Oscar-nominated actress Debbie Reynolds passed away on Wednesday (Dec. 28) after suffering a suspected stroke, Variety reported. Her death came one day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, died from a heart attack.
“She wanted to be with Carrie,” her son Todd Fisher told the publication.
While Fisher was best-known for her Star Wars roles in the 1970s and 1980s, Reynolds was an equally big star in Hollywood’s earlier technicolor period. She regularly starred in high-budget studio pictures, like the epic western How the West Was Won with Gregory Peck and Henry Fonda, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, a musical for which she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
But Reynolds will be best remembered for her role in the film that helped her catch her big break. In Singin’ in the Rain, Reynolds played Kathy Seldon, an aspiring actress hired to work behind the scenes as another starlet’s on-screen singing voice. Reynolds’s chemistry with her co-stars Gene Kelly, who played her love interest, and Donald O’Connor, helped make the film one of the most famous Hollywood musicals ever made. The American Film Institute ranks Singin’ in the Rain as the best American movie musical in history, and the tenth-best American film ever made.
Reynolds’s career in Hollywood slowed in the 70s, as high-budget spectacles and Broadway-inspired acting fell out of fashion and a grittier auteurism grew popular.
“I stopped making movies because I don’t like taking my clothes off. Maybe it’s realism, but in my opinion, it’s utter filth,” she once said.
Reynolds continued to make occasional guest appearances in film and television, for example appearing on Golden Girls and Roseanne. Her only major film role in more recent years was in 1996, when she appeared alongside Albert Brooks in the little-seen comedy Mother.
All the while, Reynolds remained active in philanthropy and outreach. In 1955 she helped found Thalians, an organization dedicated to mental health awareness in the entertainment industry, and remained its president for decades. She also was an avid collector of Hollywood memorabilia, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire and preserve them in hopes of putting them in a museum.
Reynolds and Fisher had a troubled relationship complicated by pressures from showbiz, substance abuse, and mental health issues. Fisher documented aspects of her life growing up with her mother in her semi-autobiographical novel Postcards From the Edge. At the time of its release, Reynolds dismissed speculation that the protagonist’s actress-mother was based on her—even though she almost nabbed the part in the film adaptation.
A documentary about Fisher and Reynolds will be released on HBO in 2017.