher mother and daughter are exceptions to that. RiP.

  8. parker Says:

    I can not imagine the depths of sorrow a parent experiences when child or grandchild dies while the parent still lives. I can relate to Debbie Reynolds giving up the desire to live and expiring. RIP Debbie.

  9. The Other Gary Says:

    I had no idea that Carrie Fisher sang, although of course both of her parents did it for a living. Her mother mentions here that she’d encouraged Carrie to sing back when she was young …

    This was portrayed in the movie Postcards From the Edge (starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine as Fisher and Reynolds), along with the difficult, though loving, relationship between mother and daughter.

    Throughout much of the movie, Streep simmers with resentment towards her mother, and responds to the suggestion that she should focus on her singing by saying something like, “You want me to succeed; you just don’t want me to be … better [than her mother]”

    According to Wikipedia, Carrie Fisher wrote the screenplay “based on her 1987 semi-autobiographical novel of the same title.” So who knows, maybe some of it actually resembles the truth. In any case, I think it’s a pretty good movie.

  10. J.J Says:

    Words are inadequate to the occasion. Just full of admiration for Debbie and the life she lived. She truly lived up to her Unsinkable Molly Brown image. A wonderful actress, dancer, singer, comedian, mother, and human being. God bless and keep them both.
    RIP Debbie and Carrie

  11. Philip Says:

    Carrie didn’t do badly at all with that singing moment there, I thought. I don’t know if she was warmed up or how much she’d practiced in anticipation, or whatnot. But it doesn’t matter too much either way.

    I seem to recall that she sang a number in the Star Wars Christmas special way back when, so it doesn’t surprise me that she has vocal ability. (I guess I should say ‘had’ at this point.)

  12. Richard Aubrey Says:

    I don’t know if it’s par for the actors’ course to have unhappy periods in life, or that most people have unhappy periods and actors get the ink.
    In old Hollywood, an actor had to be “on” even when not working. It was part of the system if not of the contract.
    Today, it appears that being outrageous is a career move.
    I just finished “Devotion” which had a moving reference to Elizabeth Taylor in her early days. Didn’t seem at all like the Queen she was later, 24/7.
    In any event, it’s possible that being a big-time, or a small-time, actor either selects for or causes non-standard lives.
    Or maybe that’s what they want you to think.

  13. neo-neocon Says:

    Richard Aubrey:

    Actors already tend to be pretty unusual people to begin with. Not all of them, but many. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. To be able to manipulate, use, manufacture, call forth at will, emotions—and to make it convincing—isn’t what you’d ordinarily call “normal.”

    There is a higher incidence of certain types of problems that go along with it, especially manic-depression (bipolar) or just general emotional sensitivity. The ones who survive, though, tend to be more resilient.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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